Does your kindergartener still struggle to pronounce certain sounds? Although your first reaction might be to worry about speech delays or impediments, difficulty with a few sounds in kindergarten is still normal. “A general guideline when looking at speech is how much you understand what a child says,” says Simalee Smith-Stubblefield, Associate Professor of Speech-Language Pathology at University of the Pacific. So how much of what your child says can be understood, and how will you know when to worry?

While it's perfectly normal if there's still a sound left to master - so long as family and strangers can understand your child -  the more different sounds he struggles with, the more reason to worry. Of the "Late Eight Developing Sounds,” so-called because they are commonly known to develop later in childhood, struggling with four or more can be a warning sign. “Most of these sounds should be developed by kindergarten," says Smith-Stubblefield, "but having problems with a maximum of three sounds is normal for the age.”

 So what are the Late Eight Developing Sounds? Look out for these tricky kindergarten tongue-twisters:

  • “Th” (The)
  • “S” (Sea)
  • “Z” (Zoo)
  • “L” (Lemon)
  • “R” (Run) 
  • “(e)R”(Sister)
  • “Sh” (Shoe)
  • “Ch” (Chuck)

If there are more than three problem sounds, or a speech distortion like a lisp, a specialist will need to help nip those problems in the bud. But as long as your child has fewer than three problem sounds, you can help her at home.  Try these at-home speech games to help your child learn to communicate with clarity:

  • Alliteration. “Parents should point out different words that start with a sound, it creates more awareness,” Smith-Stubblefield says. You can make this technique a fun game by having your child look for objects that start with the specific sound that she is struggling with. After the tenth alliteration spotting and correct pronunciation (she should be given unlimited time and attempts), you can give your child a sticker or other type of prize to show how much you value his hard work. You can also have your child pick an animal or object that starts with a particular sound and have him tell you a story about it. Make sure you ask him a lot of silly questions so he'll have to repeat the sound again and again, but still be having fun.
  • Breaking Apart Sounds. Slowly go over a word, such as your child's name or her favorite toy, and have her repeat each sound exactly as you say it. This teaches her not to rush over, or skip sounds. Grab the crayons and make this a fun game: tell your child it's time to draw how she thinks a word sounds. Use a different color for each sound and watch as a word becomes a rainbow.
  • Word Pairs. Word pairs show why it's important to enunciate each sound, because without the correct pronunciation the words will sound the same, such as “thin” and “fin”, or “line” and “whine.” Smith-Stubblefield says word pairs can be crucial when it comes to speech; “When children have difficulty producing a sound, they often think they're saying it correctly.” Simply go over the words and have your child repeat each one after you. If he still believes he's saying it correctly when he mispronounces it, record his voice and play it back. If you have a tape recorder put it on “fast” and “slow” as well as normal, to show him sounds can be silly and to keep a light tone.

Don't give up on your child's public speaking career just because of a few speech problems. With hard work, and some giggles, you'll see steady improvement, and some new confidence to boot!