Communication Development: By 5 Years

Communication Development: By 5 Years

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?


Understands and uses more concept words, such as 'tallest', 'same', 'bigger', 'medium'.

Responds to instructions while busy doing something else.

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'.

Generally uses complete, well-formed sentences.

Takes turns in much longer conversations.


Asks the meanings of words, and tries to use new words

Retells stories they have heard in the right order, using some story phrases; for example, "once upon a time", "the end".

Asks for help appropriately; for example, "excuse me can I have....?"

Adapts their talking to a listener's level of understanding such as when talking to a baby sibling. 

Identifies first sounds in words; for example, "puku starts with p".

Is starting to link letter names with letter sounds; for example, 's' = 'ssss'.

Recognises some familiar written words and writes their own name.

A few sounds may still be developing; for example, th, r, l and some consonant blends, such as string, cloud, spider, tree.

Is understood by unfamiliar adults all of the time.

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 and memory match
  • give your child plenty of opportunities to play with other children as it 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 08 December 2023.

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