When you take a moment to consider your 6-year-old, it’s easy to see how much they’ve matured. They’re now in kindergarten or first grade, forming their own friendships and interests. And they’re probably showing a lot of their own unique personality! One of the ways children show their personality is through communication. By the time a child turns 6, there are several speech and language milestones they should be meeting. Let’s take a closer look at these milestones and discuss what to do if your 6-year-old doesn’t seem to be meeting them.
Speech milestones for 6-year-olds
The formation of clear and distinct sounds in speech is known as articulation. It refers to the motoric ability to produce sounds using our lips, tongue, teeth, palate, and the coordination of our breath.
As children begin to talk, they will likely produce some consonants incorrectly. That can be a normal part of development. However, these errors shouldn’t stick around forever. With each year a child grows older, they should be saying more and more of the consonants in the English language correctly. By the time a child is 5 years old, they should be able to say all speech sounds correctly. So when a child is 6, they should definitely be speaking clearly, without any speech errors. This includes pronouncing trickier sounds like /l/, /s/, /r/, and “TH.”
This is important for a few different reasons. Six-year-olds are in school, interacting with peers and with adults like teachers and coaches. The ability to communicate clearly helps children grow their confidence and self-esteem. If people are always asking a child to repeat themselves, the child may shy away from speaking and engaging with others. These are formative years, and strong communication skills make a big difference.
Clear speech is also a safety issue. As caregivers, we never want our children to be in an emergency situation. But if they are, their speech should be clear enough to communicate and answer important questions.
If your child is 6 years old and still demonstrating speech errors, make an appointment to speak with a speech-language pathologist, also known as a speech therapist. The speech therapist can evaluate your child and recommend treatment if it's needed. The earlier you reach out, the better. So don’t wait!
Language milestones for 6-year-olds
Language development refers to a person's ability to get across the message of what they want to express, either verbally or nonverbally. It includes skills like using the right words and vocabulary, forming sentences, and using correct grammar.
When a child is 6 years old, the message of what they want to say should come across clearly. They should also generally be able to understand all that is said to them. One of the ways they do this is by asking and answering questions. They should easily be able to ask and answer questions that begin with who, what, where, when, and why.
Your 6-year-old should be able to follow three-step directions without them needing to be repeated. These can be everyday directions such as, “Go set down your backpack, put away your shoes, and come down for dinner.” Or, in the classroom: “Push in your chair, get your lunchbox, then line up at the door.”
In terms of grammar, your kindergartener or first-grader may still make grammatical errors here and there. However, most of what they say should be grammatically correct.
Here are a few things to watch for in your 6-year-old’s language skills:
1 The ability to use pronouns correctly
Pronouns are what we use to refer to people and things. These are words like me, my, he, him, she, her, we, us, you, and they. Pronouns can be singular or plural. Children should no longer be mixing up pronouns by age 6.
2 The correct use of plurals
When discussing more than one item, your 6-year-old should be adding an “s” at the end, as in words like dogs or kids. Six-year-olds should also be able to use irregular plurals correctly, such as people, children, or fish.
3 The correct use of possessives
Six-year-olds should be able to correctly describe someone that has possession of something. These can be pronouns like mine, yours, his, hers, its, and theirs. This also includes the use of the possessive “s,” as in The girl’s book or Tommy’s toy.
4 The ability to use verb tenses correctly
No matter if a child is talking about something in the past, present, or future, their verb usage should reflect the time frame they’re discussing. Let’s use the word drink for an example. When referring to something in the past, you would say, I drank the milk. Present tense: I am drinking the milk. Or when referring to the future:I will drink the milk.
Social language milestones for 6-year-olds
In kindergarten and first grade, your child is meeting other children and beginning to make new friends. By age 6, these relationships can become quite important to kids. And strong social communication skills help pave the way for making friends!
Six-year-olds should be able to introduce themselves to others. Something simple like, “Hi, I’m _____. What’s your name?” is an important skill you should see developing.
When children of this age talk with each other, they should be able to have a back-and-forth conversation, with on-topic comments and questions. Six-year-olds should also be able to start a conversation on a topic that the other person is likely to enjoy. For example, if they see a child playing with trucks, they would ask the child about their toy or make a comment about vehicles. Choosing appropriate conversation topics, as well as recognizing what another person may want to talk about, is a newer skill you should notice your child developing.
Kindergarteners and first-graders should be able to follow the rules at school, such as not talking when the teacher is talking, being respectful, and following directions. It may take some practice, but these skills should be developed around age 6.
What if your child isn’t meeting 6-year-old milestones?
If you notice your 6-year-old is lacking some of these essential communication skills, reach out to your pediatrician. Speech therapy may be needed, and in many cases, your child’s doctor will need to write a referral for speech therapy in order for health insurance to cover it. Your pediatrician may also be able to recommend specific speech therapy providers.
If you have questions or concerns and want to go right to the source, reach out to a speech therapist. They will be more than happy to answer your questions! Speech therapists are certified and licensed to address these specific developmental milestones and skills. Getting your child the help they need now will set them up to become a clear and confident communicator.