Ways to Promote Speech & Language Skills – 4-5 years old

When your child reaches the age of 4, they are truly beginning to refine their skills as communicators. Overall, they understand over 2,800 words! Receptively, they have learned the concept of numbers up to 3, continue to understand spatial concepts (e.g. – up, under, behind), recognize up to 3 colors or more, answer complex two-part questions, and can listen to and answer related questions about short stories. They follow 3-4 step complex commands, which prepares them for preschool and kindergarten.

Expressively, your child will be using 900-2,000+ words, speaking at a rate of approximately 186 words per minute. At this point, your child can talk about school, home, friends, and relay a long story. They have moved on from an additive chain, which is essentially listing what took place in the past. Your child is now showing signs of a temporal narrative, which is sequential in nature (e.g. – First, we went to the zoo and then we had lunch at the park, etc.). They may also be exhibiting evidence of a more mature causal narrative where you hear cause and effect relationships (e.g. – Zoe started to cry at school because Benjamin took her toy). At this point, their variety of questions is also increasing – they may even ask for word definitions.

Overall, their speech should be intelligible to the majority of familiar and unfamiliar listeners. And in terms of pragmatics, your child is continuing to take turns in longer conversations (e.g. – initiating new topics, maintaining the topic, etc.) and is now fully taking part in socio-dramatic (or pretend) play. Pretend play involves two or more children where they select their own theme, assign roles, and use appropriate language to engage in their roles. If any expressive, receptive, articulation, or pragmatic concerns are suspected, it is wise to obtain a speech and language evaluation as soon as possible to rule out any issues.

LIST OF SPEECH & LANGUAGE TIPS – 4 to 5 years old

  • A young communicator may need more time to plan what he or she wants to say, so be patient and give them time to gather their thoughts when you ask them what happened in school, why they’re upset, etc. If your child answers “I don’t know”, it would be beneficial to give them a multiple choice option. For example, if you ask them “What did you have for lunch today?” and they are unsure, be more specific. Ask your child “Today is Friday… did you have pizza or hamburgers?”. If you find your child is having difficulty recalling events from the past even when given options and adequate time to answer, have your child’s caregiver or teacher write in a communication notebook or take pictures of what occurred that day and email them to you. Pictures provide your child with visual support when needed.

  • If your child continues to exhibit articulation errors, do not criticize their speech, but provide a model instead. For instance, if they say “I saw a kuk in the pond”, repeat the sentence and emphasize the correct production of “duck” such as “Ohhhh you saw a DUCK in the pond”. Make sure to practice target sounds in the mirror and make it fun!

  • Continue working on more complex opposites such as on/off, in/out, etc. This is also a great time to focus on spatial concepts such as behind/in front of, up/down, under/on top. The best way to target prepositions is to actually act it out – make a frog jump up and down, put a block under and on top of a shoe box, etc.

  • Involve critical thinking into story time. Do not be afraid of reading the same books or introducing new books. Talk about the story line as you read with your child and feel free to ask who, what, where, when, why, and how questions. Have your child predict what will happen next. At the end, have your child recall what happened in the story or act it out with dolls or puppets. You can even record this with your phone or iPad. It is also a great idea to talk about your favorite part and have your child share what they loved most about the story as well.

  • Engage your child’s problem-solving skills by reading stories such as “Wacky Wednesday” or “No David!” and ask them what is wrong with the pictures. You can also create silly situations yourself by putting items where they are not supposed to go (e.g. – put a sock on your hand, put your shirt on backwards, etc.). This is a great way to target categories as well. Have your child name the item that does not belong in the group. For instance, “The pencil does not belong with the ocean animals” or you can even make it harder by categorizing according to size, color, etc. (e.g. – “The elephant does not belong with the ant, peanut, or raisin… it’s too big!”).

  • Encourage sequencing in a temporal manner by presenting your child with picture cards. To make it meaningful, personal pictures from the weekend or a recent vacation can be put in order. You can even use a favorite TV show or a familiar movie such as “Frozen”. Feel free to pause at certain parts and have them tell you what happened “First”, “Then”, and “Last”.

  • To target cause and effect relationships, use familiar fairy tales such as “Three Little Pigs” or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. Promote sentences such as “The wolf blew the straw house down because it wasn’t strong”. Ask your child “why” questions throughout the day to practice the concept.

  • Encourage reasoning skills by playing guessing games such as “I Spy”. Have your child guess what you are describing. For example “We use this to get places. It has 4 wheels.” (Car).

  • Have your child practice 3-4 step commands during daily routines. For example, when you get home tell them to “hang up your raincoat, take off your shoes, put them in the closet, and meet me in the kitchen”. Encourage your child to follow multiple step directions during cooking and art projects as well!

  • Make learning language playful! Engage in pretend play – dress up and pretend to go to the doctor, restaurant, hairdresser, etc. Feel free to watch YouTube videos beforehand to give your child ideas of what to say while acting!

  • Continue playing more games to promote turn-taking, language development, and sharing. Have them tell you or their friends and siblings the directions. Some of our favorite games for the 4-5 year old age range include: Hungry Hungry Hippos, Operation, Twister, Mouse Trap, Hi Ho Cherry-O, and memory games.

Written By: Gift of Gab Resources

Debbie Shiwbalak, M.A., CCC-SLP debbie@giftofgabresources.com

Alpin Rezvani, M.A., CCC-SLP alpin@giftofgabresources.com