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Is my 5-year-old normal?

Communication milestones for 5-year-olds

5-year-olds should come with an operating manual. They have the idea that they are fully functioning mini-adults and they often want to be treated as such. Well, they are part-way there. By 5 years of age, their brains have reached about 90% of their adult size. They have made huge developmental leaps in terms of their physical abilities and language and thinking skills. They can solve problems and really show off their creativity.

A spectacular feature of 5-year-olds is that they experience a mega burst of language and knowledge. Up until this point in their lives, they have focused on developing their language skills, learning new words and how to express themselves. Now at 5, they are ready to use their language for learning. They ask incredible questions and can make inferences about given circumstances and events. They use their imagination and word knowledge to link information and build new thoughts and ideas. 5-year-olds are standing on the edge of the educational pool and are ready to dive right in.

This checklist will put your mind at rest and help you recognise when that special small person in your life may need some extra support from a speech pathologist.

We will consider typical milestones across the following elements of communication:

  • Speech: the sounds your child is making and how they are putting them together to make words

  • Vocabulary: the words your child understands and uses, and how they store them

  • Receptive Language or Comprehension: how your child understands and responds to language

  • Expressive Language: the way your child expresses themselves through words and sentences. It includes how they use language and gestures to think and convey their thoughts, feelings and ideas.

  • Phonological Awareness: how they understand and interpret sounds which leads to literacy

  • Play and Cognitive Skills: which provide communication opportunities and help your child to develop language for thinking, reasoning and problem-solving

By 5-years, your child should be:


  • Understood by everyone

  • Use most speech sounds correctly, but may still have some difficulty with ‘s, r and th’


  • Understanding and using between 2,200 and 2,500 words

  • Thinking about the meaning when hearing new words

  • Asks the meaning of new words

Receptive Language

  • Understanding instructions without having to stop and listen

  • Following 3-part instructions such as ‘put on your shoes, get your backpack and get in the car’

  • Understanding all time-related words e.g. before, now, later, after, yesterday, tomorrow

  • Answering questions about simple stories they’ve heard

  • Understanding left and right

  • Understanding number concepts of up to 20

  • Repeating sentences up to nine words long

Expressive Language

  • Taking turns in increasingly longer conversations

  • Telling simple stories with a clear beginning, middle and end

  • Using past and future tense verbs correctly e.g. ‘went’ and ‘will go’, ‘had’ and ‘will have’, ‘was’, ‘has’

  • Using words like ‘when, so, because, if’

  • Asking a variety of questions for information

  • Using the contractible form of auxiliary verbs e.g. the boy’s running, she’s talking

  • Using describing words

  • Using adverbs such as backwards and forwards

  • Making comparisons such as loud and louder

  • Using location words such as through, nearest, corner, middle

Phonological Awareness

  • Recognising letters, sounds and numbers

  • Able to clap out the syllables they hear in a word

  • Confidently making rhymes

  • Able to identify the first sounds in words and tell if another word starts with the same sound

  • Beginning to use wordplay

  • Beginning to try writing

  • Printing their own name

Play and Cognitive Skills

  • Using threats and promises

  • Adjusting their communication to meet the needs of unfamiliar people

  • Engaging in cooperative play such as making group decisions, assigning roles, playing fairly

  • Announcing a change of topic

If you are concerned that your child is not meeting these early communication milestones, it is the right time to see a speech pathologist. It is always best to seek help early and never take a ‘wait and see’ approach.

A speech pathologist will be able to assess your child’s communication skills and give you advice and strategies to encourage your child’s development.

At Newcastle Speech Pathology, we are passionate about helping children develop their communication skills and supporting their families because clear communication unlocks opportunities. Contact us to see how we can help you and your child.

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