Having fun and learning: 3 to 5 years

Children at 3–5 years of age learn by watching, by listening and by doing. They learn to talk by copying those around them. Children behave best when they know what is expected of them. This page has ideas for things that you (and your whānau) can do to help your child to learn.

Having fun and learning

Try to spend time with your child every day. Make playtimes fun and active.

Your child may enjoy:

  • drawing, painting and cutting up paper (with child-safe scissors)
  • building huts and ramps
  • singing and dancing or performing action songs/waiata-ā-ringa
  • playing make-believe games and dressing up
  • playing on swings, slides and seesaws
  • helping you to set the table or fold the washing.

Television, computers, tablets and other digital devices can help a child to learn, but they learn better when an adult shares them with them. Make sure that the programmes are suitable for your child, and keep the total screen time to less than 2 hours a day, and not last thing at night.

Talking and listening

Between the ages of 3 and 5 years children are learning to say and understand many words. This involves a range of skills.

  • Your child may be able to understand and use more complex words and sentences.
  • They may be asking lots of ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions to find out new information.
  • They may know the names of some letters and recognise their own written name.

Help your child to speak better

There are many things you can do to help your child to speak better. For example, when your child says something that is not clear, say it back for them so that they hear it the right way rather than ask them to repeat it.

Have fun with words and sounds (eg, make up games about words that start with the same sound or make up silly words that rhyme).
You could talk with your child about exciting things that are going to happen, to encourage talking about the future.

Let your child write and draw with you (eg, writing shopping lists, making special cards). You could also play games that help them with taking turns and concentrating (eg, ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’, hide and seek, snakes and ladders, and memory).

Managing behaviour

Children do best when they feel loved and valued, are well supervised and know how they should behave.

Give positive attention. If you want to encourage a behaviour, notice it. Let your child know how proud you are of them. Ignore little things. Respond only when your child is behaving really badly or is in danger. Giving attention to a child’s bad behaviour usually makes it worse.

Ensure that your child understands what is expected of them. Be clear and consistent. If your expectations are the same over time your child is more likely to learn to meet them.

If you are worried

There is a wide range of what is ‘normal’ for a child’s development. Talk to your nurse or doctor if you are worried about your child.


Related websites

Whakatipu – SKIP
Whakatipu is a kaupapa that encourages strong whānau connections that nurture and develop tamariki. Tikanga and pakiwaitara are interwoven with child development information, ideas and activities for whānau.

Activities for children – Sport New Zealand
The Sport New Zealand website has a set of video clips showing activities for children from birth to 5 years of age.

Learning to talk – Kidshealth
The Kidshealth website has more information about how children learn to talk and what you can do to help.

Tips for parents – SKIP
The SKIP (Strategies with Kids; Information for Parents) website has information about managing children’s behaviour.

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