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Communication Milestones at 5 - 6 years: Spread Your Wings for September 2020

By Maureen Penko

Families begin to ask me these two questions a year before school begins "What speech and language skills should my child have before school entry?" and "how clear should their speech be?" We know that communication develops over time and every child develops at his or her own rate. Bilingual children (both languages spoken equally) without acquisition of language difficulties achieve the language milestones at the same time, whereas those where English is not the primary language spoken at home will have a difference in their acquisition of English language skills.

This article has a twofold purpose, first to address the development milestones and second to talk about the school entry. As I write this article, I photograph the "eagle" in Burnaby Park and think about our children taking flight after all the preparation that has brought them to this next stage called SCHOOL.

Developmental milestones are an important guideline for children. Therefore... should your child not have the skills outlined, a speech language pathologist should be consulted to determine if the skills are late in emerging or if there is a concern that needs to be addressed.

Language Development Milestones 5-6 Years.


  • Are 95-100 percent clear, with the exception of some slight errors on the complex blended words using the "r" sound.

  • Have basic knowledge of the alphabet, counting, colors, shapes, and general concepts.

  • Develop what we refer to as phonological awareness skills which include abilities such as rhyming and the awareness of letters and their corresponding sounds. The better the phonological awareness skills your child has, the better reader and speller they will be.

  • Understand and follows 3 step directions and multi-step unrelated commands.

  • Answer complex "who", "what", "where", "when", "how" and "why" questions.

  • Understand and participate in a variety of conversations even in the presence of background noise.

  • Recognize the meaning of familiar signs for example. Stop, walk and don't cross.

  • Have concept words such as above, below, besides, in between and quality and quantity words such as messy, and all.

  • Will complete sentences use the correct form of verbs to talk about past events. For example, "I jumped", or "I played". But it will take a few more years for them to get used to the many exceptions in the English language - for example, "broke", "threw" and "ate" rather than "breaked", "throwed" and "eated".

Now let's begin to talk about storytelling skills which is one of the most exciting skills to emerge at this age. Emergent literacy skills are gained through many hours of reading together. These skills are the highest predictor of later school success.

Children generate longer stories with more detail. The stories might be made up, or about things that have actually happened.

During these years, children learn to:

  • Use different linking words in the right way (for example, "then", "now", "when", "before", "while" and "although").

  • Establish connecting links and causes for events (for example, "the boat sank, so everybody had to swim to the beach").

  • Use different sentence types to present the same information.

  • Use appropriate pronouns (for example, "he", "she" or "they") instead of names when it's clear from the narrative who's being referred to.

  • Understand that single words might have different meanings. They start to rely more on the context of a word to find a particular meaning. For example, "cool" means something different when you say, "It's a cool day", compared with when you say, "That's a really cool robot you've built". They begin to understand non-literal meanings - for example, "make up your mind".

Research has identified that one of the most important skills over academics is the presence of creativity, imaginative play and social skills such as greetings, game exchange, turn taking, and manners. We know that initiating play, knowing the rules of a game, inviting and flexibility in play are essential skills needed in the development of friendships and peer relations.

In preparing to "spread our wings" for the 2020 school entry there will be variation for each school division. It is best to check your school division website to familiarize yourselves with the protocol for entry. The educators have all been working hard to ensure a smooth and safe re-entry to school. Read the provincial document on school entry. (PDF)

My speech-language colleague and associate who has extensive experience in schools, Dr. Sharon Halldorson says "most school divisions have 'Welcome to Kindergarten' open house events in the spring before children come to school." Sharon explains that "children can experience the classroom environment and meet their teacher. Parents can ask questions and share any information they think the school should know about their child." She goes on to explain that "school divisions ensure they are 'ready' for any child coming to their school. Learning pre-literacy or math skills are skills they will learn in language-rich classrooms where any needs they may have (such as a speech-language delay) will be met through the collaboration of a strong team of teachers and clinicians." Sharon emphasizes that "any concerns that parents may have about their child beginning Kindergarten should be shared with teachers and administrators in advance so that differentiation of instruction can occur and the specialists needed can become part of the child's team within their classroom experience." She points out that "hearing screening is a part of the Kindergarten year as well, which ensures that the child is not missing learning experiences due to a hearing loss." To summarize, Sharon states that "the collaborative team of teachers, administrators, clinicians and parents will provide what every child needs to learn academically, socially and emotionally and to enjoy their first school experience."

In closing, the best way to be prepared is to build your child's confidence and check in with the teacher to find out what is allowed so that you and your child can prepare.

Enjoy the start of the new school year.

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Communication Milestones at 5 - 6 years: Spread Your Wings for September 2020

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