Preschool Speech and Language | How should my 4-year-old be talking, understanding, and playing?
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Having previously written articles that outline two-year-old and three-year-old speech and language skills, I thought it’s only fair for me to provide some insight into four-year-olds! A child’s first 5 years are an especially important time to keep track of his or her development.

During these years it is still early enough to catch problems and prevent them from having a significant impact on your child’s social and academic success.

Four-year-olds are SO much fun! They are full-on little people by this age and personality really starts to come out. I have enjoyed this stage with my two children immensely! As a matter of fact I’m still enjoying it with my youngest who is four and a half.

Between four and five years of age (to be clear, we're talking 48-60 months), language skills are maturing rapidly and many children sound like little teenagers already at this age - cue the tears, am I right, Mommies?

Here are some guidelines of what to be looking for in your 4- to 5-year-old’s speaking, understanding, and play skills!


What your child should be saying

Produces all speech sounds - A four-year-old should not be omitting any sounds, including consonant clusters such as “sl, st, sk” for example. If he or she says “side” instead of a “slide,” says “top” instead of “stop,” or deletes a syllable or sound from a word, it’s a good idea to get an articulation assessment!

May make intermittent errors on l, s, r, v, z, ch, sh, and/or th sounds - Although children shouldn't omit speech sounds at four, they may still make a few substitutions. For a four-year old to say “fank you” instead of “thank you” is not beyond the range of normal and many will “outgrow” this developmental error. However...

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...four years old is not too early to start helping your child practice correct pronunciation!

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are specially trained to help children find the correct placement of their tongue, teeth and other “articulators” to produce a sound correctly.

Gives personal information such as his/her city and month of his/her birthday - Your child’s developing brain is a sponge! I’m sometimes surprised at the amount of information my children can remember if I will only teach it to them.

Names basic shapes like “circle” and “square” - A four-year-old will probably notice these shapes in his or her environment and point them out to you. This is a fun activity to do in the car to avoid the dreaded screen time. Have a shape hunt and see who can find the most of a particular shape as you drive around town running errands.

Names six to seven colors  - And can probably point to (or, “identify”) even more!

Uses adjectives to describe people, places, and things - All of those bedtime stories and library books you’ve been reading have been teaching your child and expanding his or her vocabulary. Expect to hear words like “beautiful,” “huge,” “yucky,” and “scary” on the regular.

Retells the main events of an unfamiliar picture book story while looking at the pictures and includes the beginning, middle, and end - Although we parents may not think of “testing” our children at home with an activity like this, it may be a skill your child already possesses that you don’t even know about! If he or she struggles with the retelling skill, speech and language therapy will help to strengthen his or her language skills!

Describes a simple procedure such as how to make a sandwich - Four-year-olds are notorious for exerting their independence - why not let her help make lunch and ask her to describe what they are doing? Help her to use sequencing words (first, next, last) to tell a “how to.”

Uses future tense verbs, several irregular past tense verbs, and several irregular plurals - To help you avoid having to flip through the old English grammar file drawers in your brain, let me break it down for you…

  • Future tense verbs: “I will do it.” “We will go to the park soon.” etc.

  • Irregular past tense verbs: “saw,” “broke,” “ran,” “went,” etc.

  • Irregular plurals: “leaves,” “mice,” “fish,” etc.


What your child should understand

Understands simple time concepts such as “yesterday” and “tomorrow” - Routines are very important for children to feel a sense of security and develop self-discipline. Your four-year-old should be using time concept words to talk about past and future events.

Answers and Asks Simple three- to five-word questions beginning with "Which"

  • “Which way does this go?”

  • “Which one do you want?”

Points to basic shapes like “triangle, rectangle, and diamond” - A child will typically be able to “identify” or point to more shapes than they can name independently.

Understands and uses directional words such as around, above, and below - These types of concepts are crucial for being able to follow directions at home. How many times have you told your child where something is so they can get it for themselves?

Directional words, or spatial concepts, are also very important in a classroom for following directions.

Names items in categories such as clothing, animals, and furniture - Being able to categorize items into groups is an important skill that is easy to take for granted. We often subconsciously use categories as a memory strategy when we are trying to think of a word or a tool to help provide a description to someone.


How your child should be playing

Prefers playing with other children rather than adults and begins to share and take turns - At least most of the time! Children need lots of practice with these social skills. Spending time with siblings, cousins, and neighbors is important! Sending your four-year-old to a mother’s-day-out program or preschool will also give them lots of practice playing with other children and sharing. So do trips to the park and other places that children can meet and play with others - including the family favorite, Chick-fil-A! 

Engaging in games with simple rules - Classic favorites like “Hide and Seek” are perfect for this age group! Your little one may not be able to resist popping out and revealing his location, but he is beginning to understand the rules and begin to play by them. Some 4-year-old children with a longer attention span may even be able to play simple card games such as “Go Fish” or “Uno.” Try it! Your child may surprise you.



Playing imaginatively (cooking, dressing up) - Most preschool classrooms have “centers” or zones for imaginative play and this is why! Four year olds can really get into pretending and it is an important part of learning. Pretend play puts speech and language skills to the test in order to keep a scenario going.

Keep in mind that social skills don’t come easily to all children! SLPs help children with social communication difficulties to strengthen their skills, enabling them to make and keep friends, participate in groups, and build strong relationships.


What to do if you have concerns

Talk to a speech-language pathologist! A brief 10 minute phone conversation can set your mind at ease by determining whether your child needs a speech and language evaluation. Remember, don’t wait and see - early intervention is key!

At Montgomery Speech Therapy (MST), we offer play-based and family-centered speech therapy for children - from toddlers to teenagers. With individual therapy sessions from your child’s home or school setting, our aim is to provide fun, motivating activities that drive your child toward becoming a confident and effective communicator.