Speech and language skills for school aged children.

In a previous post Christine talked about some of the necessary language skills for 4 – 6 year old children. These skills are also required for reading and writing.

The beginning of the school year is next week!! You’ve got your child’s uniform ready, new school bags and books and the eager anticipation of starting ‘big school” has built up! Starting school can be an exciting, sometimes daunting, new experience for kids and parents alike. Strong speech and language skills are integral to all aspects of your child’s school experience and success. It impacts on reading, writing, understanding new concepts, following instructions, making friends, developing resiliency, self-esteem and school enjoyment!

Research tells us that children with strong communication skills do better in the school environment. Below are speech and language skills that are important for school success and are expected in a 5 year old’s communication development:

1) Speech sound development

‘Speech Sound development’ is an umbrella term that refers to the way your child produces sounds within words and within sentences. By school age, children should be able to say all of their sounds correctly and be 100% intelligible! This means that you should be able to understand all words your child says. If your child has difficulty saying sounds correctly, it can greatly impact upon their early reading and writing skills (such as sounding out and writing sounds).

2) Expressive language

Expressive language means ‘talking’. This is your child’s ability to put words to make sentences using the correct vocabulary and grammar. By school age, children should be able to:

  • Tell you several things about an object

  • Uses: conjunctions (‘and’, ‘because’, ‘but’), comparatives (‘er’ – bigger, faster’) & superlatives (‘est’ – biggest), past tense words (‘run vs ran’, ‘eat vs ate’).

  • Has good descriptive language skills, including words to describe quantity (empty, more) and adjectives to describe people and objects

  • Can tell you a sequence of events.

  • Defines words

  • Uses imaginative language in play

  • Expresses themselves in a clear way.

3) Receptive language

Receptive language means understanding words, sentences, grammar as well as instructions of increasing length and complexity.

  • Can understand 3- step instructions

  • Can sequence 4 pictures to make a story

  • Understands humour, plot, surprise

  • Understands time concepts (night/day, first/last)

  • Understands concepts such as shapes, colours, quantity concepts (whole, half), comparatives (bigger, smaller, heavier, lighter).

  • Understands noun derivations e.g. teacher – one who teaches

Activities to Encourage Speech and Language Development 4 to 6 Years

  • Even though you may be counting down the days until the kids go to school, try to give your full attention when your child starts a conversation. Also, gain your child’s attention before you speak.

  • Conversation is a two-way street. We need to help our children with this by pausing after speaking to give them a chance to continue the conversation, demonstrate how you listen and then respond.

  • Continue to build vocabulary. Introduce a new word and explain what it means. Use it in another context to help your child understand. For example – reading a book and the character was walking too close to the edge of the pool. Ask your child “What does edge mean? If they don’t know, you could explain it with ‘it’s the outside of an object or area’ – ‘edge of a cliff’, ‘edge of a paper’. Use visuals or real objects where you can. This may be done in an exaggerated, humorous manner. “Arrrggghhh, I’m falling off the edge of the couch’.
  • Talk about spatial relationships (first, middle, and last; right and left) and opposites (up and down; on and off).

  • Play a guessing game – give a description or clues, and have your child identify what it is: “We use it to sweep the floor” (a broom). “It is cold, sweet, and eaten for dessert. I like strawberry” (ice cream).

  • Work on forming and explaining categories. Identify the thing that does not belong in a group of similar objects: “A shoe does not belong with an apple and an orange because you can’t eat it; it is not round; it is not a fruit.”

  • Help your child follow two- and three-step directions: “Go to your room, and bring me your book.”

  • Encourage your child to give directions. Follow his or her directions as he or she explains how to build a tower of blocks or pretend you have forgotten how to make toast – can they explain the process.

  • Reading everyday is a wonderful way to build your child’s language skills. Talk about the book and the characters. Explain what words mean.  Guess what might happen next.  Are the characters happy or sad? Why are they happy or sad? (or angry, frustrated etc) Ask your child to tell you what has happened in the story. Act out a scene together, and make up a different ending.
  • Use daily activities. For example, whilst cooking, encourage your child to name the utensils needed. Discuss the ingredients, their colour, what they look and feel like and how they taste. Talk about where the food comes from. Another example is when food shopping –  talk about what you will buy, how many you need, and what you will make. Discuss the size (large or small), shape (long, round, square), and weight (heavy or light) of the items.

Remember to continue to monitor your child’s language skills even after they have started school. If you have any concerns or questions regarding your child’s speech or language skills, please feel free to call and chat to one of our speech pathologists.

In our next Blog post we will look at phonological awareness skills. To be able to spell and read words, your child first has to have an awareness of sounds in words.

We are also in the process of putting together a video series of how to ‘read with’ your child not ‘at’ your child – stay tuned!!