Guest Post — Julie Miller (Speech Pathologist) from The Useful Box
Communication in children: From 3 – 4 years
In my last post, I wrote about the development of communication between 2 and 3 years of age. From 2-3 years is a time of rapid growth in communication skills. Expectations of communication at age 3 are vastly different to those at age 2.
Though the leap from 3-4 years is more subtle, it is no less significant. From 3-4 years, children continue to hone their communication skills. They are continuing down the continuum toward the abstract and literate language that will be required of them in their school years. From 3-4 years language is becoming increasingly complex with extended sentence length, an increase in use and ability to answer questions and an increasing ability to talk about past and future events rather than only about the “here and now”.
Below are the expectations for communication development in an average 3 year old and 4 year old:
Average communication development: 3- 4 years
At 3 years, most children are:
- Following 2-step related commands (e.g. “Pick up the book and put it on the table”).
- Using up to 900 words (if you are still counting!)
- Using different types of words: nouns (object words e.g. dog, ball), verbs (action words e.g. run, stop, go), adjectives and adverbs (describing words e.g. hot, dirty, happily), negatives (e.g. no, not), words for recurrence (e.g. more, again). It is important for sentence development that children have words from all these categories. I have seen children in therapy with literally hundreds of single words, but few sentences, because they are only using nouns!
- Using 3-4 word sentences, mostly simple sentences (e.g. The boy jumped).
- Using some grammar in sentences: plurals (e.g. shoes), -ing endings (e.g. running), pronouns (e.g. me, I, he) and prepositions (location words e.g. on, under, in).
- Able to be understood 80% of the time by an unfamiliar adult.
- Talking mostly about the “here” and “now”. They may have difficulty talking about past or future events or abstract concepts (e.g. emotions, reasons, causes)
At 4 years most children:
- Comprehend (though not always follow!) 2 and 3 step commands (e.g. Finish brushing your teeth, then get your bag and come out to the car).
- Use 1500-1600 words
- Ask LOTS of questions
- Use longer and more complex sentences (e.g. including regular use of “and”, “but”, “because” – “I am sad because Thomas hit me”)
- Begin to use …who… and …that… sentences (e.g. “The man who was wearing a red hat, got on the train”; “The hat that was red flew out the window”)
- Use describing words regularly (e.g. fast, hungry, happy)
- Still make some grammar errors (e.g. irregular plurals “foots”, “sheeps” or irregular past tense “runned”, “goed”)
- Recount stories and recent events
- Understand most questions (may struggle with “how” or “why”)
- Begin to talk about simple emotions (sad, happy, angry, embarrassed) and reasons (I feel sad because Sarah pushed me over).
- Make simple predictions (“What will happen next?”)
After reading these checklists, you may have concerns about your child’s language development. If you have any concerns please contact a local Speech Pathologist (through your school, community health centre or private clinic). Also, feel free to drop me an email: julie (at) theusefulbox (dot) com if you want to ask me any questions privately.
Apart from seeking professional help if required, there are simple things we can be doing to help our children develop their language skills between 3 and 4 years of age.
Promoting language development: 3 – 4 years
1) Talk, listen, play
Allocate some time each day to spend with your child. Allow your child to determine the focus of play and conversation. Listen to your child’s speech. Comment on what your child is doing. Avoid asking questions or giving instructions. Look for opportunities to model specific language structures as required (see below).
2) Read with your child daily
Introduce your child to more complex (but meaningful) language by sharing books. Don’t be scared of complex language at this stage of development. Choose books that have a mixture of simple and complex sentences, new concepts, some abstract ideas and/or talk about emotions.
Use books to probe more complex language skills. Stop at the end of a page and ask your child; “What might happen next?”, “What is the problem?”, “What could they do?”, “How does the boy feel?” or relate the story to real-life experiences; “Has that ever happened to you?”, “What makes you feel happy?”…
3) Simplify/ Modify your language
I have mentioned “simplifying your language” in previous posts. Perhaps at this stage of language development, it could more correctly be termed “modifying your language”.
When communicating with a 3-year-old, you are likely to be modelling expanded and increasingly complex sentences
e.g. Child says: “You brush my hair mummy”
Parent says: “I’ll brush your hair so it won’t get too messy”
Child says: “That man has black shoes”
Parent says: “The man who is sitting at the bus stop has black shoes”
4) Model specific vocabulary or grammar
Modelling is about altering your speech/language to help your child’s communication development. There is no response required from your child. You do not provide any direct feedback on what your child says or how they say it. You simply use your child’s language output as a guide to determine how/ what you will model.
a) Child says “I drawed a picture for you”
Parent says “Oh, you drew a picture, thanks!”
b) Child says: “Let’s go in a camping house”.
Parent says “Do you want to stay in a tent?” (with emphasis on “tent”).
Modelling does not involve asking your child to say the sentence again or “drilling” the error. Provide the correct model, with emphasis, and then move on in the conversation.
5) Consider social interaction, play skills and speech sound development
All these areas can have a huge impact on communication development. If you have any concerns with your child’s ability to interact with peers and adults, to demonstrate appropriate attention to task in play situations, or to play appropriately, consult a Speech Pathologist or paediatrician (or again, feel free to email me with any questions).
For more information on communication in babies (0-1 year), children (1-2 years) and children (2-3 years) see my previous guest posts: