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Parent guide: supporting speech development for under 5s at home

Updated: Mar 4

Toddler smiling

In today’s blog, we discuss all things speech development for under 5s– including things you might not know, ways to support your little one’s development at home and so much more.


Let’s dive straight in!


Typically, it takes children about 4 years to master talking!


One of the most important aspects of learning to talk is the ability to make sounds that will then form words – this begins in a child’s first year of life and continues for up to 7 years.


Things you might not know about speech development


  • Speech has a different meaning

While we typically use words like speech, talk and language interchangeably, the word ‘speech’ actually relates to the sounds that children are able to make when talking.


The number of sounds that are needed to speak a language varies! English has less than 40 different sounds.


  • Babies recognise sounds before birth

Babies can recognise certain voices, especially their mothers before they’re born!


Newborns are also able to distinguish between languages and show a preference towards the language that their mother uses.


  • All babies make the same sounds

For the first few months, regardless of language, all babies actually make the same sounds! So, a baby in Tokyo will sound pretty much the same as a baby in London.


From about 9 months on babies begin to reduce the number of sounds they use, as they tune into the language that they hear around them.


  • Babies are programmed to master the sounds of languages

Did you know that babies can reproduce sounds that are needed in any language?!


This means that no language is too hard for them to master in the first few years. It’s a great time for bilingual families to share languages with their little ones.


  • Babies learn the sounds of English in a specific sequence

The sequence in which children develop the sounds of English is linked to the development of the tongue, muscles and the arrival of teeth.


At first, all babies around the globe will be able to babble using vowles – then adding other sounds which include ‘d’ and ‘m’.


One of the later sounds in English is the 'r', which is why children often say 'wabbit' for quite a while.


Toddler and carer

English Sound Sequences


This is a rough guide of sound sequences you may notice your little one demonstrating.


Please note - some children may develop a little faster and some a little slower, that’s totally fine. But if you have any concerns speak to your nursery or GP.


Up to 18 months


Your little one will increasingly combine vowel sounds – a, e, i, o, u along with an easily produced consonant so you’ll hear terms like baba, dada and mama.


18 months – 2 years


Your child will make a limited number of sounds but will include the following letters: b, d, m, p, t, w.


2 – 3 years


Your little one will make an increasing number of sounds.


They will often shorten words e.g. nana instead of banana or cocoli instead of broccoli. Your little one may still find it difficult to pronounce sh, ch, th and r sounds.


3 – 4 years


Your child will find it easier to speak clearly and pronounce most words. They might still have trouble pronouncing more complex sounds like th, sh, ch and z.


4 – 5 years


Your little one will be able to say words clearly although r and w may not be accurate. They may find it difficult to say more complex words.



Tips to support speech development at home


  • Limit use of dummies

Dummies are recommended for your little one’s 1st year when they are sleeping - it helps their airways remain open.


These aren’t helpful when your little one tries to talk – they prevent the tongue from touching the teeth which is an important movement when producing sounds like t and n.


If your child is under 12 months, aim to keep the dummy only for bedtime and naps.


If you have an older child who still uses a dummy, introduce a different comforter, such as a cuddly toy, and move away from using the dummy.

  •  Reduce Background Noise

To make sounds accurately, children need to listen to them. Too much background noise can prevent babies from effectively listening to spoken sounds.

Whilst it may be a habit for us to put on the TV or a podcast in the background, try to schedule in time without this so your little one can listen in to others’ speech.

  • Model but don’t correct

When learning, your little one will make the wrong sounds – this is all part of their development.


When this happens avoid correcting your child, this could make them lose confidence – instead, repeat what they say correctly and clearly.

  • Get close

To develop their speech, your little one will need to hear you talking clearly and watch your mouth movements.

Make time for snuggling up, chatting, singing, and playing. This will give your little one time to focus on your voice and offers a great opportunity for bonding.


  • Healthy teeth

Teeth play an important part in speech; many sounds depend on having teeth in place.


So, it’s important to ensure your little one has healthy gums and teeth. Click here for our all you need to know guide!



Activities to try at home


Here are a few things you can try at home to help with your little one’s speech development.


  • Instrument play – use various baby instruments like rattles to allow your child to listen out for various sounds. Click here for inspiration.


  • I Spy – from 3 years onwards I Spy is a great game, allowing your little one to listen out for sounds. Begin with using speech sounds rather than the letter – switch to letters once your child begins reception.

  • Rhyme time – nursery rhymes are one of the best ways of helping children develop speech skills. Click here for some ideas.


  • Reading storybooks – storybooks are a wonderful learning and bonding tool. Reading these to your little one will offer the opportunity for them to listen and contextualise sounds and different words.


Additional Resources




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