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This series of blog posts, Help Your Child Talk, describes how your child develops communication starting from no words up to two-word sentences. This process typically takes at least two years. Each level takes at least three months. This post describes what your child will do by the end of Level 5.


We’re looking at skills in all areas of development because using speech and language involves many parts of the brain. Development in one area affects skills needed in another area. We must always consider the whole child and avoid an overemphasis on just one area of development.

Use this chart as a checklist and guide for what new skills develop by the end of Level 5. For each skill, you’ll see activities you can use during daily interactions with your child. All these activities help your child focus on and practice skills needed for effective communication.

Listen to the podcast for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level 5 and get ready for Level 6.


Social interaction is the reason humans communicate. To help your child become an effective communicator, we need to keep interaction as the central focus of our activities.

By the end of Level 5, your child is a skilled user of mutual attention. They look at or toward your face frequently when engaged in interactions with you.

Your child uses joint attention naturally and consistently when you're nearby. They look at what you point at, and use pointing to direct your attention to something interesting. They notice when you're looking at something and follow your gaze to see what's so interesting. Your child looks back and forth between the object of attention and your face, which is the essential action of joint attention.

Your child enjoys taking turns with objects, passing an object back and forth to take turns using it with you. They play comfortably near peers, but don’t take turns or share toys with peers. Showing them how to include a peer in your interactions will help them learn how to do it.

Your child’s attention to your face helps them learn how to react in new situations by checking your face to see how you’re reacting. Your child is learning some early self-regulation skills by tolerating necessary activities that they don’t like and using a favorite object for self-soothing. Your child will have a consistent way of using a sound or gesture to let you know their preferences (like, don’t like, want, don’t want).


Your child learns about the world through play. Their play starts to show what they understand about how things work. This lays the foundation for their thinking skills.

Your child likes novelty and will spend more time exploring new objects than familiar objects. They use objects for their real purpose during play, like giving a doll a bottle or combing a doll’s hair.

Your child is mastering object permanence, the understanding that things still exist when we can’t see them. They’ll search under more than one hiding place to find a toy that you’ve hidden. This understanding is important for using symbols (words). Their persistence in this search helps them learn to be a self-motivated learner that takes action to satisfy their curiosity. It also turns them into little snoops--opening cupboards and drawers all over the house!

Your child crawls around independently and is learning to take a few steps. They can learn how to go down stairs backward on their tummy. Increased mobility helps your child become a more independent learner as they explore their environment.


By the end of Level 5 your child has all the thinking (cognitive) skills needed for using symbols to communicate. They don’t yet use speech, but they use gestures to express consistent meanings. Practice with gestures helps them learn that communication makes their interactions more effective to accomplish a variety of purposes.

Understand Words

By the end of Level 5 your child can pick an item when offered two choices. They follow directions when you use a gesture like pointing to help them understand your meaning.

Make Meaning

Your child does not use spoken words, but makes a consistent sound to let you know that they want or don’t want something.

Your child is using several gestures consistently to express a meaning. This early communication should be encouraged by responding to the gestures’ meaning. Here's a checklist of gestures and how to help teach them to your child.

Early developing gestures include:

  • LOOK: point at something interesting

  • YAY: clap hands

  • LOVE YOU: blow kiss

  • BE QUIET: finger to lips, “shhh”

  • YES: nod head or thumbs-up gesture

Use Speech

Your child can consistently imitate several sounds that you make, although they don’t sound exactly the same as you said them.

Your child uses a few meaningful words, such as “mama,” “dada” or “gah” for dog. Their pronunciation is an approximation—they leave out or substitute sounds but you can recognize what they mean.

Your child uses a sound to accomplish a purpose. You can understand that they want or don’t want something because it’s the sound they use consistently in that situation.



Your child enjoys looking at books independently or with you for several minutes. They understand how books work, can turn pages, look at pictures and find a favorite page. They like to be in charge of the book.

Your child recognizes that pictures represent objects. They touch a picture when you say its name, and point at pictures to call your attention to them.

Looking at books is helping your child develop an understanding of symbols (pictures and spoken words).


Your child can hold a variety of writing tools but fat ones work best. They know how to scribble and will do it anywhere. (Yikes!) Adults need to keep markers in a secure spot but give your child frequent opportunities to use markers or crayons on paper when seated at a table.


In summary, at Level Five your child has basic communication skills. They interact for a variety of meaningful, social reasons. They know how to express their ideas and feelings using gestures and sounds. Your child understands that symbols (pictures, words) can represent things that are not present.

Your child’s growing independence helps them feel like they can control their world. They like to explore, see the effects they have on objects, and see that their actions and sounds can have an effect on people, too.

Play continues to motivate your child to move, explore and learn. Children with limited motor or sensory skills can learn through play when we provide supports and adaptations for them. Consult with specialists as needed—physical therapist, occupational therapist, vision or hearing teacher.

We can enrich the learning opportunities in a child’s environment to help boost their learning. Listen to the podcast for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level Five and get them ready for Level Six.

  • Be sure to focus on providing enrichment at your child’s current level, and add just a little bit more to show what they can do next.

  • Focus on sharing an interaction together, rather than trying to get your child to do a specific thing.

  • Don’t be tempted to jump ahead as a way to accelerate your child’s development. (You’ll leave gaps.) Use this chart to keep track of what your child is able to do. Focus on building a strong foundation at the current level before you move to the next level.

Next: Level Six




Joyce is very knowledgeable. Not only as a speech therapist but also on how the school system works. Which is very helpful going through the IEP process. She was able to engage with my daughter and was never hesitant to help in any way. I would definitely recommend Joyce to anyone that is looking for a trustworthy, caring and informed speech therapist.

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