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Communicative and Motor Aspects of Preschooler Development


Changes in speech and language are the most dramatic transformation during the preschool period. Communication proceeds from largely unintelligible bullets of speech to language that allows him to ask complex questions, describe events, share feelings, and enter into independent relationships and learning. Children master most of the rules of grammar (syntax) by age 6, largely without direct instruction or correction preschooler.

Communication Skills in Preschoolers






No jargon; 150 to 500 words


Sentence length/MLU*

2 words/1.5 to 2.5

3 to 4 words/2.5 to 5.0

4 to 5 words/3.5 to 6.5 in paragraphs

Intelligibility to stranger




Grammatic forms

Verbs, some adjectives and adverbs

Plurals, pronouns

Past tense

Future tense

Typical examples

Talks about current action, no jargon, names pictures*

Tells own age and sex, counts to 3, metacognitive language (eg, "He said"; "I know")

Describes recent experiences, can sing songs, gives first and last names, counts to 4, identifies gender of self and others

Counts to 10 or more, recognizes most letters of the alphabet, knows telephone number and address


Dysfluency is common

Dysfluency is common

Some dysfluency

Dysfuencies not expected

*MLU = mean length of utterance measured by the number of meaningful units or morphemes rather than words.

The 2-year-old child uses words for communication. Although such speech usually is not very intelligible to a stranger, it does consist of words rather than jargon. The child still is acquiring language rapidly.

a very restricted set of speech sounds in their early words. Those 2-year-olds who have an expressive language delay but normal comprehension (see next section) have a significantly better prognosis for future language.

The typical 3-year-old speaks in well-formed, simple sentences of three or four words. A child of this age who produces few spontaneous utterances of three words or more in length should raise concern. Sentence length increases by one or two words annually throughout the preschool period, with at least the same number of words.

A 5-year-old can be expected to use complete sentences tending to contain about five words. However, the parallel with counting ability ends at this stage; the 5-year-old can count as many as ten objects or more.

Dysfluency (aberration of speech rate and rhythm) occurs transiently between about 2.5 and 4 years of age. Persistent and worsening stuttering beyond the age of 4 should be taken seriously.

As a group, girls are more advanced than boys in language acquisition. Three to five percent of children may be affected by the developmental type of expressive language disorder. Children who have superior language skills have fewer behavior problems (especially with aggression), are more amenable to parental discipline, can negotiate better with peers, are more resilient to stress, and are less likely to have reading-related academic problems.


TABLE 4. Comprehension





Number step command

100% for 1 without gesture



Number of body parts

names 1, identifies 7

Number of colors

2 named

4 named



self and others

Own names

refers to self by name

first and last

Numbers counted

says "2" (not counted)

counts to 3

10, knows number


which is bigger, on, under

which is longer,2 opposites

School Readiness

Communication skills are often of concern because of their importance to schooling. Evidence during the visit may include: ability to answer questions asked by the clinician during the visit, such as name, age, colors, numbers, alphabet, general information; problems noted on the pure tone hearing test; or immature responses to the drawing and conversation about the drawing or other aspects of the interview with the child.

The years from 3 to 6 historically are called "preschool," in part because of their importance for preparing the child.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are a joy to the preschooler, who endlessly practices and shows them off. By age 2, children generally can walk, run, and balance at least a little, but refinements continue in balance, coordination, speed.