Receptive Language Milestones: Birth to Age 5

Receptive Language Milestones: Birth to Age 5

Receptive language refers to language comprehension. The chart below outlines comprehension milestones from birth until age 5. The receptive language chart also contains ideas for helping your child reach these milestones during play-based activities. 

Receptive Language Chart

AgeWhat They Should Be DoingReceptive Language Activities
0-6 months
  • Pays attention to faces
  • Smiles
  • Startles with loud noise
  • Looks towards the location of a sound
  • Reaches for toys
  • Play social games such as “Peek a Boo.”
  • Sing songs to your baby & focus on face-to-face interaction.
  • Place cause and effect toys next to your child and activate the toy to work on head turning towards sounds or movement.
6-12 months
  • Recognizes familiar people
  • Likes to chew or pat books
  • Responds to name
  • Imitates simple actions
  • Responds to simple directions (such as “come here,” “sit down,” and “stand up”)
  • Gives blocks or toys requested
  • When you notice your child has looked away call his/her name to see if he looks back at you.  If your child looks at you give lots of praise.
  • Teach imitation through simple songs such as “Open Shut Them,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “Patty Cake.”  
  • Teach your child to give you toys that you name.  For example, “give me the ball.” It’s best to practice this with no more than 2-3 toys at a time.
12-18 months
  • Follows simple directions (such as put in/on)
  • Points at 2 or more named objects/ pictures  from a group
  • Points to 1 to 3 body parts
  • Answers simple “where” questions such as “where’s the ball” or “where’s daddy?”
  • Answers “yes/no” questions
  • Use toys such as shape sorters and practice putting shapes “in.” Make sure to say the word “in” each time your child puts a shape in the bin.  
  • Teach your child to imitate you while you point to a body part in a playful manner.
  • Point to basic objects in a book or around your home and name them. Help your child point with you.
18-24 months
  • Object permanence is fully acquired
  • Points to 5 body parts on self or doll
  • Does pretend play by relating (performing) action to objects (such as washes or feeds a doll).
  • Listens to simple stories, songs and rhymes for about 2-4 minutes
  • Points to named pictures in a book
  • Use a baby doll or a toy car to teach pretend play. Show them how to give the baby the bottle or how to feed the bear.  Model pushing toy cars and have your child imitate you.
  • To increase attention span read short books and keep story time exciting by using a playful voice. Make sure to pick age appropriate books such as “Ten Tiny Toes.”  
  • Read slowly and help your child point to pictures you name or describe in the book.
24-30 months
  • Begins to understand time concepts such as wait and later
  • Follows 2 step directions such as “get the ball and bring it here, please”
  • Points to named actions in pictures
  • Begins to sequence related action in play (for example, preparing food for a doll, feeding it and wiping its mouth)
  • Listens to 4-8 minute stories
  • Provide your child with books which target action words such as “I Can Do That.”  This book provides lots of repetition for basic action words. After reading the book, have your child go back and point to the action words with you.
  • Choose several toys which will allow you to demonstrate a sequence or routine.  For example, pretend to make food, then feed a doll and lastly, wipe the doll’s mouth. Talk in simple sentences.   
  • Teach 2-step directions by giving instructions such as, “get the ball and give it to dad.” Keep it simple and keep it fun.
30-36 months
  • Comprehends the concept of “same” and will choose identical objects from a group
  • Points to pictures of 10 objects described by their use (for example, point to you wear this on your foot)
  • Comprehends concepts of in, on, and under
  • Recognizes family members based on the nouns used to describe them (for example, grandpa and brother)
  • Listens to stories for about 8-15 minutes
  • To teach your child functions of objects by using familiar objects in play. For example, if you’re feeding a doll teach, “the spoon is for eating.” If you’re playing with a car teach, “the car is for driving.” Repeat what the objects are used for several times during play.
  • To teach your child the concept of “under” practice by hiding toys under objects in your home.  For example, hiding the car under the chair, table or blanket.
  • You can encourage your child to sustain attention for just one more page when they start to lose interest. Make the last page FUN and keep it short.     
36-42 months
  • Understands the concepts of next to, beside and between
  • Understands simple questions about their own actions and environment
  • Begins with symbolic play (using one object to represent another)
  • Comprehends concepts of “in front of” and “behind”
  • Begins to reenact experienced events (for example, birthday parties or baking cookies)
  • Teach your child to use objects for other purposes such as using a banana for talking on the phone.
  • Teach “front” and “behind” by using toys. Place a ball in front of a bear while telling your child “The ball is in front of the bear.”  
  • Encourage your child to retell a story or event and help him/her reenact it through play.   
42-48 months
  • Comprehends 1,500- 2,000 words
  • Follows directions to put toys away
  • Improves listening skills and begins to learn from listening
  • Comprehends basic qualitative concepts such as soft, hard, rough and smooth
  • Comprehends basic size vocabulary (i.e., big/ small)
  • Play with one set of toys at a time and build a routine to clean up all toys before using a different set of toys.
  • To help your child with comprehension of basic size vocabulary use toys of varying sizes and organize them by size. Talk about the toys that are big vs. little.
  • Teach qualitative concepts by describing how things feel. For example, “blanket is soft.”
48-54 months
  • Understands basic quantity concepts such as a lot, a little, empty and full.
  • Understands directions based on spatial concepts such as above, below, top, and bottom
  • Points to 2-3 primary colors
  • Demonstrates more imaginative play
  • Plays cooperatively and participates in turn taking games
  • A farm with farm animals can be used to help your little one with concepts of above/below and top/bottom. You can place the animals in different locations and talk about it. For example, “the cow is on the bottom.”
  • To help your child with identifying primary colors teach 1-2 colors at a time through repetitive labeling during play. For example, use blocks and build one blue tower & one green tower.  
  • To aid your child with turn-taking games, take turns with him during play.  For example, take turns blowing bubbles while saying “my turn” vs “your turn.”
54-60 months
  • Begins to understand time concepts yesterday, today and tomorrow.
  • Understands descriptive words such as heavy/light, loud/soft and long/short
  • Demonstrates improved comprehension of directions provided at home and at school
  • Points to primary colors:  red, yellow, green and blue
  • Attends to short stories and answers simple questions about the stories
  • To teach descriptive words, talk about how things look and feel. For example, the ball is round, the string is long and the box is heavy.
  • Pretend play by creating a classroom environment. Take turns being the teacher and giving directions.  
  • Ask questions while reading stories and help your child answer the questions. For example: Who is playing? What are they doing? What’s the boy’s name?

Receptive Langauge Chart Created by Maria Bernabe & Elisabeth Trujillo

If you found this receptive language chart helpful, check out the Expressive Langauge Chart here for more useful information. 

Photo credit: donnierayjones on / CC BY



Bowen (

Linguisystems Guide to Communication Milestones  2012 edition