Language Development in Preschoolers - SmartMom

Language Development in Preschoolers

Preschool is an exciting time in the realm of a child’s language. In fact, from age 2 to age 4, a child goes from expressively using 200+ words to 1500+ words! Because of the language development in preschoolers, your little one could be a whole new person by the time kindergarten comes around. The growth in language is exponential both expressively (the words a child uses) and receptively (the words a child understands). This is an exciting time both for your child and for you as you navigate new experiences and foster language in day-to-day activities.

As you embark on this language renaissance with your preschooler, you may be ready to pull out the French flashcards and DVDs. However, there’s a few things to keep in mind about how your preschooler learns language and how you can create an environment conducive with language learning. 

Give experiences:  “Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” said Albert Einstein. Learning language is no exception. Based on years of research and studies, we know that children learn language through experience. They develop “scripts” by visiting the zoo or shopping at the grocery store. For example, a child learns that when going to the grocery store, mom always pulls out her list. They begin to develop a script for the grocery store. This script includes the word “list” as well as a multitude of others! These scripts are remembered because they are not merely memorized, but are experienced. For example, a college student takes a Spanish class. Another college student spends a semester abroad in Barcelona. Who is fluent in Spanish? Likely, the student who studied abroad now has the capacity to apply their knowledge of Spanish based on his/her experience! It’s no different with preschoolers. Although their brains are primed to capture a ton of language at this age, their language is also greatly enriched through their experiences.

Provide quantity (and quality): A study done by Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995) found that children from lower socio-economic backgrounds hear 30 million words less by the age of four than their same aged, but higher class, peers. This language deficit has a huge impact on a child’s ability to be successful once they enter school. The Thirty Million Words Initiative has created a program that empowers parents to use effective language strategies with their children. They use these amazing word counters (I call them language pedometers!) by LENA to ensure that the children are hearing enough child directed language throughout their day! So, this raises the question – is it simply about quantity? If so, can I just get my preschooler an iPod and have them listen to words all day? Nope, not all language input is equal for children. In fact, television is not recommended at all for children under the age of 2, and only 1 hour a day is recommended for children ages 3-5. As a parent, talking to your child is one of the best ways to ensure they are receiving both quantity and quality of language in his/her daily life. You have the capacity to infuse everyday activities with rich language.

Foster relationships: Social skills have received a lot of attention lately in parenting media. Due to the rise in ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), becoming attentive to your child’s social skills has become a bit of an obsession for some parents. The preschool years are a time when these skills are continuing to develop. However, social skills begin much earlier. In fact, social skills begin developing before 3 months in a child, as they begin to use cooing to express their feelings. Plenty of moms recall the emotions being expressed by their newborn in the wee hours of the night, but may not have thought of this as the beginning of social skills! Between the ages of 3 and 4, children start expressing their ideas and emotions versus commenting on the world around them. Preschool children can also identify situations that would lead to a certain emotion, which can be a fun way to incorporate social skills into literature, asking questions like, “What do you think this character is feeling? Why do you think that?” As a parent, providing your child with opportunities to build relationships is a great way to foster their language and social skills. Maybe your child is enrolled in a preschool or perhaps you have a standing play date with a few mommy friends. Most city libraries offer plenty of programs for preschoolers, as do local bookstores and parks. These can be great experiences and can yield language benefits twofold, since your preschooler is talking to friends during the activity and then has the opportunity to reflect on the experience with you after!

Here are a couple helpful resources for understanding your child’s language development:

Developmental Milestones Birth to 8 Years by First Years

Vocabulary Development by Super Duper


Got a number to get my daughter a free screening for the public schools, maybe they can help with her speech since it’s too late for first steps.

I’m bilingual. I want my LO to be bilingual as well, like fully fluent in both English & Spanish. I just don’t know how to go about it. My mother & husband said to speak only Spanish to him at home & let him learn English when he starts school. But I don’t want him to be clueless when someone speaks to him in English prior to school…has anyone trained their LO in both languages at once?

Hi moms I have a 3yr toddler and she is at home with me because am a full time mom. Next year she will start school but people are asking me if I could take her to speech therapy because she doesn’t speak perfectly. I think once she is surrounded with her age kids she will gradually learn how to speak, but it seems other people don’t think so…what shall I do?

I feel like I’m going to cry. I just filled or forms to send my 3 year old to headstart. Please tell me I won’t be this emotional with all my children. I wouldn’t rush her into school if I wasn’t worried about her speech.

Any moms out there with children with a speech delay? My daughter is 3 and her speech is very delayed. She’s in therapy and she’s improved so much, I just worry she’ll still be really behind when she starts preschool. Does anyone have any similar experiences, did your kids get in the swing of things? What helped them in your opinion the most? I read to her all the time.

Are there any other moms out there who are trying to raise bilingual children? My baby is 6 months and were trying to raise him speaking Spanish because he will learn English in school, but I’ve heard sometimes speaking both can get their speech delayed, should we speak to him in all Spanish? I have been reading him both English and Spanish books. Or what did you do to raise your children bilingual?

Excited & nervous for today. This afternoon we have a meeting at my sons school with his teacher, someone from the school board, the speech therapist, & the person who tested him, to go over what we’re gonna do about his speech and the goals were setting for him…

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About Melissa Elchison

Melissa Elchison is currently pursuing her clinical fellowship as a speech and language pathologist. Previously, she studied education and was an early childhood researcher at The Ohio State University and University of Cincinnati. She enjoys barre classes, traveling with her husband, and trying new recipes.