Is Your Pre-School Child's Speech and Language Developing as Expected?

R ecently, Charles Sturt University, Australia, found that nearly a third of preschool teachers overlooked speech disorders. Working in schools for my whole career, I know how difficult it is for teachers to identify needs of every child when they have a whole class to consider as well as having to consider all areas of development, not just speech!

This research also showed that parent's assessment of their children were more reliable than those of the teaching staff. This is where you, the parent, become the expert!

So don't wait for a teacher to recommend speech therapy for your child, if you are concerned. it's likely you are concerned for the right reasons! After all, you know your child best!

Here's a little checklist for you to help you identify if your child's speech and language is developing as expected.

Remember: this is a guideline and use of this checklist cannot on it's own identify if your child does or does not have difficulties. If you are concerned, get in touch and we can discuss your worries in a FREE phone or email consultation.

0-6 Months

  • Turn towards a sound when they hear it.

  • Be startled by loud noises.

  • Watch your face when you talk to them.

  • Recognise your voice.

  • Smile and laugh when other people smile and laugh.

  • Make sounds to themselves, like cooing, gurgling and babbling.

  • Make noises, like coos or squeals, to get your attention.

  • Have different cries for different needs. For example one cry for hunger, another when they are tired.


6-12 Months

  • Listen carefully, and turn to someone talking on the other side of the room.

  • Look at you when you speak and when their name is called.

  • Babble strings of sounds, like ‘no-no’ and ‘go-go’.

  • Make noises, point and look at you to get your attention.

  • Smile at people who are smiling at them.

  • Start to understand words like 'bye-bye' and 'up' especially when a gesture is used at the same time.

  • Recognise the names of familiar objects, things like ‘car’ and ‘daddy’.

  • Enjoy action songs and rhymes and get excited when sung to.

  • Take turns in conversations, babbling back to an adult.


12-18 Months

At this stage, children will start to use language in a more recognisable way. They will also become more sociable.

  • Enjoy games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake and toys that make a noise.

  • Start to understand a few simple words, like ‘drink’, ‘shoe’ and ‘car’. Also simple instructions like 'kiss mummy', 'kick ball' and 'give me'.

  • Point to things when asked, like familiar people and objects such as ‘book’ and ‘car’.

  • Use up to 20 simple words, such as 'cup', 'daddy' and 'dog'. These words may not always be easily recognised by unfamiliar adults.

  • Gesture or point, often with words or sounds to show what they want.

  • Copy lots of things that adults say and gestures that they make.

  • Start to enjoy simple pretend play, for example pretending to talk on the phone.


18-24 Months

At this stage, children try out new things and explore the world around them more actively. They will often choose their own activities and may not always like being told what to do.

Children develop skills at different rates, but by 2 years, usually children will:

  • Concentrate on activities for longer, like playing with a particular toy.

  • Sit and listen to simple stories with pictures.

  • Understand between 200 and 500 words.

  • Understand more simple questions and instructions. For example 'where is your shoe?' and 'show me your nose'.

  • Copy sounds and words a lot.

  • Use 50 or more single words. These will also become more recognisable to others.

  • Start to put short sentences together with 2-3 words, such as ‘more juice’ or ‘bye nanny’.

  • Enjoy pretend play with their toys, such as feeding dolly.

  • Use a limited number of sounds in their words – often these are p, b, t, d, m and w. Children will also often miss the ends off words at this stage. They can usually be understood about half of the time.


2-3 Years

By 3 years usually children will:

  • Listen to and remember simple stories with pictures.

  • Understand longer instructions, such as 'make teddy jump' or 'where's mummy's coat?'

  • Understand simple 'who', 'what' and 'where' questions.

  • Use up to 300 words.

  • Put 4 or 5 words together to make short sentences, such as 'want more juice' or ‘he took my ball’.

  • Ask lots of questions. They will want to find out the name of things and learn new words.

  • Use action words as well as nouns, such as ‘run’ and ‘fall’.

  • Start to use simple plurals by adding ‘s’, for example ‘shoes’ or ‘cars’.

  • Use a wider range of speech sounds. However, many children will shorten longer words, such as saying ‘nana’ instead of ‘banana’. They may also have difficulty where lots of sounds happen together in a word, e.g. they may say ‘pider’ instead of 'spider.'

  • Often have problems saying more difficult sounds like sh, ch, th and r. However, people that know them can mostly understand them.

  • Now play more with other children and share things.

  • Sometimes sound as if they are stammering or stuttering. They are usually trying to share their ideas before their language skills are ready. This is perfectly normal, just show you are listening and give them plenty of time.


3-4 years

Children at 3 to 4 years will usually be actively learning language and asking many questions.

By 4 years usually children will:

  • Listen to longer stories and answer questions about a storybook they have just read.

  • Understand and often use colour, number and time related words, for example, 'red' car, 'three' fingers and 'yesterday / tomorrow'.

  • Be able to answer questions about ‘why’ something has happened.

  • Use longer sentences and link sentences together.

  • Describe events that have already happened e.g. 'we went park.'

  • Enjoy make-believe play.

  • Start to like simple jokes.

  • Ask many questions using words like ‘what’ ‘where’ and ‘why’.

  • Still make mistakes with tense such as say 'runned' for ‘ran’ and 'swimmed' for ‘swam’.

  • Have difficulties with a small number of sounds – for example r, w, l, f, th, sh, ch and dz.

  • Start to be able to plan games with others.


4-5 years

At this stage, they need to listen, understand more and share their ideas within the classroom. They will use their language skills to help them learn to read.

By 5 years usually children will:

  • Understand spoken instructions without stopping what they are doing to look at the speaker.

  • Choose their own friends and play mates.

  • Take turns in much longer conversations.

  • Understand more complicated language such as ‘first’, ‘last’, ‘might’, ‘may be’, ‘above’ and ‘in between’.

  • Understand words that describe sequences such as “first we are going to the shop, next we will play in the park”.

  • Use sentences that are well formed. However, they may still have some difficulties with grammar. For example, saying 'sheeps' instead of 'sheep' or 'goed' instead of 'went'.

  • Think more about the meanings of words, such as describing the meaning of simple words or asking what a new word means.

  • Use most sounds effectively. However, they may have some difficulties with more difficult words such as 'scribble' or 'elephant'.

This Developmental Checklist was taken from the ICAN charity TalkingPoint website based in the UK. For more information on ICAN, please visit their website:

#speechnorms #speechpathologygladesville #speechpathology #speechdevelopment #preschooldevelopment

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