I am often asked this question. Parents call up concerned about their preschooler who can’t say an “s” or “r” correctly. I often reassure them with norms and tell them to call back if it is still an issue in 2 years. Norms vary but it seems that /r/ and /s/ should be established by about age 6-8 years of age. Some of the norms I have used as reference are:

  • Iowa-Nebraska Articulation Norms Project
  • Templin, 1957
  • Sound Aquisition: Single Word Responses from the Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, November 1990
When I worked in the public schools, the standard was that we didn’t work on /r/ or /s/ until second grade because so many kids would self-correct before that time. I’ve seen kids correct an interdental /s/ naturally, around that age,  even when their two front teeth are out!
If I have been working with a child and she has successfully learned to produce age appropriate consonants like /k/ and /g/ and is only 5, I might see if she is easily stimulable for the above sounds and try to quickly clear them up. If she is not ready motorically, I will wait until she is older and progress moves so much faster.
The reason this is on my mind is that I have recently worked with several 7 year-old boys on correcting the /r/ sound. In some cases, Mom came to me earlier and I suggested we wait. I am glad we did because we have been able to clear up their articulation in 8-10 sessions. Now that is not always the case, but these boys were highly motivated, could clearly hear the difference between correct and incorrect productions, quickly began correcting themselves, and parents were motivated to encourage practice.
At what age do you work on /r/ and /s/ or what is your school district’s policy? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks!