The Whole Child
Communication Skills
abc's of child development
for parents
for early care providers

Long before children can say words or join them into sentences, they are active language learners. Within a few short years, young children go from newborns without language to excellent communicators and lively inventers and tellers of stories.

Age Milestones
3 months

From the very start, infants pay close attention to language. In the first year, they can distinguish all of the speech sounds that occur in natural language; then they begin to specialize in the sounds of their home language. Most infants will:
  • Respond to speech by looking at the speaker
  • Respond differently to the voice of a parent than to other voices
  • React to changes in a speaker's tone, pitch, volume, and intonation
  • Respond differently to their home language and another language
  • Communicate with bodily movements, by crying, babbling, and laughing
  • Attempt to imitate sounds
  • 3 months
    6 months

    Even small babies love to have "conversations." Most children of this age:
  • Exchange sounds, facial expressions, or gestures with a parent or caregiver
  • Listen to conversations
  • Repeat some vowel and consonant sounds
  • 6 months
    9 months

    Children's vocalizations increase. Most babies of this age:
  • Begin repetitive babbling (deaf children also start to babble with their hands)
  • Associate gestures with simple words and two-word phrases, like "hi" and "bye-bye"
  • Use vocal and non-vocal communication to express interest and influence others
  • 9 months
    12 months

    Children are getting ready to talk. Around the first birthday, language production doubles. Many babies of this age:
  • Understand the names of familiar people and objects
  • Show their understanding with responsive body language and facial expressions
  • Say a few words
  • Respond to a firm "no" by stopping what they are doing
  • 1 year
    2 years

    Children begin to learn many new words and begin to use simple phrases. Many children can:
  • Understand many words, as well as simple phrases and directions ("Drink your juice")
  • Follow a series of two simple but related directions
  • Respond correctly when asked "where?"
  • Say a few words clearly, and a few dozen additional words so that family members can understand. The words denote important people and common objects, and a few prepositions such as "on," "in," or "under." Many can say "more" and "all gone."
  • Say successive single words to describe an event
  • From about 18 months, begin learning about 9 new words a day
  • Use "my" or "mine" to indicate possession; begin to use "me," "I," and "you"
  • 2 years
    3 years

    Both understanding of language and speaking develop more rapidly at this stage. Most 2-year-olds can:
  • Join familiar words into phrases
  • Begin to use modifiers (adverbs and adjectives)
  • Point to common objects when they are named
  • Name objects based on their description
  • Respond to "what?" and "where?" questions
  • Enjoy listening to stories and asking for favorite stories
  • Recount events that happened that day
  • 3 years
    4 years

    Language usage becomes more complex. Most 3-year-olds can:
  • Make themselves understood to strangers, despite some sound errors
  • Use and understand sentences
  • Use more complex grammar, such as plurals and past tense
  • Understand sentences involving time concepts (for example, "Grandma is coming tomorrow") and narrate past experiences
  • Understand size comparisons such as big and bigger
  • Understand relationships expressed by "if… then" or "because" sentences
  • Follow a series of two to four related directions
  • Sing a song and repeat at least one nursery rhyme
  • 4 years
    5 years

    4-year-olds use language not only to converse, but also to exchange information. Most can:
  • Retell a story (but may confuse facts)
  • Combine thoughts into one sentence
  • Ask "when?" "how?" and "why?" questions
  • Use words like "can," "will," "shall," "should," and "might"
  • Combine thoughts into one sentence
  • Refer to causality by using "because" and "so"
  • Follow three unrelated commands appropriately
  • Understand comparatives like loud, louder, loudest
  • Listen to long stories (but may misinterpret the facts)
  • Understand sequencing of events when clearly explained (for example, "First we plug the drain, then we run the water, and finally we take a bath")
  • For more in-depth information on these milestones, visit the following articles:

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