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Casey Mulligan Walsh, M.S., CCC-SLP
Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist
Brittonkill Central Schools

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S/L Development


Language Development in the Early Childhood Years:

The Key to Classroom Success

          Do you have, or know, a preschool child, ages 3 - 5?  Have you ever wondered whether his or her speech or language development is age-appropriate, or what to do if you have concerns in these areas? 

          Parents, as their children’s major communication partners, are often first to notice a delay in speech or language development.  They may wonder about the difference between “speech” and “language,” what a child of their child’s age should be doing, and at what point they should begin to follow up on concerns.

          Speech is the production of speech sounds that make up words and sentences.  Language refers to the use of words and sentences to convey ideas, desires, and feelings.  Each of these is a rule-based system that is often learned naturally as children listen to the speech and language of the adult and peer models around them.

Speech and language milestones for 3-5 year olds include learning to carry on a conversation, ask and answer questions, follow and give directions, and speak alone when with a group.  More specifically, children between 3-4 are typically becoming more intelligible (able to make their speech understood by others), understanding 1200–2000 words, using 800-1500 words, beginning to use pronouns accurately (I, he, she, you, me, mine), and beginning to use correct sentence order for asking questions (“Is that mine?).  Between ages 4 and 5, children typically understand a greater number of basic concepts (above, below, top, bottom, heavy/light, loud/soft, etc.), use most common sounds consistently and accurately although sometimes not in all positions in words, and so on.

          Perhaps a simpler way of identifying children who should be evaluated for speech or language difficulties is to look for factors and behaviors that are common in children with these issues.  Factors that may contribute to suspecting such delays include:
    Frequent ear infections or a long hospital stay (6 months or more)
                    2.   Your child is not easily understood by adults and children outside the
                         the immediate family
                    3.   Child expresses frustration when trying to communicate
                    4.   Delay of one year or more in developing speech and language skills.

 Look for these concerns in your child:


              ·     Says only one or two words at a time

              ·     Cannot answer “who” or “what” questions

              ·     Speech only understandable when context is known

              ·     Seems to “tune out” what others say

              ·     Speaks only when spoken to

              ·     Needs gestures or visual cues to follow directions

              ·     Repeats what others say rather than responding to questions


              ·     Uses only 2-3 word phrases; poor word order

              ·     Cannot answer simple “what,” “where,” or “why” questions

              ·     Sentences or words are jumbled and disordered

              ·     Only speaks to others when prodded, then speaks as little as possible

              ·     Does not respond to simple two-step directions (e.g., “Go to the

             kitchen and bring me a spoon

              ·     Cannot listen to two or three lines of a story and answer simple

       questions about what was read


              ·     Talks in only 3-4 word sentences about present events

              ·     Cannot answer questions about “yesterday” or “tomorrow”

              ·     Poor articulation still a problem; speech is unclear

              ·     Talks a great deal but remarks are irrelevant to the situation

              ·     Has trouble listening to a story of more than 4-5 sentences without
            “tuning out”


          If any of these factors exist, a speech-language evaluation is strongly recommended.  The most effective approach to ensuring your child's success in school is to identify and improve weak skills prior to that first day of Kindergarten.  The earlier that needs are identified, the greater the window of opportunity for effectively remediating or compensating for them.


         If you would like further information regarding speech-language development or would like to discuss any concerns you may have, you are welcome to contact the district speech-language pathologists, Casey Walsh or Kelly Fletcher, at 279-4600 ext. 1033.



Schrader. M., ed. 1988.  Parent articles: Enhancing parent involvement in language learning.  Communication Skill Builders: Tucson, AZ.


Gard, A., Gilman, L., Gorman, J. 1993. Speech and language development chartPro-Ed: Austin, TX.

This page contains links to sites that offer a wealth of information regarding speech and language development, causes of delays, and activities to foster development in these areas.

Early Learning Guidelines, Birth to 3 Years and Beyond: Resources to Support Language and Literacy Development
Nebraska's Early Childhood Training Center presents a comprehensive list of articles on the web that relate to the  development of language and literacy skills
  Help Your Child Learn to Use Language
An explanation of  language development and recommendations for both online and offline activities for you to do with your child to stimulate skills development
Language Development Chart
A helpful chart detailing language development from 6 months to 8 years together with additional information regarding language and communication from 4 months to 18 years
Nurturing Oral Language Skills In Infants and Young Children
An overview of language development along with suggestions for nurturing oral language development and emergent literacy skills.
Phonological Processes
A clear description of common and idiosyncratic phonological processes (rules used to simplify adult speech so that it is more easily pronounced by developing children), taken from Larry H. Small's Fundamentals of Phonetics
  Speech-Language Development, Birth - Age 6
Milestones to watch for in children's speech and language development
  Speech-Language Milestones, Birth - Age 6
The course of children's development mapped using a chart of developmental milestones
The Speech-Language Pathology Website
An information service for those interested in speech and language development and associated disorders with links to other sites with information on related topics
Speech Links
Speech lesson plans and ideas, as well as links to a wealth of information regarding speech and language disorders
Speech Sound Development
A complete listing of typical speech sound acquisition age ranges


Understanding Language Delay
The Hanen Centre's guide to language delay, including a list of developmental milestones
  Vocal Development.Com
Listen to examples of precanonical, canonical, and postcanonical vocalizations to listen for as baby develops

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Contact Mrs. Walsh at:

Brittonkill Central Schools / Tamarac Elementary School 

3992 NY 2
Troy, NY 12180

518.279.4600 x

©1997-2007 Brittonkill Central Schools
3992 NY  2, Troy, NY 12180