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Learning About Speech and Language Milestones in Children Ages 3 to 5

What are speech and language milestones?

Speech and language are the skills we use to communicate with others. They relate to a child's ability to understand words and sounds and to use speech and gestures to communicate meaning.

Speech and language milestones help tell whether a child is gaining these skills as expected. But keep in mind that the age at which children reach milestones is different for each child. Some children learn quickly. Others develop more slowly.

What can you expect?

Here are some of the things children may do at each age milestone.

Age 3 years

  • Follow two-part requests, such as "Put your pyjamas in the hamper and your slippers in the closet."
  • Learn new words quickly.
  • Know the names of most common objects.
  • Understand the concept of "two."
  • Understand the differences between girls and boys.
  • Know their own full name.
  • Begin correctly using plurals, pronouns, and prepositions more consistently.
  • Frequently ask "why" and "what."
  • Often use complete sentences of 3 to 4 words.

Age 4 years

  • Know the names of colours.
  • Understand the difference between things that are the same and things that are different, such as the difference between children and grown-ups.
  • Follow three-step instructions, such as "Go to the sink, wash your hands, and dry them on the towel."
  • Use the past tense of words.
  • Use sentences of 5 to 6 words.
  • Describe something that has happened to them or tell a story.
  • Speak clearly enough so that strangers can understand them almost all of the time.

Age 5 years

  • Understand relationships between things, such as "the girl who is playing ball" and "the boy who is jumping rope."
  • Carry on a conversation with another person.
  • Call people or things by their relationship to others, such as "Bobby's mom" instead of "Mrs. Smith."
  • Define words such as "spoon" and "cat."

How can you encourage speech and language learning?

The best way to help your child learn is to talk and read to your child. Doing these things will help your child learn language skills faster. Try these ideas:

  • Read books to your child that tell stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Choose stories about your child's interests. Stories about facing fears and solving problems are also good.
  • As you read, talk with your child about the story. Ask questions like "What's going to happen next?" and "Why do you think the character did that?"
  • Listen to and talk with your child every day.
  • Play games that require listening and following instructions.
  • Speak clearly and correctly. Avoid "baby talk."

What can you do if your child has trouble?

Mild and temporary speech delays can happen. And some children learn to communicate faster than others do.

Your doctor will check your child's speech and language skills during routine checkups. But call your doctor, nurse advice line, or a speech-language pathologist anytime you have concerns about how your child is developing. A child can overcome many speech and language problems with treatment, especially when you catch problems early.

Where can you learn more?

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