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Supporting older children's language development

Many of you will be involved in supporting children over 5 and may see them before and after school. We explore how children continue to develop their communication and language skills through primary school and beyond, and the ways we can make the most of the opportunities we have to support them with these skills.

How do language and communication skills develop as children get older?

Children over 5 are still developing their language and communication skills. They're refining and building on their early language experiences and using these skills to help them move on with literacy. Children need good speaking and listening skills to give them a foundation for developing literacy.

Children develop skills at different rates, but between 5 and 7 years, children will usually:

  • Focus on one thing for longer without being reminded.
  • Rely less on pictures and objects to learn new words.
  • Use their language skills in learning to read, write and spell.
  • Learn that the same word can mean two things, such as 'orange' the fruit and 'orange' the colour.
  • Understand feelings and descriptive words like 'carefully', 'slowly' or 'clever'.
  • Use language for different purposes such as asking questions or persuading.
  • Share and discuss more complex ideas.
  • Use language in a range of social situations.

As children move up through primary school they are refining these skills even further. Some of the skills children are developing up to the age of 11 are:

  • the ability to use language to predict and draw conclusions.
  • using long and complex sentences.
  • understanding other points of view and show that they agree or disagree.
  • the skills of maintaining a conversation by giving reasons and explaining choices.

How can I support children to extend these skills?

You may be in a unique position to help them develop these skills. You can make the most of these opportunities. For example, you may be picking them up from school and so have a chance to talk about their day. Using open questions gives children a chance to express themselves and formulate their own ideas. This gives them a chance to put their ideas together and reflect on what happened and how they feel. It also gives them a chance to talk about feelings so it is best to avoid ‘yes/no’ answers that can close a conversation down.

As children get older we can have more detailed and complex conversations and the ways that we structure our conversations change. As children get older they are learning new and more abstract vocabulary, as well as a range of descriptive words, so by having more chances to communicate, they can build on these skills.

Reflecting on your practice:

  • What opportunities do you have for helping children to develop their language and communication skills? How do you make the most of these - planned and as they happen?
  • What strategies or approaches do you use to support older children to develop and extend their language skills? Are there any other you could try or develop? How are these approaches reflected in any planning?
  • Do you monitor and track older children's communication skills? If you do, how do you do this and what tools do you use to support you? How do you share this information with parents and carers?

Further resources:

How are speech and reading linked?

Age related resources visit Talking Point website.

Read 'What's typical talk at Primary School'

Information on vocabulary learning

Using scaffolding to help children's learning. 

If you want to find out more or talk through any ideas you can contact I CAN Help - I CAN's enquiry service where you can talk to a friendly speech and language therapist. 


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