Communication Development: By 5 Years

Communication Development: By 5 Years

Look for opportunities to increase the number of different words your child uses. Make your own books with your child. Play games that help with taking turns and concentrating. 


Here is some information about how children's communication skills usually develop by the age of 5. Below are some activity suggestions to encourage communication from 5 years. Use the language that you are most familiar and comfortable with. 

By 5 years, what should my child be able to say and do?

  • understand and use more concept words, such as 'tallest', 'same', 'bigger', 'medium'
  • respond to instructions while busy doing something else
  • generally use complete, well-formed sentences 
  • should still be developing some aspects of more complex language structure, such as using irregular past tense; for example, they may say "runned" for 'ran'
  • take turns in much longer conversations 
  • ask the meanings of words, and try to use new words
  • retell stories they have heard in the right order, using some story phrases; for example, "once upon a time", "the end"
  • ask for help appropriately; for example, "excuse me can I have....?"
  • adapt their talking to a listener's level of understanding; for example, when talking to a baby sister
  • identify first sounds in words; for example, "puku starts with p"
  • be starting to link letter names with letter sounds; for example, 's' = 'ssss'
  • recognise some familiar written words
  • write their own name
  • be understood by unfamiliar adults all of the time. A few sounds may still be developing; for example, thrl and some consonant blends, such as string, cloud, spider, tree

What are some tips to help my child's communication development at 5 years?

  • look for opportunities to increase the number of different words your child uses, particularly around new experiences. Try to use a wide range of naming and describing words
  • make your own books with your child – write the story together
  • play games that help with taking turns and concentrating; for example, 'What's the time, Mr Wolf?', hide and seek, snakes and ladders, memory match
  • give your child plenty of opportunities to play with other children. This is a great way to develop talking and social skills

Graphic of a father kneeling at a table with 2 children - they are making something in a mixing bowl


If you would like to look at anything in more detail, this list of references might be a good starting point.


The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and adapted from Much more than words | Manuka takoto, kawea ake (2014).

This page last reviewed 17 November 2020.

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