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4-Year-Old Speech Milestones

What is Normal Speech for a 4-Year-old?

Communicating with our loved ones is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of life, and watching our children learn and grow in their speech and language skills can be fun and exciting. It is also normal for parents to worry and wonder about their child’s development, and whether they are learning and growing as they should. Milestones are meant to be used as a guideline and learning tool, not as a tool to diagnose or identify a possible delay or impairment. It is always important to remember that children develop differently, varying greatly in the age at which they reach these milestones and the order in which they are reached. Some children may have mastered only a few of these, while others may master all of them by the time they reach their 5th birthday. 

Should a 4-year-old speak clearly? What should a 4-year-old be saying?

By their 5th birthday, the majority of children are able to speak clearly enough to be understood by strangers. They are also saying all speech sounds, often with some mistakes on sounds that are more difficult to say such as, s, v, z, r, ch, sh, and th. Some children will also at times mispronounce words that are longer or more complicated by leaving out a syllable or sound. For the most part, children this age are able to speak without repeating words or syllables. 

What other Milestones should my 4 Year Old be Reaching?

Some of the other milestones related to speech and language your 4-year-old may be practicing or has already mastered are:

Vocabulary/Grammar

  • Understands and uses joining words such as “or” “and” and “but” 
  • Expresses and understands the words for more complicated emotions such as “frustrated” and “upset”
  • Is forming sentences that include 5 or more words
  • Properly employs the use of 1000 words or more
  • Uses the past tense correctly

Concept Development 

  • Understands words referring to order like first, last, and next 
  • Uses and understands words referring to time such as yesterday, today, tomorrow, 
  • Are beginning to understand some common turns of phrase such as “Don’t be a stick in the mud” or “That is a hoot!”
  • May begin to make up silly stories, play with words and tell jokes

Listening and Following Directions

  • Can follow longer instructions with multiple steps, even if it is their first time in a particular situation
  • Can follow instructions in the classroom such as “Draw a circle with your favorite color” 
  • Listens and comprehends most of what they hear at home and school 
  • They will respond to questions such as “What did you say?” 

Social/Conversational/Storytelling

  • Has an increased understanding of the flow of conversation and allows others the opportunity to speak 
  • Speaks with an appropriate volume and intonation for the situation
  • Story-telling abilities are continuing to develop, and your child will start to add more relevant details, though they may not yet recount events in the correct order
  • Possesses an increased understanding and appreciation of other people’s perspectives and points of view
  • Has learned to make requests using polite words such as “may I…” as well as employing the regular use of please and thank you

When should I worry about my child’s speech and language development?

It is normal and common for parents and caregivers to worry about their child’s speech and language development. There are a few “red flags” that you can watch for as you observe your child. Some of these are:

  • They stop using a speech or language skill they had previously used or mastered 
  • You are struggling to understand them due to stuttering or unclear speech
  • You are concerned about their hearing
  • They are having trouble following instructions
  • They are struggling to learn preschool concepts such as shapes and colors
  • Their vocabulary isn’t growing 

How can I support my 4-year-olds speech and language development?

At this age, talking about opposites such as big and small, loud and quiet, and up and down, is a great exercise. You can also spend time introducing spatial concepts such as left and right, front and back, and in and out. Children are learning about categories at this age as well, so naming fruits, or animals is a fun and beneficial activity. Playing games like I Spy and asking your child to explain how a game works are also great exercises. Read stories and act out scenarios that explore different relationships such as student/teacher or doctor/patient.

Learning to play board games can also be a great tool for teaching concepts such as taking turns, and following rules.

Spend time talking about the events and routine of your day, or about the tv shows or movies they may be enjoying. Include them in simple activities such as writing a grocery list or helping to plan a party. It is also very important to encourage your child to ask for help when they are confused or unclear about the meaning of a word or an instruction. 

Most importantly, speak in the manner and language that is most natural to you and listen with your full attention when your child speaks to you. Teach them that they have a voice and what they say matters. 

If your child is struggling with some of these skills, it does not necessarily mean they have a speech sound disorder or language delay. Many children are skilled in other areas, artistically or athletically for example, and so they will naturally dedicate more time and focus on mastering physical or creative skills. As a result, they may unconsciously neglect the practice of speech and language skills. This is normal. Once again, it is always important to remember that skills develop over time, and at varying ages. If you are at all concerned about your child’s development, there is support and resources available.

Seeking the guidance and support of an experienced Speech and Language pathologist can be incredibly useful, even for children that are developing as they should. Taking the appointments online can also offer innovative, fun, and interactive therapeutic activities and a treatment program completely customized for your child. If you want to connect your child with one of our highly specialized and experienced speech therapists, schedule your free introductory call today! 

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