Speech and language development for preschoolers

Ages 3-5 years

*Content supplied by raisingchildren.net.au.

Speech is the ability to produce the sounds that form words. Language is the words that your child understands and uses as well as how they uses them.

Stages of speech and language development

In their fourth year, your child might:

  • begin to use more complex sentences that include words like ‘because’, ‘so’, ‘if’ and ‘when’ – for example, ‘I don’t like that because it’s yucky’
  • be able to name basic emotions like ‘happy’, ‘sad’ and ‘angry’
  • know one or more colours
  • be able to use contrasting concepts like ‘longer’ and ‘bigger’.

By five years, your child might:

  • begin to use many different sentence types – for example, they’ll be able to say both ‘The dog was chasing the cat’ and ‘The cat was chased by the dog’
  • be able to use long sentences – for example, nine words
  • talk about things that have happened in the past or will happen in the future, rather than just things that are happening right now
  • use words to explain things going on in their brain, like ‘don’t know’ and ‘remember’
  • use words that explain where things are, like ‘between’, ‘above’, ‘below’ and ‘top’.

Understanding and language development

Your child will understand instructions that have more than two steps, as long as they’re about familiar things – for example, ‘Turn off the TV, put on your pyjamas and get into bed’ or ‘When I open the gate, take my hand, then we’ll walk down to the corner’.

When your child doesn’t understand what you say, they might ask you to explain or ask you what specific words mean.

Play, communication and language development

Your child will begin to use language to tease and tell jokes. They might laugh at silly or made-up words. And at this age, your child will begin to use language in role play. For example, they can pretend to be ‘mummy’ and copy their mother’s tone and words.

By now, your child will be able to do some simple negotiation with other children. For example, they’ll be able to talk about who can play with a toy first. Their requests might also be less direct and obvious. For example, they might say, ‘That smells good!’ when they wants something to eat.

Ideas to help your preschooler’s speech and language development

The best way to encourage your child’s language skills is to focus on fun activities, rather than getting pronunciation or grammar right. Here are some ideas:

  • When you talk with your child, respond to your child’s interests. If your preschooler is interested a cat they sees on the footpath, take a moment to talk about it.
  • Read aloud together. You could also try taking your child to story time at your local library where they can listen to stories being read.
  • Tell stories together: your child will enjoy hearing stories. They’ll also like remembering and telling you simple stories. Leaving out words in stories and asking your preschooler to fill in the words is fun too.
  • Sing songs together.
  • Play stories and songs in the car.
  • Tell simple jokes and riddles. Preschoolers usually enjoy simple word games like finding rhyming words and even making up words.

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