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Pre-schooler development at three and a half years old

Developments to expect in the next six months

Your child is changing constantly, here's what developments to expect in the coming six months.

It’s really true, they’re all different and although we can encourage them, they will do things at their own pace and in their own time. Here's what to expect in the coming six months.

At a glance

  • Questions, questions, all the time are normal
  • Lying is part of learning
  • Encourage role play

Speech sounds

Your little one is probably talking fluently now and you’ll understand 75-100 per cent of what they say, but don’t worry if they have problems with certain sounds: this is normal and most will grow out of it without help. Using 'd' for 'g' ('date' instead of 'gate') or 't' for 'k' is normal until 3½ years old and 'lellow' instead of 'yellow' is common until aged 5. If they’re still making these mistakes 6 months to a year after those dates, it’s worth getting a speech therapist’s opinion. Lisping s sounds are also quite common, but most disappear with no help by 4½-6 years old.

Questions, questions

Embarrassment is not on their radar quite yet, so they won’t think twice about asking you in a clear, loud voice: ‘why is that lady in a wheelchair, Mummy?’ After you’ve picked yourself up from the floor, hot with shame, all you can do is answer their question as simply and honestly as you can (‘People are in wheelchairs because they can’t walk – perhaps the lady had an accident or perhaps she was born with problems with her legs’).


Simple lies to cover up minor misdemeanours (‘It wasn’t me who knocked the juice over’) can start between two and three. They haven’t got much a conscience yet, so lying seems a logical way of avoiding trouble. Later, between three and four, the lies get more sophisticated and plausible. They may do it to get your attention, to impress you or others (‘I got a gold star in nursery today’) or to get others into trouble. The trick is not to over-react to a lie and to praise them for telling the truth. But it’s a perfectly normal phase and should pass sometime before 40...

Let’s pretend

Role playing is becoming more important to your pre-schooler now as they transform themselves from superhero to Daddy to dinosaur in the space of a few seconds. They can spend hours absorbed in games of mummies and daddies, having co-opted a reluctant younger sibling to play the dog/baby/hamster... Pretend play is important for their development: they can explore the world at their own pace, act out scenarios they’ve witnessed and can express their emotions and solve problems.

Ps & Qs

Your pre-schooler is probably full of confidence now: they’ve got a good handle on how the world works and can express themselves better all the time. It’s a good moment to remind them about good manners: saying please and thank you (while modelling it ourselves, naturally...) and teaching them to talk respectfully to other adults. Their teacher will thank you (and love them). However, it works both ways – we need to give our little ones some respect too by getting down on their level to listen carefully as they chat and show we’re interested. It’s bad form to text half way through or interrupt their flow because we think what we have to say is more important – even if it is!

The great outdoors

Some like playing outside more than others, but almost all 3½ to 4 year olds love learning about the natural world, so it’s a great time to go bug hunting, leaf collecting, and flower and bird spotting. Research shows pre-schoolers who get lots of contact with nature have better co-ordination, attention span and even brain functioning than those who spent most of their time inside. It can also help with feelings of stress and frustration and is proved to help children who are hyperactive or have ADHD.

How you can help

  • Craft activities like cutting, gluing and moulding will encourage the fine motor skills needed for handwriting later on.
  • Play simple board games to promote turn-taking, and to learn the art of losing gracefully. 
  • Cooking with pre-schoolers is a fantastic way to teach them about maths (counting and measuring) without them realising it.
  • They’ll still love helping you with chores, so give them some real responsibility like helping to set the table or put the apples in the fruit bowl. They feel independent, which boosts self-esteem.
  • Some pre-schoolers are interested in letters and reading. You can encourage it by using flash cards, activity books etc but don’t push it. There’s plenty of time for formal learning and it’s fine if they’re not interested yet.

Read more about pre-school development anxiety and see our milestones guide.

At a glance

  • Questions, questions, all the time are normal
  • Lying is part of learning
  • Encourage role play
But whhhhyyyy Mummy?! Whyyy? Mummyyyy!

Pre-schooler development at three and a half years old