Are your child’s language skills school-ready? Here’s how to tell

Kinderling News & Features

'School readiness' is a buzzword for parents at this time of year. Among all the questions of age and stage and what lunchbox to choose, you should also consider your child’s language skills. 

That’s according to speech pathologist, Emily Mackie from Speak about Speech, who told Kinderling that language development is a really important factor in school readiness. 

“When looking at a child's school readiness, we look at two main areas: receptive language and expressive language,” says Emily. “A child is ready to start school when the majority of those skills have developed.”

Receptive and expressive language 

Receptive language refers to cognition. Your child needs to be able to follow instructions and also to understand how words go together.

For example: categorising things like animals or transport, and ‘tall and short’, ‘big and small’. 

Expressive language refers to talking. Be aware of the number of different words a child uses, how they create sentences and put words together, their vocabulary and also their memory. 

Listen to speech pathologist Emily Mackie on the Feed Play Love podcast: 

Age-appropriate sounds, letters and words 

Did you know a child’s age should correspond with the number of words they can put together? 

“That is, if your child is two they should be able to put two single words together. If they are four, it should be four words and so on. By the age of five, when your child is starting school, he or she should use appropriate grammar and vocabulary and also understand complex instructions,” says Emily. 

For example: "Come and sit on the floor, put your pencils and book bag in the corner, and get the book out of your bag." 

“Children should be able to follow these instructions to function in the classroom,” says Emily.

Focus on sounds

Pronunciation and speech sounds are critical to school readiness.

“This is because when your child starts speaking and reading, sounds and pronunciation help them break words down,” says Emily. 

“If their sounds are not clear, they might say ‘gog’ instead of dog. That’s when it impacts on spelling, because they will write a 'g' instead of a 'd'.”

How can parents and caregivers support our kids? 

Emily told Kinderling there are lots of really basic activities you can do with your kids to focus on language readiness for school. 

  1. Sound awareness: Focus on activities like rhyming, matching rhyming words and breaking words into syllables.

  2. Preparation for reading: Point to a word or sentence in a book, or the front and back of a book.

  3. Listening for sounds: Pick a sound for the week. For example, pick an ‘M’ and then point out different words that start with that sound.

  4. Remember: Don’t ‘test’ your child, just model the sounds and actions as you’re going about daily life. Learning is not necessarily sitting at a desk and writing. 

What are language development warning signs?

Emily told Kinderling that parents with any concerns about their children’s language development should consider the following:  

1. Listen for the way your child makes sounds; if their sounds aren’t clear, this can lead to difficulties at school.

2. Is your child understanding what you’re saying? Can they recall events and answer questions like, ‘How did you feel?’ and ‘What happened next?’

3. Does your child engage with you? If they don’t want to read a book or sit still for long-ish periods - consider this worth checking out. 

What can you do if you notice these things? 

If you have concerns about your child, it’s best to act on these things as early as you can - at least 12 months before they start school is ideal. 

“Get a speech pathologist assessment for your child and they will look at all the skills your child needs for school,” says Emily. “Then we will compare them with their peers and tell them where they’re at for their age.”