Preschool language 101

Are you concerned whether your four year old will be ready to start school in a few months? Our September posts will have a look at the skills that would be expected as well as some ideas to help your child be ready. Today we will look at speech and language skills which are vital for learning and literacy as well as social interactions.

Four year olds are confident communicators. They are able to speak clearly and fluently in long and complex sentences.

Four year olds should be able to:

  • understand and use a wide variety of words.

  • construct complex sentences using joining words (conjunctions) such as: and, then, so, but, because.

  • use most grammar correctly including pronouns: he, she, his, hers, him, her, I and verb tenses: jumps, jumped, will jump, is jumping. Your four year old may still have difficulty with some irregular plurals such as “mice” and irregular verbs such as “fell” but they should use mostly adult grammar.

  • be able to hold a conversation, listening and responding to what the other person says for a number of turns.

  • be able to use language to join in groups and play cooperatively with other children.

  • be able to describe something they have done in another time or place.

  • be able to retell a familiar story from a book.

  • be able to tell how to do something familiar with a number of steps such making a sandwich or brushing your teeth.

  • follow instructions with a number of steps.

  • ask and answer who, why and how questions.

  • pronounce most words correctly, though they may still have difficulty with later sounds such as “r” and “th” and long words such as “hospital” and “spaghetti”.

Children who have developmental delay, a family history of speech, language or learning problems, a history of middle ear problems and children from multiple births are at particular risk of developing communication problems.

If you are concerned that your child cannot do some of these things an assessment with a qualified speech pathologist can help by:

  • Telling you where your child’s development is compared with other children of the same age

  • Suggesting some strategies and activities to help your child develop any skills they may need to learn.

  • Letting you know if your child would benefit from some speech therapy

  • Advising you if there is anything else that should be checked such as hearing or general development.

Support in the preschool years can be helpful in preventing further difficulties later on which can impact on your child’s learning and literacy at school, so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you think your child needs it. For more information on assessments browse our website.

How do I develop my four year old's language skills?

Here are some ideas to help your child develop strong communication skills:

To develop your four year old’s understanding try to talk at a level just above the level your child uses themselves. If your child uses sentences of five words, make yours just a little longer. Introduce new words and concepts as you talk with your child. Repeat the new word or idea a number of times to help your child learn and remember. Use the new word in different settings so that your child develops a deeper understanding of the word.

To develop your four year old’s use of language repeat back their sentences to them now and then fixing up any mistakes. “I’ve got cold foots” “Cold feet. Oh no, let's get some warm socks”. This will help them gradually learn adult grammar and pronunciation. Gently emphasise your change but make sure you also sound interested and positive. Also add extra words and ideas to what your child says; “I found a sock” “You found a stripped sock, lets find another one to match, let’s find another stripped sock”. Most importantly listen to what your child has to say and make talking together a positive time for both of you.

To develop your child's speech skills repeat any errors back to them fixing up the word and gently emphasising the changes. You can read more about helping your child with speech sounds here. If your child can say words clearly when you remind them but forgets when they are having a conversation "fixed up ones routines" can help. You can find more about this strategy here.

For more simple strategies to use everyday to develop your child's language skills click here!

Ideas for developing language skills

1. Play some "information carrying words" games. These simple games can help your child learn vocabulary, memory and concepts. To find out how to play these games click here. You can use real objects form around the house or download printable games to play.

2. Play some card games. Simple card games such as lotto and snap can be a good way to introducde new words into your child's vocabulary. Once your child know the names on the cards, you can use the cards to play other games and develop concept knowledge and descriptive language. Click here to find out how. To download some printable games to get you started click here.

3. Play word games such as: “I went to the shop and I bought …….” Each person must repeat what has previously been bought before adding their own to the list. If your child finds it difficult to remember what is said cut pictures from junk mail to make cards and turn over the cards in turn and name them as you play. Try variations such as I went to the zoo, jungle, park, beach etc. Here are some more word games to try.

4. Go for a walk and talk about the things you see. Collect things to bring home and keep such as: feathers, stones, leaves. Look at them closely, maybe even with a magnifying glass and talk about the colour, shape, texture, size and weight of each object. Here are some more fun ways to learn language outside.

5. Play hide and seek with toy animals or dolls. Once they are found talk about who was found where i.e.: “The horse was under the big, blue chair”. Use lots of describing, concept and position words. For more ideas on developing concepts click here. For printable concept games click here.

6. Make some sequence cards. Use a digital camera to take a series of photos of your child doing familiar activities such as brushing their teeth or making toast. Print them out, cut them up and see if your child can put them in order and tell you what they are doing. Once familiar activities are easy for your child use more complex activities and take more pictures, such as craft and cooking activities. Here are some more ideas on using familiar procedures to develop your child's language skills.

7. Make your own books. Take your camera along on an outing and take a series of photos through the day. When you come home print them out and slip into a mini photo album. With your child write a sentence or two for each picture. Use a story beginning structure of “when, who and where” e.g. One day Max went to the beach” and an ending structure with a feeling word or two “at night-time Max went home feeling happy and tired”. Write your story in past tense and use some feeling words, describing words and direct speech “Max said “Wow”. These will help your child understand how stories are structured, an important pre-literacy skill. Click here to find out more about using books with your child. To print some simple books to make with a mini photo album click here.

8. Play some barrier games. Barrier games are great for developing a whole range of language skills including listening, comprehension, memory, vocabulary, concepts and more. To find out how to play barrier games click here. You can download some free barrier games to print and play here.

9. Ask and answer questions. Preschoolers love to ask questions and responding to this constant stream really helps their learning. Helping your child to learn to answer questions is also important in preparing for school based learning. It's easy to build in some good quality questions to develop your child's thinking while doing daily activities and sharing books together. Find out how to develop this skill.

10. Play some listening games. Being able to concentrate on others talking, listen and remember what is said is very important for success at school. Here are some fun listening games to develop these skills.

11. Expand your child's ability to use grammar to make sentences. Grammar is an important skill for succeeding with reading and writing as well as for communicating effectively. Four year olds should use most grammar correctly and are developing an ability to use verb tenses and "joining words" or conjunctions to make more complex sentences and link ideas in oral texts such as stories and procedures. Children who have problems with grammar often find pronouns and plurals tricky. If grammar is a challenge for your child get some ideas and activities here and build up their skills to help them be ready for school.

12. Experience and explore. Children who have a richer life experience know more words and concepts and learn more easily. Make use of free family activities and make the time to do things with your child such as going to the beach, playground or library. Take your experience one more step by using it as a chance to develop your child's language skills. You could tell others about what you did as a preparation for newstime and recounts at school, or make a book about your child's experience as a preparation for literacy. You can make a traditional paper book or an electronic one using a journal app on a phone or tablet.

If you are concerned about your child's communication skills, social skills or learning check our website to see how Talking Matters may be able to help. For more ideas and resources check the resources section on our website and our extensive Pinterest page. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so you don't miss out on what's happening.

If you are concerned about your child's skills Talking Matters provides speech pathology and occupational therapy. To find out more about Talking Matters and our services and resources check our website or call our office on (08) 8255 7137.

Jo Brenecki

Related Blog Posts

If you liked this post you may also like:

Welcome to 2017!
What is Dyspraxia?
Learning to manage emotions
Home practice


  • Blog Categories: