Learning to communicate

Preschoolers show amazing changes in their language. They quickly learn many words that name and describe people, places, things, actions and experiences in their world. They move from short sentences that leave out some words (e.g., “Big dog coming now”) to simple, complete sentences (e.g., “The big dog is coming to my house”).


Most people will understand your preschooler’s speech and be able to have conversations with him in person and on the phone. There may be a few sounds he still can’t say correctly.






Other interesting things about preschool speech and language skills:

  • Your preschooler’s vocabulary is really growing.
    • As he learns new words, he may ask, "What’s this?". He needs to hear words many times before he uses them. You may be surprised at the words he learns.
    • He’ll have a word for almost everything he’s interested in, including words to describe things (e.g., big, round, red, pretty, fast).
    • He’ll start to tell stories. He may enjoy telling jokes, even if they don’t make sense. His stories may include a lot of short sentences connected by “and then”.
  • Preschoolers are very curious. Your child may ask many who, where, why and when questions to learn more about his world.
    • He asks "Why?" because he wants to know how things work. He needs you to show and tell him.
    • He asks "When?" as he’s learning about time. Soon he’ll understand that supper is 'later' and that you’re going to the library 'tomorrow'.
  • Your preschooler is learning how things are the same and different. For example, 2 apples are both round. One is red and the other is green.
    • During play, he may line up or sort things into groups (e.g., cars, animals). Talk with him about how the items in the group are the same or different.
    • Your child may have a favourite colour and will learn to name it. He may like to find other things that are the same colour.
  • Preschoolers start to choose books about things that interest them.
    • Your child may enjoy silly stories and rhymes by the time he is 4 years old.
    • He may also start to add his own rhyming words during games and songs.
  • Your preschooler will be able to follow longer instructions (e.g., “Please put your toys away, take this cup to the kitchen and then go get a book for us to read".). He may be able to find an object when you tell him it’s in, on, under, behind or in front of something.
  • You can encourage your child’s speech and language development

    • Take time every day to talk with your child. He will learn to follow conversations and take turns listening.
    • Start conversations. Take turns telling each other about your day (e.g., "What was the best thing that happened today?", "What did you learn?").
    • Give him time to answer. Avoid rushing him.
    • Comment on what he says and then wait for him to tell you more.
    • Try not to ask too many questions that get a one-word answer such as “yes” or “no”. Instead, ask questions that start with who, what or where.

  • To learn more about speech and language development and when to get help to support your child:

    • Call Health Link toll-free in Alberta at 8-1-1 to find information about speech-language services in your area

Early reading and writing

Since birth, your child has been building the skills that will help him read and write. He learns these skills when he scribbles, draws, talks about pictures, and listens to or tells stories.

  • You can promote reading and writing

    • Go to libraries regularly. Let your child pick out his own books.
    • Read every day and read often. Keep books anywhere you or your child can take a few minutes to read any time of day.
      • Read books with pictures, rhymes and repetition. Your child will love to hear his favourite stories over and over.
      • Try to find new ways to make familiar stories interesting for both of you. Start a sentence and let your child fill in the words (e.g., “Jack and Jill went up the _____”). Act out the story with his toys.
      • Run your finger along the words on the page so your child begins to connect the sounds you are saying to the printed words. This also shows him the direction of reading in your language.
    • Talk with your child about signs and printed words in everyday life. Point out the words on cereal boxes and signs.
    • Draw and write indoors and outdoors. Draw and write with your child—pictures, signs, lists and cards. Use chalk on a sidewalk or a stick in the dirt or snow.
    • Let your child see you read. Children who see others reading are more likely to want to read.
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