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This series of blog posts, Help Your Child Talk, describes how your child develops communication starting from no words up to two-word sentences. This process typically takes at least two years. Each level takes at least three months. This post describes what your child will do by the end of Level Four.

Listen to The Interaction Coach podcast for details of how to promote your child's communication development at Level Four.


Your child starts to use meaningful communication at Level Four. Hooray! This series looks at skills in all areas of development because using speech and language involves many parts of the brain. Development in one area affects skills needed in other areas. We must always consider the whole child and not just focus on one area of development.

Use this chart as a checklist and guide for what new skills develop by the end of Level Four. For each skill, you’ll see several activities you can use during daily interactions with your child. All these activities help your child focus on and practice skills needed for effective communication.

Listen to The Interaction Coach podcast for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level Four and get ready for Level Five.


Social interaction is the reason humans communicate. To help your child become an effective communicator, we need to keep interaction as the central focus of our activities.

Your child now has well-developed mutual attention. They pay attention to you and your voice, and will participate for three to five minutes in social games and back-and-forth activities.

Your child now uses joint attention when they look at objects with you. They consistently look at something when you point and say, “Look!”

Your child enjoys taking turns in familiar and new activities. They can imitate actions and enjoy repeating an action that gets a fun reaction.

Your child recognizes when you leave and wants you to come back, but also wants to start doing more things for themself.


Your child learns about the world through play. Their play starts to show what they understand about how things work.

Your child shows their understanding of familiar objects. They recognize size and weight when they reach for small items with their fingers but use both hands to reach for large items. They use common objects (e.g., cup, comb, phone) in the expected way.

Your child now looks for a fallen object, showing that they understand it still exists when out of sight. This understanding of object permanence is important for using symbols (words).

Your child starts to creep, crawl and/or stand. Increased mobility helps your child become a more independent learner as they explore their environment. Support their independence with a child-safe area to play.


Understand Words

By the end of Level 4 your child consistently responds to their own name. They look or point when asked, “Where’s mommy?” or “Where’s daddy?”

Your child will follow some simple directions when you add a gesture, like pointing and saying, “Get the ball.” They consistently stop when you say, “No” or “Stop.”

Your child knows sounds or actions that go with familiar animals. The sound represents an animal––that's a symbol!

Make Meaning

Your child may not use spoken words, but has a consistent way to let you know that they want or don’t want something.

Your child is using several gestures consistently to express a meaning. This early communication should be encouraged by responding to the gestures’ meaning. It's important to show that you value all attempts to communicate. Get a checklist of gestures with tips on how to teach them here.

Early developing gestures include:

  • GIVE: hand something to you

  • NO: shake head to reject or refuse

  • REACH: indicates wants something

  • SHOW: hold something up for you to notice

  • WAVE: good bye

Use Speech

Your child continues to use a lot of babbling, with more inflection and more variety of sounds. They also try to imitate sounds and words that you model for them.

Your child will start to use a few meaningful words like, “mama,” “dada” or “uh-oh.” Their pronunciation is an approximation—they leave out or substitute sounds but you can recognize what they mean.



Your child can enjoy looking at books alone or with you for several minutes. Use sturdy books made of thick cardboard, cloth or plastic. It’s okay to use regular books when you are using them together.

Your child understands how books work. They can turn pages, look at pictures and find a favorite page.

Your child recognizes that pictures represent objects. They can touch a picture when you say the name of the familiar object. They are showing an understanding of symbols (pictures and spoken words).


Your child’s grasp continues to develop. Now they can pick up small items between their thumb and index finger. This comes in handy for eating Cheerios!

Your child will imitate scribbling with a crayon on paper. Now is a good time to put all the markers and pens in a child-safe location, unless you are looking for a new wall mural in your future.


In summary, Level Four is the launchpad for language. Your child has a solid foundation of social interaction skills and understands symbols, so words will take off from here.

Your child knows things exist when they are out of sight, which support their understanding of how symbols work. For example, they look around for a person when they hear that name.

Your child’s growing independence helps them feel like they can control some of their world. They like to see what kind of effects they have on objects, and they see that their actions and sounds can have an effect on people, too. Your response to their gestures and sounds shows them the power of communication.

Play continues to motivate your child to move, explore and learn. Children with limited motor or sensory skills can learn through play when we provide supports and adaptations for them. Consult with specialists as needed—physical therapist, occupational therapist, vision or hearing teacher.

We can enrich the learning opportunities in a child’s environment to help boost their learning. Listen to the podcast for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level Four and get them ready for Level Five.

  • Be sure to focus on providing enrichment at your child’s current level, and add just a little bit more to show what they can do next.

  • Focus on sharing an interaction together, rather than trying to get your child to do a specific thing.

  • Don’t be tempted to jump ahead as a way to accelerate your child’s development. (You’ll leave gaps.) Use this chart to keep track of what your child is able to do. Focus on building a strong foundation at the current level before you move to the next level.

Next: Level Five




Joyce is very knowledgeable. Not only as a speech therapist but also on how the school system works. Which is very helpful going through the IEP process. She was able to engage with my daughter and was never hesitant to help in any way. I would definitely recommend Joyce to anyone that is looking for a trustworthy, caring and informed speech therapist.

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