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This is a time when vocabulary is continually growing and the meaning and sentence structure of their language is becoming more complex. This change in language represents the development of cognitive (thinking) abilities. Preschoolers depend on language to make their wants and needs known, solve problems, ask questions and play with others.

The following are guidelines taken from a number of sources. They will help you know what to expect and encourage next with your child’s language development, or when to consider a referral to a speech language therapist. It does not include everything and it is important to remember that there is variation in children’s language development.

Milestones for your preschooler at 3-4 years old:

Enjoys books, simple songs, nursery rhymes, silly words, and stories

Has a vocabulary of 900 or more words

Most of what they say can be understood

Puts words together to form 3-4 word sentences

Asks and answers “who”, “what”, and “where” questions

Asks LOTS of questions

Likes to talk and have conversations with people

Uses proper grammar most of the time

Uses pronouns “I”, “you” and “me”

Knows their name, gender, street name, and a number of nursery rhymes

Knows some prepositions (position words) such as in, on, and under

Often makes mistakes with negatives and use “double negatives” ie: “I don’t not want to go”

Follows a 3 part command

Begins to recognize some letters and words (e.g. recognizes "stop" sign, the "M" for MacDonalds, etc.)

Sorts (match) objects by: function (find something you play with, wear, etc); size (big, little); familiar colors.

Names one color

Is develping number concepts – can give you 1, more, or all of something

Counts objects, even if they don’t have all the numbers correct.

May repeat sounds, words, or phrases (may sound like stuttering)

Stays with one activity for 8-9 minutes

Red Flags:

If your 3-4 year old preschooler shows 2 or more of the following, contact a health care professional to ensure your child is not having difficulties with developing communiction skills:

  • Little interest in talking to adults or children
  • Sentences are not growing in length or complexity
  • Poor sorting or matching skills
  • Difficulty answering questions: what, what-doing, where
  • Not asking who, what, or where questions
  • Not easily understood by family members or familiar people in their life

Milestones to watch for with your preschooler at 4-5 years old:

  • Continues to learn lots of new words very quickly
  • Vocabulary of 4,000 – 6,000 words
  • Uses sentences of 4-6 words
  • Talks a lot and about everything they are doing or thinking
  • Tells long stories about own personal experiences
  • Asks “who” and “why” questions
  • Interested in explanations for their “how” and “why” questions
  • Understands and uses “tomorrow” and “yesterday”
  • Uses past, present and future tense, mostly, but not always, correctly
  • Interested in written words, letters and numbers.
  • Matches and sorts objects in a large variety of ways
  • Understands prepositions (e.g. beside, behind, in front)
  • Stays with an activity for 11-12 minutes
Red Flags:

If your 4-5 year old preschooler shows 2 or more of the following,  a health care professional to ensure your child is not having difficulties with developing communication skills:

  • Not easily understood by others
  • Difficulty putting sentences together
  • Lots of grammatical difficulties in their sentences
  • Difficulties with concepts such as prepositions (position words such as behind, beside, etc.) colors, size, categories.
  • Doesn’t ask questions
  • Doesn’t follow verbal directions
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