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Language development in the early school years sees children learning more and longer words. They get more skilled at putting words together in new ways. At this age, they also become more familiar with how language sounds, and how sounds combine to make words.
By five years, children know that sounds make up words. They can identify words beginning with the same sound – for example, ‘Mummy made magic marshmallows’. They can also spot words that rhyme. They might play rhyming games and sing out words that rhyme, like ‘bat’, ‘cat’, ‘fat’, ‘hat’ and ‘mat’.
At 5-6 years, your child might know some or all of the sounds that go with the different letters of the alphabet. This is important for the development of reading skills. At this age, children also learn that single sounds combine into words. For example, when you put the ‘t’, ‘o’ and ‘p’ sounds together, they make the word ‘top’.
By six years, children can usually read simple stories and write or copy letters of the alphabet.
By eight years, your child understands what he’s reading. He might be reading on his own, and reading might even be one of his favourite activities. By this age children can also write a simple story.
By five years, children can use the correct form of verbs to talk about past and future events. For example, your child can say ‘I played with Maxie’ to talk about the past and ‘I will play with Maxie’ to talk about the future. Children also begin to understand some concepts of time – for example, night, day and yesterday.
Your child will start to realise that there are exceptions to grammatical rules – for example, we say ‘broke’, ‘threw’ and ‘ate’ rather than ‘breaked’, ‘throwed’ and ‘eated’. But it will take a few more years for her to learn the many exceptions in the English language. Even at eight years of age, some children might have trouble with the past tense of some verbs.
At 5-6 years, children understand that single words might have different meanings, so they start to rely more on the context of a word to know what it means. 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 also begin to understand metaphors and non-literal language – for example, ‘Make up your mind’.
Your child will understand that he can make new words by joining two other words – for example, ‘bookshelf’. You’ll see ‘compound’ words like this more often in your child’s speech now.
Your child will also begin using longer words as she learns that the beginnings and endings of words change their meanings. For example, she can add ‘ness’ (as in ‘happiness’), ‘un’ (as in ‘unwrap’), and ‘er’ (as when ‘teach’ becomes ‘teacher’).
And your child will also start to understand that words don’t always need an ‘s’ to become plurals – for example, ‘feet’ and ‘mice’ rather than ‘foots’ and ‘mouses’.
By eight years, children are learning lots of new words through reading. They also start to understand jokes and riddles that play on sounds. For example, your child might tell or enjoy a joke like ‘What kind of shows do cows like to watch?’ ‘Moo-sicals’.
Your child might also start to compare two things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ – for example, ‘She swims like a fish’.
By five years, children can follow three-step directions.
Your child can understand and combine words to form active sentences – for example, ‘The cat chased the dog’. He’s also starting to understand passive sentences – for example, ‘The cat was chased by the dog’.
But when children are describing pictures, they might mix up who is doing what to whom. They might also have trouble understanding pronoun references – for example, who ‘she’ refers to if you say, ‘The woman told the last girl to arrive that she was late’. Your child’s ability to make correct sentences will improve gradually in the next few years.
By eight years, your child will be using complex and compound sentences – for example, ‘Tim can be rude sometimes, but he’s a nice boy’.
From 4-8 years, children get much better at telling stories. Your child’s stories are probably longer and more detailed. The stories might be made up, or about things that have actually happened. They might have a theme, character or plot and contain actions and events in a logical sequence – for example, ‘The boat sank, so everybody had to swim to the beach’.
As your child keeps learning and practising language, her storytelling will improve. It’ll be easier to work out who your child is talking about when she’s telling a story, and how the events in her stories fit together.
In these years, your child might:
use different linking words in the right way – for example, ‘because’, ‘then’, ‘now’, ‘when’, ‘before’, ‘while’ and ‘although’
use different sentence types to present the same information
correctly use pronouns like ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’ when he’s telling a story
understand the difference between fact and theory – that is, the difference between ‘What happened?’ and ‘Why do you think … ?’
This website is a collaboration between Tusla and the Childhood Development Initiative (CDI)