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Sentence Complexity in Early Childhood Development

by Stacey Chaloux, studioD

Early childhood is a time of extreme changes in language development. Your child will go from babbling to speaking in complete sentences in a matter of only a few years. Babies begin learning language at birth, though they may not speak any words until they are nearly 1 year old. By toddlerhood, many can combine words to form sentences. By the time children reach preschool, they will be speaking in several-word sentences.

1 to 2 years

During the first year of life, you were talking to your baby about the world around her. Once she has her first birthday, she will likely be saying a few commonly used words, such as "mama," "dada," "ball" or "dog." During this early toddler phase, she will likely be using some real words along with babbling as she plays, according to PBS Parents. Her single word vocabulary will continue to grow during her first year. By the time she has her second birthday, she will likely be combining some words to form simple, two-word sentences, such as "Daddy home."

2 to 3 years

Most 2-year-olds begin this year of life with a vocabulary of at least 50 single words, according to HealthyChildren.org. Your toddler's language development happens rapidly at this point, and he will soon be forming sentences with three or four words, such as "Mommy go store" or "I want my cup." By the end of this year, he will begin to use pronouns in his sentences, such as I, me, you, we or they, although he may use some pronouns incorrectly still, such as "Her go to the park." As he listens to you talk, he will pick up on most grammar rules, so there is no need to correct him. Instead, just repeat it back to him in the correct way, such as "Yes, she is going to the park."

3 to 4 years

By the time your child is 3 years old, she should be speaking in sentences that have at least four words most of the time, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She should be understood by most people outside of the family much of the time. During this time, most children experience a language explosion, and at age 3, many children have a vocabulary of about 900 to 1,000 words, according to Education.com. At this age, children often ask many "why questions" and are learning to use prepositions such as in, on or under. They may still show some difficulty with negative sentences and say things like, "I no want any milk."

4 to 5 years

Language continues to expand and most 4-year-olds 4,000 to 6,000 words in their vocabularies, according to Education.com. Their sentences often consist of five to six words, and they are not afraid to try out new words, often confusing them with words that sound alike or trying to create new meanings with words. Your preschooler is learning rules for plurals and past tense but will sometimes overextend these grammar rules without recognizing that there are exceptions. For example, he may say "goed" instead of "went," "childs" instead of "children" or "falled" instead of "fell." By the time children reach 5 years old, they often will correct these errors and continue to expand their vocabulary and sentence length.

About the Author

Stacey Chaloux is an educator who has taught in both regular and special education early childhood classrooms, as well as served as a parent educator, teaching parents how to be their child's best first teacher. She has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Missouri and a Master of Education from Graceland University.

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