The Ages and Stages of Children’s Speech Development
Learning to speak is a crucial part of a child’s development and progress made in the preschool and early school years is crucial to mastering the rules of language.
Preschool children: 3 to 5 years
Preschool children start to use much longer sentences, yet their speech should still be understood by unfamiliar people about 75% of the time. By 5 years of age, anyone should be able to understand the child’s speech in conversation 95-100% of the time.
What can most children do?
- By 4 years, children can say most sounds correctly (e.g., m, n, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g, ng, f, y, s, z, ch, j, sh, l). They can use many consonant clusters, which are combinations of two or more sounds (e.g., tw, sp, gl). Children may use clusters at the start (e.g., blue) or end of words (e.g., hand). Also, will say most vowel sounds in words correctly (e.g., ay, oh, ee).
- Between 4-5 years, preschool children start to develop skills that will be important for learning to read and write (called pre-literacy skills). They become aware that spoken words can rhyme (e.g., cat – bat), and can be broken into syllables (e.g., am-bu-lance).
What do many children still find it difficult?
- Some sounds are later to develop and children may still have difficulty with them at this age. For instance, preschool children commonly have difficulty with “r” (e.g., saying ‘’wed” for red), “v’’ (e.g., saying “berry” for very).
What can parents do to help?
If parents are concerned about their child’s speech development, they are advised to have their child’s hearing checked by an audiologist as hearing is important in learning how to say sounds correctly. Also, parents can visit a speech pathologist if concerned about their child’s speech development. In particular, a visit to the speech pathologist is suggested if children cannot be understood, if they are frustrated with attempts to communicate, if their speech appear very effortful, if they are using very few words, or if they are not using sounds at the start of words (e.g., saying “ish” for fish).
School aged children: 5 + years
When children commence school, their speech should be easily understood by everyone.
What can most children do at this age?
- Be able to say all the sounds well and be starting to recognize that spoken sounds can be matched to written letters
- Hear and make rhyming words, hear and count syllables/beats in words, and make sentences with words that start with the same sound (e.g., big brown bear).
- Children can tell you what the first sound is in their name and what the letter is called and can break up the sounds in a small word (e.g., “c-a-t”)
What do many children still find difficult?
Children might still have trouble with “th” sounds (e.g., thumb, this) until 8-9 years, and might have difficulty saying sounds such as “s” and “z” when their front teeth fall out.
Some children might have difficulty with “r” and “l”
What can parents do to help?
To help children develop pre-literacy skills, parents can read to children, sing songs and play rhyming game, or games such as “I spy” which encourage children to think about sounds and letters. Parents can contact speech pathologist if they have concerns about speech or pre-literacy development.