From preschool to first grade: Does your child need speech and language assistance?

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By this time of year, you've made it through back-to-school season and have established a routine. But what if your child is struggling to keep up, while other students seem to excel?

These shortcomings may be related to speech and language development and a consultation with a pediatric speech-language pathologist might be beneficial.

The beginning of a school year is a time when you may start to notice differences between your child and their peers. If communication skills are falling behind, this can have an impact on academic learning, social skills and reading proficiency.

Speech and articulation difficulties are often easy to hear, because the child can be hard to understand while talking. Of course, we don’t expect toddlers to speak perfectly clearly, and many errors are appropriate throughout childhood.

Language difficulties can be more difficult to spot. Receptive language challenges may look like inconsistency in following directions or understanding questions. Expressive language difficulties might appear as a limited vocabulary or use of short or simple phrases and sentences. Other signs of struggling communication may include frustration when trying to communicate, difficulty with transitions, or reduced interest in social activities.

Children learn and grow so fast, so it can be hard to know what’s expected. Here are some guidelines to help you determine when you may want to bring up potential speech and language concerns with your pediatrician. If your child is not hitting these milestones, your family may benefit from a consultation with a pediatric speech-language pathologist.

For children entering preschool (age 3):

  • consistently uses early-developing sounds including /m/, /n/, /p/, /b/, /h/, /w/
  • emerging production of /f/, /v/, /k/, /g/
  • uses nearly 1,000 words
  • uses sentences of three to four words
  • follows 1- and 2-step directions
  • answers “what,” “where,” “who” and “why” questions
  • asks “what” question frequently
  • uses words to relate observations, concepts, ideas and relationships

For children entering Kindergarten (age 5):

  • articulation is mostly clear, and any errors are predictable, may have difficulty with /v/, /l/, /th/, /ch/, “J,” /s/, /z/, “zh” and /r/
  • uses future, present and past tenses
  • asks questions to get information
  • understands simple location and descriptive concepts
  • uses all pronouns correctly
  • tells a story with a simple plot (problem, action to solve problem and outcome)

For children entering First Grade (age 6):

  • articulation should be clear, with the potential exception of difficulty with sound blends
  • uses adult-like grammar in sentences and conversation
  • predicts the next sequence of events and tells a 4 to 5 part story
  • understands complex location and time concepts
  • asks lots of “why”, “what” and “how” questions
  • tells stories using true narratives with plot and character development

If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language development, talk to your pediatrician or contact a Beaumont speech-language pathologist. An evaluation by a certified, licensed professional may be their recommendation. The evaluation can help help determine if intervention is needed.


Information provided by Kellie Bouren, M.A., Supervisor, Speech and Language Pathology, Beaumont Children's.