How you can help with preschool children’s speech development 

Speech skills are important for good communication. It is exciting to watch and help a child learn to speak and there are lots of things that educators and parents can do to help. Children start to speak in single words from around their first birthday. They learn more and more words and then start to join words together usually from about 18 months. As children are learning to talk they may be a bit hard to understand sometimes and not get all the sounds in words correct, this is normal so it’s good to know what to expect at certain ages. 

Let’s start with a quick look at what typically occurs in young children 

 

Ages and stages for preschool children 

Children learn speech sounds at different ages and there are some typical milestones that you can look out for. Usually children will master basic sounds before complex patterns such as  consonant clusters (I.e., st, cl, tr) and longer multi-syllable words. 

Most children will develop speech sounds by the following ages and reach these milestones: 

3  4 years – children will usually be able to say most of the consonant sounds (e.g., m, n, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g, ng, f, y, s, z, ch, j, sh, l). They are starting to say consonant clusters at the beginning of words eg stop or at the end of word eg bentMost children will be able to say the vowels sounds correctly also eg oh, ee, ay.  

By 4  5 years children can also recognise and say rhymes and hear syllables in words. They may be able to identify individual sounds in words. This is known as phonological awareness and it is an important pre-reading skill. 

They may still be having trouble with and eg wabbit for rabbit and bery for very. Consonant blends may not always be correct (egstreet bread, clue, jump). 

Later developing sounds in Australian English include the voiced th (as in this and mother) and the voiceless th (as in thumb and teeth), which may not be correct until 7-8 years. 

 

What do preschool children find difficult? 

There are some common error patterns that we see in children age 3-5 years. ‘Fronting’ is an error where the child has their tongue forward in the month when it should be further back. The t and k gets swapped over in fronting so car is pronounced tar’. You may have heard this is some children. Lisping is another common speech error where the tongue is too far forward in the mouth so sounds like th eg. thun for sun etc.  

Preschool children may have difficulty saying consonant clusters like in stop and leave out one of the sounds  eg top’ or ‘dop’ for ‘stop’ etc. Longer words with lots of syllables may be tricky too eg hospital and ambulance. 

 

Why do children have speech delays or disorders? 

Sometimes the cause is clear for example due a physical reason such as hearing loss or teeth falling out (and causing a lisp), tongue tie or a cleft palate. Using dummies (pacifiers), thumb sucking and drinking from bottles with teats for extended periods can contribute to the child to having their tongue too far forward in their mouth and can lead to fronting errors, lisps and sometimes dribbling. Usually, however, there is no clear reason. The child’s speech development is delayed or has gone off track a little from the typical development for whatever reason. 

 

How can you help with these common errors? 

You can help by:

  • Modelling clear speech 
  • Praising the child when you hear them say the sounds correctly
  • Repeat back correctly what the child has said e.g. child says ‘There’s a tar.’ You say. ‘Yes it’s a car. A noisy car.’ Or child says I want a do”. You say “Do you want a go? Ok let’s GO!” 
  • Use other cues to show the child how to make the sound “Watch my mouth, look in the mirror together and say the sound, use visual prompts to remind them to keep their tongue back. I will show you some of these tips in the webinar coming up. 
  • Read books that are loaded with one or two speech sounds e.g. One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, by Dr Seuss for the (you guessed it) and sh sounds! 
  • Clap out words to help get all the syllables in eg am-bu-lance, di-na –saur etc 
  • Give the child a choice if you haven’t understood – ‘Did you mean ball or boy? 
  • Read to your child as often as you can. Every day is best. 
  • Play rhyming games, I spy and tongue twisters to help children start to think about sounds and letters 

 

Who can you turn to if you are worried? 

Don’t wait and see. If you are concerned there arprofessionals to help. Early advice and help is almost always better. 

An audiologist can check your child’s hearing and this is often a good place to start. Ear infections and associated hearing loss is common in young children and can affect speech development if it persists and is left untreated. Sometimes, children with middle ear infection do not show a lot of symptoms so if your child’s speech is difficult to understand you can start with a hearing test. 

speech pathologist can assess your child’s speech and language development and help them learn the sounds they are having problems with. Contact your local community health centre or www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au to find one near you. 

 

Want to learn more about articulation disorders and how you can help with preschool children’s speech development? 

Please join me on Wednesday 18 November a12.30 pm or 6.30pm AEDT for a free 30 minute webinar where I will cover  

  • typical speech development in preschool children  
  • common speech error patterns 
  • my speech pathology tips to help you encourage good speech skills in the children you are working with 
  • when and who to refer to for help. 

I will share  a handy resourcfor sound placement cues and you will receive a copy in your email box following the webinar. 

This webinar is aimed at Educators but parents are also welcome to register.