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Four-year-old speech, language & reading milestones

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

If your four year old is anything like the kids I’ve known over my career, chances are they are full of stories, questions, and want to talk or play ALL the time! And if you’re like many parents, you’re probably also starting to wonder or worry about how your child will do in kindergarten next year. Sending your little one off to school is a big step for any parent, but it is especially scary if you’re concerned your child is not understanding as much as others their age or they are frequently misunderstood.

These milestones describe what 90% of children are doing by age 4, and will provide some information to either alleviate or validate some of the concerns you might have about your child’s development. If your child is missing milestones, it never hurts to talk to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or speech therapist and get some advice on how best to support your child at home, preschool, and as they move toward getting ready for kindergarten.

4 year old Milestones for Understanding

Your 4 year old should be able to follow directions with 3 steps without any extra help like pointing or repeating. They also will likely be able to answer more complicated questions like “If it was raining, what would you do?”, or questions about the functions of things like “Why do we wear shoes?” or “What are spoons for?”. At four, your child should know how to match two objects together when you use the words “same” or “both”, and be able to understand the quantities “empty” and “a lot”. They also should be able to point to named colours, and move items to the correct place when you use the words “beside”, “next to”, and “between”.

If your child is having difficulties with following directions, see if they know these foundational concepts.

4 year old Milestones for Talking

At this age, your little one should be using 4+ words on average in their sentences. They also will likely be starting to use the word “is” with “-ing” in sentences (like “He is running” or “Kitty is sleeping”) as well as asking “is” questions like “Is Daddy coming?”. Your four year old should be asking more questions in general, and be using most wh-question words (who, what, where, why). At four, your child should also know and use a variety of pronouns, like his/hers, they/them, their/theirs, him/her, myself/yourself, our/ours. They also should be able to talk about more places and positions, correctly using words like “in front”, “behind”, and “around”.

4 year old Milestones for Speech

By four, you should be able to understand at least 75% of what your little one is saying. They should also be able to split up and put together compound words like “starfish”, “sunflower”, or “cowboy”. Splitting and blending words like that shows strong sound awareness, which is the first skill that goes into sounding out words during reading. They should also be able to match rhyming words. In their speech, your four year old should be starting to add the f, s, l, ch, sh, v, and j sounds to their words, as well as all the sounds expected by 3.

4 year old Milestones for Social Skills

Four year olds are able to take turns and play cooperatively. This means that when they play with other children, they can share a toy and work together towards a shared idea or goal like building a tower or pretending with specific roles (like shopper and cashier). Children are also becoming more dramatic in their pretending, and start acting out whole scenes (like being superheroes). They also are able to talk about their personal experiences by telling little stories, and can talk about their ideas and feelings using their words.

4 year old Milestones for Reading

During book reading, I would expect a four year old to enjoy “reading” themselves, and talk about the characters and story. They should also protest if you miss pages or change stories that they know well. By age 4, children are likely able to match some sounds and letters and will be able to do some letter-like shapes in their scribbles. Most are also participating in rhyming games, and can match rhyming words together.

How to see if your child is meeting their milestones

In order to see if your child is meeting their milestones, try some of these activities with your little one!

  • Tell your child to do or bring 3 different things in a single sentence, and see if they can remember them all without any repetition or extra help.

  • Take turns playing “Simon Says” with your child, and tell them to stand “in front”, “behind”, or “next to” different things. See if they can use those words to tell you where to go when it is their turn.

  • Ask your child easy reasoning questions they should know like “If you got cold, what would you do?” or “What are cups for?” or “Why do we take a bath?”

  • Write down the next 50 words or sentences your child says spontaneously (i.e., when they are not answering a question). Check to see how long they are, and if you child is using the word “IS”.

  • See if your child can imitate all of the sounds expected at their age, both at the beginning and ends of words.

  • See if your child can match rhyming words, or separate compound words.

  • Set up a playdate or take your child to a playgroup, and watch to see how your child plays with other children. See if they will take turns, pretend, and cooperate.

  • Let your child choose a book, and watch to see how they “read” it without any help.

If you have any thoughts or questions, please head over to @chattytherapy on Instagram and send me a DM! I’d love to hear if this was great, areas I can improve, or answer any additional questions you might have about milestones.

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate you and hope to see you soon!


Chatty Therapy has wonderful speech-language pathologists who can give you more specific ideas on how to work with your child and tailor it to your daily routine. Or we can come into your home to help your child learn the concepts they need. Speech-language pathologists specialize in helping children understand others and express themselves better. If you are worried about your child’s speech, language or feeding abilities, learn more about our services or book a free 15-minute consultation. It may be helpful for us to do an assessment to identify specific areas that your child could use more support with.


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