Back To School – What To Expect Of Your Kindergartener’s Communication Skills

Helping your child make the adjustment to being in kindergarten can be difficult and stressful, even if your child’s been in preschool. For parents of kindergarteners, having your child start in a new school with a lot of bigger and older children can be hard on them, and on you!

Your kindergartener might “get in trouble” with the teacher for “not listening”. Or he or she may exhibit behaviors at home due to stress in adjusting to a new situation with new expectation of having to learn to sit and obey the teacher’s rules, follow long directions, and to “do work.”

More and more is expected of children at a younger age these days, and we oftentimes forget that this is especially hard on a child that may be barely 5 years old who has had more unstructured preschool experiences and less expected of him or her. For a child who has a speech or language disorder, diagnosed or not yet diagnosed, this can be an even more difficult adjustment. If a child has difficulty making sounds clear enough for people to understand them, then it may be hard for them to make new friends because the other five year old children may “give up” if they don’t understand his or her comments or questions and walk away. Worse yet, they may snicker or even laugh if he or she has a lot of sound errors or even stutters.

If a kindergartener has an undiagnosed (or diagnosed) language disorder, then even the ability to follow one or two simple directions in a sequence may be hard for them. They may struggle with simple directions such as the teacher saying, “Push your chair in and get in line by the door” or “Get the green crayon and make a circle on the paper.”

The American Speech Language Hearing Association website (http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/kindergarten) provides information as to what children’s communication skills should be like for “Listening” and “Speaking” by the end of kindergarten. Please keep in mind that many kindergarten teachers will expect your child to be doing this upon entering kindergarten which, many kindergarteners, can already do:

Listening:

  • Follow 1-2 simple directions in a sequence
  • Listen to and understand age-appropriate stories read aloud
  • Follow a simple conversation

Speaking:

  • Be understood by most people
  • Answer simple “yes/no” questions
  • Answer open-ended questions (e.g. “What did you have for lunch today?”)
  • Retell a story or talk about an event
  • Participate appropriately in conversation
  • Show interest in and start conversations

In Teach Me to Talk! The Therapy Manual by Laura Mize, M.A., CCC-SLP (2011) says that children should use 2,200-2,5000 words in their own expressive language by this age. Children with speech and language impairments may slide “under the radar” at school for months if the child is thought of as “quiet” or “shy,” which can be the result of that child’s awareness that people don’t understand them or because they have trouble answering open-ended questions. If a child is aware that they have difficulties with speech sounds or language, they will become less apt to participate when the teacher asks a question or to join in play situations with other children. Over time, these children’s academics or their ability to socialize and develop relationships with peers may be affected.

These guidelines for kindergarteners from the ASHA.org website give us an idea of what children should be able to do for speaking and listening. Those are the fundamentals to how we all use language to make our needs known, respond to others, convey emotions, and understand what is being spoken.

If you are concerned about your child’s ability to be understood or to express themselves even as a kindergartener starting out in school, it’s always better to let the teacher know of your concerns and to ask that your school’s speech therapist screen them to see if further testing is needed.

We are available for questions and arranging an appointment to schedule an evaluation with us if you have concerns. This can be done by calling our office at 865-693-5622 . If you ask your doctor to refer your child to us, we are glad to do a free screening and share our findings with him or her. Our screening would let us know if further testing is needed or if we can show you ways to work with your child at home to improve their ability to communicate with peers and teachers in order to maintain their self-confidence and self-esteem in a new school situation.

–Debby Curlee Hall M.A. CCC-SLP