Language Development and Preschoolers: 12 Milestones You Should Know
You've taken your three-year-old to the library for story time when a same-aged peer walks up and begins to recite the Star Spangled Banner in perfect English. In response, your child utters a three-word sentence and, for emphasis, a giggle at the end.
Pre-storytime, you weren't concerned about your child’s language development; but we’re going to bet your post-storytime includes at least an hour of Internet research that includes the search term “language development problems and toddlers.”
Parents are more likely to be angry with treatment when they act as a bystander, and not a participant.
Yes, we know not to compare our children to others. And yes, we all know “Internet research” will only end up in a panic-stricken call to the pediatrician. But we just can’t help ourselves when it comes to our children’s development and health!
As with every task your preschooler will tackle, language skill acquisition varies from child to child. Still, most children master certain skills by specific ages. Knowing these milestones will help you assess the progress and potential problems of your preschooler’s language development.
Diane Bahr, author of “Nobody Ever Told Me (Or My Mother) That: Everything from Bottles and Breathing to Healthy Speech Development,” says three- to four-year-old children, “ . . . should be speaking in simple, understandable sentences with a vocabulary of 900 to 1,000 words.” In most cases, a three-year-old will also:
- use complete sentences of three to four words;
- use I, you, and me appropriately;
- state his or her name and age;
- master consonants K, G, F, H, Y, N, G, and S; and,
- speak so that 85-90% of his or her speech is intelligible.
At age four, children begin to form more complex sentences and, says Bahr, have a vocabulary of around 1,500 to 1,600 words. Other language development milestones for four-year-olds include:
- using five- to six-word sentences;
- repeating four-syllable words;
- mastery of consonants P, M, B, W, and N; and,
- speaking in a way that most strangers will understand everything being said.
By age five, your child will likely speak more like an adult and have a vocabulary consisting of about 2,200 words. The language development skills mastered by most five-year-olds include:
- grammatically correct speech (for the most part);
- speaking in six-word sentences; and,
- mastery of all vowels and of consonants M, P, B, H, W, K, G, T, D, G, N, G, and Y.
What can you do if you expect your preschooler has a language development delay? Bahr recommends heading to your pediatrician and requesting a referral to an appropriate professional, if this seems necessary. “Speak with the county or state infant-toddler program about available assessments and resources,” she writes in “Nobody Ever Told Me (Or My Mother) That”. Local hospitals and universities may also offer assessments and resources for children with suspected language development disorders.
Once you've located a professional, take an active role in the evaluation and, if necessary, treatment. Bahr recommends discussing the evidence for any treatment being used with your child, which might include research completed within control groups, with individual and multiple cases, and in the professional’s individual experience. She writes, “As a parent, it is very important for you to have a full understanding of any treatment your child is undergoing.”
Once treatment begins, remain active. Bahr writes, “This empowers you as a parent,” stating that parents are more likely to be angry with treatment when they act as a bystander and not a participant. If the professional doesn’t appear to be meeting your child’s needs, speak to them. Ask questions. Bahr says many problems can be overcome through simple communication; and while she discourages parents from shopping around for professionals, because this can lead to inconsistent treatment, she does suggest seeking a second opinion if the professional won’t work with you.