How Does Speech Therapy Work for 5-Year-Olds?Abby Barnes, M.S., CCC-SLP
If you’re the parent or caregiver of a 5-year-old, you have a lot on your plate! Your child might be gearing up for kindergarten or already in the classroom. They might be learning letters and numbers, trying sports for the first time, making new friends–and chances are, they’re spending time with a greater variety of people. That makes communication skills even more important.
How do you know if your kindergartener is on track with their speech and language? Are they communicating at the level they should be? What are the signs that your 5-year-old might need speech therapy? Read on for the answers to these questions, including what speech therapy looks like for kids age 5.
What do 5-year-olds receive speech therapy for?
People of all ages receive speech therapy for many different reasons. For 5-year-olds, speech therapy can be helpful in a few main ways.
Language development refers to two types of language:
Receptive language: The words a child is able to understand
Expressive language: The words, grammar, and even nonverbal communication a child can use to communicate what they need
If a kindergartener has a hard time understanding vocabulary and key concepts, like being able to follow multi-step directions easily or understand words in sentences spoken to them, they may have a receptive language delay. In this case, speech therapy would be needed.
Children can also have expressive language delays. This refers to difficulty using words, phrases, and sentences to clearly express wants and needs. If a 5-year-old isn’t speaking in full sentences, isn’t able to tell stories that make sense, or can’t use appropriate grammar, they may need speech therapy to help them improve these abilities.
Five-year-olds should be succeeding with social language, called pragmatics. This is their ability to communicate with others and have conversations in a way that’s socially appropriate. Examples of social communication include:
Using body language and eye contact appropriately
Staying on topic in a conversation
Keeping a conversation two-sided, not one-sided
If a kindergartener struggles with social communication, speech therapy can help.
Speech sound disorders
Articulation treatment for speech sound disorders is another reason 5-year-olds may receive speech therapy. It’s normal for children to have some errors as they learn to produce all the sounds in their spoken language. However, as a child grows older, they should be able to say more and more sounds correctly.
At age 5, about 75% of what your child says should be easily understood by unfamiliar listeners (that is, people who don’t speak with your child often). Speech therapy can help kindergarteners speak more clearly so they’re better understood by others.
Five-year-olds may also receive speech therapy for problems with fluency, or the smoothness of their speech (also known as stuttering.) If you notice that your child repeats sounds or words often, or seems to pause like they’re frozen and can’t get any sound out, this may be a sign of stuttering. Speech treatment is likely needed.
How do you know if your 5-year-old needs speech therapy?
You may wonder how to know if your kindergartener needs speech therapy. Let’s take a look at some key milestones children should be reaching during their fifth year. If your child isn’t on track with some of these milestones, it may be a sign to schedule a speech and language evaluation.
Receptive, expressive, and academic-based language milestones for 5-year-olds
5-year-olds should be able to tell a story that’s a few sentences long. This can include making up a story or telling someone about their day.
Children age 5 should use grammar and sentence structure correctly. Their sentences and vocabulary should sound mature. They should be able to use compound and complex sentences appropriately.
Reading comprehension should be improving. After having a book read to them, 5-year-olds should be able to answer simple sentences about what happened in the story.
Kindergarteners should be able to rhyme words. This is essential to building phonological awareness skills–learning the sounds that make up words. Phonological awareness is important for reading, writing, and overall academic growth.
Social language milestones for 5-year-olds
A 5-year-old should be able to stay on topic in a conversation.
They should be able to keep a conversation two-sided: answering questions, asking questions, and commenting with another person to keep the conversation flowing.
5-year-olds should be able to introduce themselves to others.
Kindergarteners should be able to verbally work through misunderstandings and problems with kids their same age.
Articulation milestones for 5-year-olds
5-year-olds should be able to produce all speech sounds in their words and conversations correctly. That includes later-developing sounds like /s/, /r/, and “TH.”
About 75% of a 5-year-old’s speech should be easy to understand by people they don’t speak with often.
Speech fluency milestones for 5-year-olds
5-year-olds should not have frequent sound or word repetition, such as “I w-w-w-want that.”
They should not appear frozen or pause in conversation as if they can’t get their words out.
A kindergartener’s speech should have a natural fluency and smoothness.
How to find a speech therapist for your kindergartener
How can you find a speech therapist near you? Just like you’d research a new doctor before making an appointment, you should do the same for your child’s speech therapist. It’s always helpful to start by asking friends or acquaintances whose children have had speech therapy if they’d recommend their experience.
If you have health insurance, contact your plan to better understand their policies and coverage regarding speech therapy. Your health plan may have a list of in-network speech therapy providers that you can research.
You can also speak with your child’s pediatrician. They likely have a list of local speech therapy providers that they recommend. And you may need a pediatrician referral in order to be reimbursed for speech therapy by your health insurance.
Finally, there are several online directories where you can search speech therapists by location and qualifications. One of these directories is compiled by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which is the professional credentialing organization for speech-language pathologists.
No matter which route you take to finding a speech therapist for an evaluation, make sure to read any online reviews you find! And remember, you are in the driver's seat when it comes to the final choice. It should be someone who is licensed and experienced, and who connects well with your child.
What does speech therapy for a 5-year-old look like?
Speech therapy for a 5-year-old usually looks a lot like playtime. Speech therapists use games, toys, and activities that will motivate a child to participate in speech therapy tasks. Your therapist might help your child practice storytelling by chatting together during a board game. Or, your child may need to say a certain number of speech sounds before completing a step in a craft or taking a turn in a game.
Your speech therapist should learn what your child enjoys and use that during their sessions. Rest assured, while it may look like simple playing, your therapist is using every activity to target your child’s speech therapy goals.
How long does speech therapy last?
One question families often ask is, “How long does speech therapy take?” It would be great if there was just one answer, but the length of therapy is different for each unique person.
However, there are a few things that help determine how long therapy takes. One is the child’s age. The sooner a child begins speech therapy, the sooner they begin making progress. This also decreases the risk that they’ll fall further behind. So if your child is recommended for speech therapy at age 5, it’s best to go ahead and start.
Your child’s diagnosis also affects the length of speech therapy. Sometimes children with a developmental delay catch up quickly with the right support and intervention. With more involved diagnoses that involve neurological complications or congenital disorders, therapy may take longer.
How can you help your 5-year-old with their speech?
As your child’s caregiver, you have a big role to play here. The more you help your child practice what they’re learning in speech therapy, the more quickly they’ll progress!
While speech therapy is an essential part of your child’s improvement, so is the practice that happens at home, between sessions. Continuing to work on your child’s goals throughout the week helps reinforce what was learned in therapy. That sets your kiddo up for more success at their next session.
You can easily help your child practice during everyday activities and the time you already spend together.
Best of all, you don’t need any special training, materials, or expertise. When it comes to speech and language, the world is your classroom. You can easily help your child practice during everyday activities and the time you already spend together.
As a parent or caregiver, you’re doing the right thing in learning how to support your 5-year-old’s communication needs. No matter where you are in the speech therapy journey, your speech therapist is there to walk alongside you and your child. Trust your instincts, and know that you are never alone in this process!