Speech Pathologist’s top 5 tips for preschoolers

Mimi Naylor, Speech Pathlogist

Categories: Parenting Tips

Is your child 3, 4 or 5 years old? Here are 5 top tips from a speech pathologist to get them ready for starting school.

The word ‘preschoolers’ says it exactly. These are the years before your child goes to school. 

All of a sudden you’re trying to figure out whether your child is ready to go to school, and when the second-hand uniform sale is on. You have a checklist of all the things you need shop for before the school starts.

But, when do you shop for school readiness skills, and what would these be? 

Some essential pre-school skills should be in your shopping basket at least 6 months to 18 months before school starts. Here are a few from a speech pathology perspective.

1.  Speech Sounds 

Here is a rough guide to the order that they develop, along with the age by which that sound should be able to be said clearly, on its own, in all positions in words (e.g. ‘k’ → car, biking, like) in short sentences, and in conversation. For example, by the time a child is ages 3 years 6 months, they should able to say the sound ‘k’ and ‘g’ clearly, in all contexts: “My car”, “I like riding my bike in the park”
Age 2 - m, n, h, b, d
Age 3 -  p, b, t, sh, f, ng, w, y
Age 3.5 - k, g
Age 4 - s, z, l
Age 4.5 - v, ch, dg (bridge)
Age 5 - r, th

Why work on sounds early? There are some sounds that seem to linger around taking their time to become clear. The ideal situation is to work on these before they start school. The most obvious reason is that as kids learn to spell, they sound out words ‘c - a - t’. If what they are saying to themselves is incorrect, it’s going to keep tripping them up, making literacy learning all that more difficult. However, more than that, research tells us that children with difficulties with speech sounds are much more likely to have weaker pre-literacy skills - so early detection and intervention is the best way forward.

If your child has a ‘lisp’, where ‘s’ sounds are said as ‘th’, let’s deal with it in the pre-school years, as this can take some time to work on. Children typically lose their front teeth at around age 6, this means we cannot treat the lisp in this time. Therefore therapy may not be possible for up to 10 months, by then they may be 7, nearly 8! 

Speech clarity. Last thought. At age 3, a child should be understood by an unfamiliar listener 50-75% of the time. By age 5, they should be easily understood 100% of the time.

2. Hearing 

When we ask parents about their child’s hearing, the answer is often, “Oh they can hear alright! If I say ‘chocolate’, they will come running”. Our response is that we are not questioning if your child can hear, but whether they child can hear at all appropriate frequencies. The ‘blowing’ speech sounds ‘f’, ‘s’, ‘th’ sounds are all high frequency sounds. If your child has a difficulties hearing high frequencies, this would affect their perception and impact them developing those sounds. Later on this can affect their literacy. If they can’t hear clearly, this impacts their ability to join in and practice learning and using new words, which impacts language. If they are unsure on how use language, they may be more unsure in social situations. You see how this all links in together!  

3. Understanding Language

Can your child follow instructions with one step or a few steps? Does your child find it hard to understand events in a story? Do they have trouble responding to questions? 

Age 3
Age 4  Age 5 
 Follows instructions with 2 steps
Understands concepts of:
-  Size ( big/little)
-  Position (in, on, off, shut)
-  Quantity (one, two) 
 Understands concepts of 
- Size: (long, short)
- Quantity (every, none)
- Colours
- Negatives (not, none)
- Location (front, behind, next to)
 Follows instructions up to 3 steps.
Understands concepts of 
-  Opposites
-  Comparative (big, biggest)
-  Sequence (first, next, last)
-  Order (before, then)

4. Using Language

Children often know so much more than they can say yet. So, growing their vocabulary, boosts their spoken language. We find that many ‘late talkers’ that come to us with reduced vocabulary are often missing ‘action’ words (verbs). Verbs glue ideas together and give them life. Missing these really impacts on the richness of their language.

Age 3  Age 4   Age 5  
Says sentences with 4 or more words
Uses action words, naming words, describing words
Talks about what happened recently
Uses sentences with 5-6 words
Joins sentences together with ‘and’
Adds grammar features -ed for past tense
Uses pronouns (his /hers)
Able to tell a story talking about the characters
Can use lengthy sentences 9 or more words
Uses words for complex emotions (excited, confused)
Using some irregular past tense (flew, caught)
Able to negotiate and have conversations

5. Pre-Literacy Skills

Your child should love books, and stories. Exposure to songs and stories that rhyme is really helpful. They do not need to know their letters before they go to school, but knowing some of their sounds is really helpful.

So what’s already in you pre-school shopping basket? If your child is going to school next year, and you do not already have all of these in your basket, it’s time to investigate how to order them online, and get them delivered express post. Your local Speech Pathologist is usually quite helpful. A speech and language screener provides that security blanket to check that all areas are developing on track.

Mimi Naylor has been a speech pathologist for 15 years. She is the Clinical Director of The SPEECH Centre Forestville in Sydney. It runs a FREE Community Drop-In Clinic on Friday mornings, for parents wishing to chat to a Speech Pathologist, and screening services for parents and childcare centres. She has been a Clinical Educator for more than 10 years, supervising speech pathology students and lecturing in clinical practice at the University of Sydney. 

This article completes Mimi’s series on language in the early years. See original posts. 
Born to Talk: Nurturing Your Baby's Verbal Communication Skills
Your Guide to Toddler Talk: Insights from a Speech Pathologist Mum

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