Markham Stoufville Hospital Child Development Programs

Developmental Milestones

Speech and Language Developmental Milestones

These developmental milestones show some of the skills that mark the progress of young children as they learn to communicate. If your child is not meeting one or more of these milestones, please contact your local Preschool Speech and Language Program. To see these milestones in another language, please visit the Ministry of Children and Youth Services website here.

By 6 months

  • turns to source of sounds
  • startles in response to sudden, loud noises
  • makes different cries for different needs – I’m hungry, I’m tired
  • watches your face as you talk
  • smiles and laughs in response to your smiles and laughs
  • imitates coughs or other sounds – ah, eh, buh

By 9 months

  • responds to his/her name
  • responds to the telephone ringing or a knock at the door
  • understands being told “no”
  • gets what he/she wants through sounds and gestures e.g., reaching to be picked up
  • plays social games with you e.g., peek-a-boo
  • enjoys being around people
  • babbles and repeats sounds – babababa, duhduhduh

By 12 months

  • follows simple one-step directions – “sit down”
  • looks across the room to something you point to
  • uses three or more words
  • uses gestures to communicate – waves “bye bye”, shakes head “no”
  • gets your attention using sounds, gestures and pointing while looking at your eyes
  • brings you toys to show you
  • “performs” for attention and praise
  • combines lots of sounds as though talking – abada baduh abee
  • shows interest in simple picture books

By 18 months

  • understands the concepts of “in and out”, “off and on”
  • points to several body parts when asked
  • uses at least 20 words
  • responds with words or gestures to simple questions – “Where’s teddy?”, “What’s that?”
  • demonstrates some pretend play with toys – gives teddy a drink
  • makes at least four different consonant sounds – b, n, d, g, w, h
  • enjoys being read to and looking at simple books with you
  • points to pictures using one finger

By 24 months

  • follows two-step directions – “Go find your teddy bear and show it to Grandma”
  • uses 100 or more words
  • uses at least two pronouns – “you”, “me”, “mine”
  • consistently combines two or more words in short phrases – “daddy hat”, “truck go down”
  • enjoys being with other children
  • begins to offer toys to peers and imitates other children’s actions and words
  • people can understand his/her words 50 to 60 per cent of the time
  • forms words and sounds easily and effortlessly
  • holds books the right way up and turns pages
  • “reads” to stuffed animals or toys
  • scribbles with crayons

By 30 months

  • understands the concepts of size (big/little) and quantity (a little, a lot, more)
  • uses some adult grammar – “two cookies”, “bird flying”, “I jumped”
  • uses more than 350 words
  • uses action words – run, spill, fall
  • begins taking short turns with other children, using both toys and words
  • shows concern when another child is hurt or sad
  • combines several actions in play – feeds doll then puts her to sleep; puts blocks in train then drives train and drops blocks off
  • puts sounds at the start of most words
  • produces words with two or more syllables or beats – “ba-na-na”, “com-pu-ter”, “a-pple”
  • recognizes familiar logos and signs – McDonalds golden arches, stop sign
  • remembers and understands familiar stories

By age 3

  • understands “who”, “what”, “where” and “why” questions
  • creates long sentences, using 5 or more words
  • talks about past events – trip to grandparents’ house, day at childcare
  • tells simple stories
  • shows affection for favourite playmates
  • engages in multi-step pretend play – cooking a meal, repairing a car
  • is understood by most people outside of the family, most of the time
  • is aware of the function of print – in menus, lists, signs
  • has a beginning interest in, and awareness of, rhyming

By age 4

  • follows directions involving 3 or more steps – “First get some paper, then draw a picture, last give it to mom”
  • uses adult-type grammar
  • tells stories with a clear beginning, middle and end
  • talks to try to solve problems with adults and other children
  • demonstrates increasingly complex imaginative play
  • is understood by strangers almost all of the time
  • is able to generate simple rhymes – “cat-bat”
  • matches some letters with their sounds – “letter T says ‘tuh’

By age 5

  • follows group directions – “all the boys get a toy”
  • understands directions involving “if…then” – “If you’re wearing runners, then line up for gym”
  • describes past, present and future events in detail
  • seeks to please his/her friends
  • shows increasing independence in friendships – may visit neighbour by him/herself
  • uses almost all of the sounds of their language with few to no errors
  • knows all the letters of the alphabet
  • identifies the sounds at the beginning of some words – “Pop starts with the ‘puh’ sound”

Quick Tips:

Here are some tips on how you can help your child develop speech and language skills. Try some of these suggestions to help your baby/toddler interact or help your child use words to solve problems, make choices, describe objects and events and share ideas.

Babies like it when you:

  • Get down to their level so they can see your face. This tells them that you’re interested in what they’re doing and saying. It makes it easier to interact with you.
  • Repeat the sounds they make. Babies enjoy making noises, and like it when you imitate them over and over.
  • Sing and laugh, especially when you are feeding, bathing, and changing them. Remember to talk to your baby throughout the day about things you do and see – “Mommy’s putting on her coat”, That’s a big truck”
  • Tell them the names of the objects they are looking at and playing with. Babies are interested in exploring and learning about new things, and like to hear what things are called.

Toddlers like it when you:

  • Let them touch and hold books while you point to and name the pictures.
  • Use real words instead of baby talk – “give me” instead of ta ta or “bottle” instead of baba.
  • Take the time to listen to them – they want you to hear all of their new sounds, words and ideas.
  • Give them simple directions to follow – “Go find your red boots”.
  • Use lots of different words when you talk to them – opposite words like up/down, in/out; action words like “running”, “splashing”, and descriptive words like “happy”, “big”, “little”, “clean”, “dirty”.
  • Encourage them to play with other children – at the library, play groups, park.

Three-year-olds like it when you:

  • Give them different materials to encourage drawing and scribbling, including chalk, pencils, crayons, markers, finger paints.
  • Use descriptive words such as colours and opposites (hot/cold, big/little, fast/slow) as well as action words (flying, splashing, running) when you are talking with them
  • Give them extra time to share their ideas.
  • Give them choices – about what foods to eat, toys to play with, clothes to wear.
  • Model correct sounds and grammar for them – child says “he wunned” and you say “yes, he ran”.
  • Read books that are predictable and repetitive – pause to give the child a chance to fill in the words and phrases.
  • Play and pretend with them! They may like acting out scenes from their favourite videos, pretending to eat in a restaurant or to be a teacher or firefighter.

Four-year-olds like it when you:

  • Give them lots of opportunities to play with other children – at the library, the park, the Early Years Centre. Sometimes they like having just one or two friends over to your home to play.
  • Point out words in books and run your finger under words while you read to them.
  • Talk about the order of events – describe what happens first, next and last – “first we wash our hands, then we have a snack and last we put our dishes in the sink”.
  • Encourage them to tell their own stories – by asking them to tell you about their day, to describe a movie they watched, to tell you about their favourite book. Read books with rhyming words – “mouse/house”, and point out sounds at the start of words – “Mommy starts with the ‘mmm’ sound – that’s the letter M”.

Five-year-olds like it when you:

  • Use new and more complex words – “before/after”, “rough/ smooth”, “easy/difficult”, “between/beside”, “same/different”.
  • Talk about numbers and the quantity of objects – “a lot/a little”, “more/less”, “one/many”.
  • Ask them to predict what will happen next – “What do you think will happen when Sam opens his birthday present?”, and explain the reasons behind choices – “Why do we need to wear our coats today?”
  • Take turns telling each other stories using the pictures in books – children like to hear you talk and then want a turn to create their own version of the story.
  • Let them help plan events. Talk about what you need to do before a birthday party, or how to get ready to go to the zoo. Ask your child “why” and “how” questions as you talk.
  • Ask them to help. Your child will enjoy helping you bake cookies, set the table, sort laundry, etc. Give them instructions and see if they can tell you the steps.

From: Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services