2.5–3 years old: Cognitive and linguistic development

2.5–3 years old: Cognitive and linguistic development

Your toddler’s intellectual development at 30–36 months old. Follow your toddler’s milestones step-by-step.

Cognitive development refers to the acquisition of skills such as memory, attention, reasoning, and planning. These skills allow children to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours, in addition to helping them store knowledge, solve problems, exercise judgment, and understand the world around them. Cognitive development also includes language development, which is a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, and express themself verbally.

Cognitive and language development: 2.5–3years old

Cognitive skills

At this age:

Remember that not all children develop the same skills at the same speed. The material on this website is for general information purposes only. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, speak with a doctor.
  • Your toddler can compare the size of different objects by using words like bigger or smaller.
  • They integrate known elements into their imagination and engage in role-playing games. E.g., pretending to be a cashier, parent, or teacher.
  • They have little control over their thoughts, words, or actions. For example, they interrupt adults or friends who are already speaking.
  • They associate similar images and objects, and sort different objects.
  • They enjoy taking in their surroundings and get inspired to make up movements, e.g., crawling around like a snake or tiptoeing across the room.

Over the next few months, your toddler will begin to do the following:

  • Understand the relationship between a number and an amount
  • Reproduce some of the things you do or create in their presence, such as tricks, drawings, and object patterns

Language skills

At this age:

  • Your toddler can follow more complex instructions, e.g., “Go get your coat and put your hat on.”
  • They can ask questions using words such as who, what, and where.
  • They make more comments than before (e.g., “Oh, what a pretty puppy!”).
  • They are increasingly able to hold short conversations with adults and other children.
  • They combine at least three words most of the time (e.g., “Daddy runs fast”).
  • They often conjugate the verbs they use (e.g., “Mom says no” or “Dad will help”).
  • They are increasingly able to use small words such as a, the, me, or to correctly.
  • They are getting better at sounding out words, even if they aren’t always understood by people who don’t know them very well.

Over the next few months, your toddler will begin to do the following:

  • Answer certain questions that are more complex (e.g., “Why are you crying?”)
  • Get better at understanding the plots of stories
  • Understand and use words to identify numbers and colours
  • Formulate longer complete sentences, e.g., “I want to play with my friend”
  • Be understood most of the time, even by people who don’t know them.

How can you help your toddler progress?

Find out how to support your child’s intellectual development through books. (In French)

Each child is different and develops at their own pace. That said, you can help foster your toddler’s development by adopting the Comfort, Play, and Teach parenting approach, which can easily be integrated into your daily routine. The table below outlines small, age-specific actions you can take that will benefit your child’s intellectual development.

When you take the time to talk to your toddler and ask them about things that interest them,
they talk about what they’re doing and what’s on their mind, because they feel like you’re interested.
When you and your toddler sing songs and recite nursery rhymes that contain numbers, like Five Little Ducks,
they learn numbers and start to count while having fun.
When you include your toddler in everyday tasks, such as folding clothes, and explain whose clothes are whose,
they learn to associate certain objects with specific people. When they say, “This is mine, this is mommy’s, this is daddy’s,” they are reassured by the predictability of these routines.
When you tell your toddler why they aren’t allowed to do certain things (e.g., “You might fall”),
they understand your explanations.
When you ask your toddler open-ended questions, e.g., “What do you see,” when travelling in the car or by bike,
they practise using words to describe things.
When you teach your toddler what first, second, and third mean with a simple game, e.g., by asking “Who is first? Who comes second?”
they gradually understand that numbers are used in a variety of ways.
When you give your little one simple puzzles that contain three to six pieces,
they learn to put things together with increasing confidence.
When you play make-believe with your toddler, by feeding a stuffed animal, for instance,
they practise putting sentences together by copying what you do.
When you introduce your toddler to certain basic abstract concepts related to time, colours, and size,
they start to understand these concepts and will eventually learn to use them independently.
When you use expressions of time such as before and after in your everyday speech,
your toddler gradually learns to understand words that help them make sense of time.
When you make up a game where your toddler must sort objects by colour, shape, and size,
they learn to sort and group different objects.
When you let your toddler tell part of the story in a book you’re looking at together,
they gradually learn to tell stories.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Marie-Ève Bergeron-Gaudin, speech-language pathologist, and Noémie Montminy, doctoral student in psychopedagogy at Université Laval.
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: August 2021


Photo: GettyImages/kate_sept2004



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