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Is my 4-year-old Normal?

Communication Milestones for 4-year-olds

At 4, your child is a fully-fledged preschooler. This year between 3 and 4 is one of immense growth. They stretch out, get taller, lose some of their baby looks and turn into little individuals who are getting to tackle the world solo when they take off for preschool. There’s no doubt about it, 4-year-olds are bundles of fun and quirky conversations.

This checklist will put your mind at rest and help you recognise when that special small person in your life may need some extra support from a speech pathologist.

We will consider typical milestones across the following elements of communication:

  • Speech: the sounds your child is making and how they are putting them together to make words

  • Vocabulary: the words your child understands and uses, and how they store them

  • Receptive Language or Comprehension: how your child understands and responds to language

  • Expressive Language: the way your child expresses themselves through words and sentences. It includes how they use language and gestures to think and convey their thoughts, feelings and ideas.

  • Phonological Awareness: how they understand and interpret sounds which leads to literacy

  • Play and Cognitive Skills: which provide communication opportunities and help your child to develop language for thinking, reasoning and problem-solving

By 4-years, your child should be


  • Understood by at least 80% of people outside the family


  • Have a vocabulary between 1,500 and 1,600 words

Receptive Language

  • Follows 3-step directions without any cues

  • Listen to a short story and can answer questions about it

  • Understanding most of what is said at home and preschool

  • Following simple instructions involving things that are not present

  • Answering ‘when’ questions

  • Answering ‘how many’ questions (up to 4 items)

  • Understanding describing words such as big, bigger, biggest

  • Understanding the concept of time with words such as yesterday, today, tomorrow, first, then, next, last week etc

  • Identifying positional concepts such as first, middle, last

Expressive Language

  • Speak in full sentences with correct grammar

  • Use all pronouns correctly (they, us, he, she, him, her, his, hers, theirs, myself, ourselves etc)

  • Ask questions using correct grammar

  • Uses direct language with justification e.g. ‘stop that, you’re hurting me’

Phonological Awareness

  • Singing songs

  • Making up rhymes

  • Aware of print in books, on signs etc

  • Understands the sequence of a story

  • Knowing lots of letter names

  • Understanding the function and purpose of print

Play and Cognitive Skills

  • Able to negotiate in play

  • Using language to reason and solve problems

  • Using words to invite others to play

  • Playing competitive games

  • Talks about imaginative ideas e.g. ‘what if…’

If you are concerned that your child is not meeting these early communication milestones, it is the right time to see a speech pathologist. It is always best to seek help early and never take a ‘wait and see’ approach.

A speech pathologist will be able to assess your child’s communication skills and give you advice and strategies to encourage your child’s development.

At Newcastle Speech Pathology, we are passionate about helping children develop their communication skills and supporting their families because clear communication unlocks opportunities. Contact us to see how we can help you and your child.


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