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s and z sounds

‘s’ is another long and blowy sound that we can call the ‘snake sound’. This sound typically develops around 4 years of age. Before this age is can be normal for children to substitute the long and blowy ‘s’ sound for shorter sounds such as ‘t’ and ‘d’. It can also be normal for children to forget to add the ‘s’ sound to words such as stop and school. When children first learn to say ‘s’, they may put their tongue between their teeth, this should reduce as they become more precise with using their ‘s’ sound. 

You can help your child say the ‘s’ sound by trying the following strategies: 

  • Model and repeat words that have the ‘s’ sound - for example ‘see, sun, mouse’.
  • Use a mirror and model the correct mouth placement – encourage them to do a big smile while keeping their teeth together, keep their tongue behind their teeth and then gently blow the air out.
  • Use verbal reminders such as “keep your snake in the cage”.
  • Be sure to give your child lots of praise for trying the ‘s’ sound – it can be tricky!

Activity ideas for practicing ‘s’

  • Do a treasure hunt around the house to find objects including the ‘s’ sound.
  • Play ‘I see __’ when driving in the car.
  • Play on a see saw at the park.

Once your child is able to produce the ‘s’ sound, you can encourage them to ‘turn their voice on’ and make a buzzy sound to produce the ‘z’ sound.

If your child is practicing ‘s’ and it sounds slushy or distorted, you might want to hold off on this sound until you have seen speech pathologist. It is important to practice correct, natural productions. If you child is having trouble saying ‘s’, it might be helpful to focus on them hearing the correct productions by you modelling the correct production of ‘s’ in a range of words.

It will take time and practice for children to develop their speech sounds.  

Children may be able to say a sound on its own but will take time to put it into words. Longer words will be trickier. It will take time and practice to be able to say their new sound in everyday conversation.  

Some words are more complex because they have harder sounds, multiple sounds or different combinations of sounds. 

Last updated 27 Feb 2024