Skip to main content

Communication: School-Age Children

This lesson on communication and school-age children and youth will discuss the major components of communication and the development of communication skills. Common communication methods and trends for school-age children and youth, as well as how to include all types of learners, will also be discussed.

  • Define the four major components of communication.
  • Identify typical communication milestones in school-age children and youth and common communication trends.
  • Discuss methods for communicating with school-age children and youth that encourage communication development and expression. 



Communication skills are vital to interacting and participating in all aspects of a children and youth’s environments. School-age children and youth will be exploring and expanding on the four major components of communication: listening, talking, reading, and writing. In this lesson, you will learn about these four components and how to support their development in school-age children and youth. You will also see the progress benchmarks for different grade levels. In addition to developmental milestones, this lesson will discuss how a school-age staff member should interact with and encourage communication with all types of learners.

Technology plays a large role in how we communicate in today’s world. This lesson will provide you with information on how children and youth may be communicating through technology and how to help keep them safe.

Components of Communication

As children and youth grow, we usually measure their development by checking their progress against a set of universal milestones. When looking at developmental milestones of any kind, it is important to remember that all children and youth develop at their own pace. While we use these milestones as a guideline, they are not the only aspect that should be considered when looking at a child’s development. To better examine the communication skills of school-age children and youth, we break communication up into four major components: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The following Communications Benchmarks chart contains common points for kindergarten through fifth-grade children. (This chart is also found in the Learn section.)

Each of the four communication components are explained below.


Listening is a two-part process. The first part is actually hearing what is being communicated and the second part is relating that information to your own personal experiences or knowledge. Listening skills can include, but are not limited to:

  • Following and responding to directions
  • Recalling or retelling information
  • The ability to focus and pay attention
  • The ability to actively participate in conversations

As a school-age staff member, it will be important that you help encourage the development of listening skills. The most meaningful way to promote this development is to model good listening skills. In addition to being a good model, you can promote listening skills by:

  • Encouraging children and youth to practice good listening skills as they engage and interact with others, such as always facing the person you are talking to and making eye contact.
  • Practicing active listening and encourage children and youth to do so as well by always showing respect to the person you are talking to and retelling information as they speak to show you are understanding what is being said.
  • Planning experiences for collaborative learning and teamwork so that children and youth will need to listen to one another in order to complete a task or project.
  • Using language to help resolve conflicts between children by encouraging them to listen to one another’s thoughts and feelings. Review the guidelines for a respectful conversation process that allows them to share their thoughts and feelings with each other.
  • Involving the community by bringing in speakers and planning presentations. Give children the opportunity to listen to community members or special presenters give talks or workshops, lead activities, or share their experiences. Be sure to check their listening skills by following up presentations with questions and group conversations.


Listening and speaking are closely linked and tend to develop simultaneously. The act of speaking allows children and youth to express their feelings and emotions, as well as share information. As children and youth develop throughout the school-age years, they develop more sophisticated speaking skills and vocabularies. Speaking skills can include, but are not limited to:

  • The ability to speak clearly and be understood by others
  • The ability to answer grade-level appropriate yes or no and open-ended questions
  • Participation in conversations and discussions
  • Retelling and summarizing stories
  • Developing a grade-level appropriate vocabulary
  • Giving multi-step directions

Effective speaking skills are an essential part of development because they allow children and youth to express their thoughts, feelings, and needs. Encouraging and supporting speaking skills is something that will come with most activities in a school-age learning environment. You can help encourage the development of speaking skills by:

  • Encouraging conversations to occur naturally within the learning environment by providing free time and furniture or outdoor spaces that allow for easy conversation, such as group tables, clusters of seating, or in a shady spot under a tree
  • Engaging children and youth in daily conversations by asking them about their day at school, weekend, favorite subjects, sports, etc. while modeling good speaking and listening skills
  • Planning activities that include learning vocabulary words and encouraging children and youth to be descriptive
  • Planning activities that promote speaking, such as plays, talent shows, poetry contests, debates, or presentations
  • Planning opportunities for public speaking. Giving children an opportunity to speak in front of groups will help strengthen their speaking skills and increase their confidence levels. There are a variety of ways to plan activities that encourage this type of speaking. You can have children create speeches and debates, share a project they have worked on, or participate in theater events.
  • Demonstrate conversations on a regular basis. Remember to model good conversation, vocabulary, and communication skills while in the school-age learning environment. If you notice children who are struggling with their conversation skills, take extra time to review conversation etiquette.


Reading is not only an essential part of the way we communicate, it also exposes children and youth to various forms of dialogue and written language. School-age children and youth will begin as emergent readers who are just learning how to identify sounds and view them as words on the page. As they grow, their reading skills will develop. Reading levels are usually categorized as grade levels; for example, a third-grade reading book. However, it is important to remember that children and youth may vary in reading levels, even with their peers. Encouraging a love of reading, and allowing children and youth to read what interests them, is the best way to keep them engaged with reading. Reading skills can include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying letters and their corresponding sounds
  • The ability to sound out words when trying to read
  • Reading comprehension skills
  • Ability to read at an age-appropriate level
  • Make predictions about what will happen next in the story
  • Discuss main ideas, themes, and points of view

Reading is an important part of a child’s communication skills because it allows children to take in and comprehend written information. A large portion of our daily communication happens through reading. We read emails, news stories, policy manuals, text books, or instructions to gain information for our jobs, education, and personal lives. Reading is also a source of entertainment and a way for children and youth to use their imaginations. As a school-age staff member, it is important that you encourage a love of reading. Reading will help children and youth become life-long learners. You can encourage the development of reading skills by:

  • Creating a print-rich environment by labeling areas, posting signs, and displaying work and projects with written descriptions.
  • Reading aloud to children and youth as often as possible. You can share picture books, current event stories, or read a longer chapter book over a series of weeks. It is important for children and youth to hear and see you reading.
  • Making literature available for children and youth and including a variety of reading levels, subjects, genres (fiction, nonfiction, sci-fi, etc.), and formats to appeal to all children and youth. Provide a variety of magazines, newspapers, and paperback and hardbound books. Include chapter books, graphic novels, picture books, pop-up books, and technology/screen-based readers. Consider including a suggestion box or list so that children and youth may submit requests. When possible, include a time dedicated to silent reading, preferably every day. Plan opportunities for children and youth to share what they are reading with you and their peers.
  • Providing games that promote reading like Apples to Apples Jr., Boggle, UpWords, and Scrabble.


Writing is an important part of communication development because it allows children and youth to express themselves and share information. Traditionally, we think of writing as putting pencil to paper, but in today’s society, we also need to include typing and sharing information digitally. Children will begin to understand that letters make up words, which make up sentences, and so on. Younger school-age children will be learning how to spell words correctly and may spell words based on how they sound, rather than the correct spelling. This will continue to improve and develop over time. Examples of writing skills, which vary with age level, include:

  • The ability to print clearly
  • The ability to understand basic punctuation and capitalization
  • Using vocabulary effectively
  • The ability to spell sight words and use vocabulary correctly
  • The ability to write effectively for information sharing or creative writing

Writing is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. It requires a level of mastery in other areas of communication, as well as fine motor skills and eye–hand coordination. As technology continues to become an everyday part of our lives, the focus on handwriting skills, especially cursive writing, is on the decline. It is important to encourage all forms of written communication in the school-age environment. Methods of encouraging writing development include:

  • Allowing children and youth to help create signs, descriptions, and posters for the classrooms
  • Letting children and youth see you writing daily schedules or notes during activities
  • Having a variety of materials for writing available to children and youth at all times
  • Displaying hand-written work throughout the space
  • Giving children and youth time to do free writing, by having a notebook or journal available for each child
  • Providing games and activities that encourage writing, such as word searches, crossword puzzles, Pictionary, and HangMan

Communicating with School-Age Children

The school-age child’s mind is constantly growing and developing. Let’s take a look at some of the changes that occur during this stage of development:

  • School-age children and youth become thoughtful and purposeful. They reflect and think more logically about their lives and the world around them. This will make them ask thoughtful, and sometimes difficult, questions.
  • As school-age children and youth become more independent, they tend to question authority. This can be alarming for families, but is a very normal part of the child’s development. Children and youth may also question teachers and staff members, as they are starting to take risks and test boundaries.
  • School-age children and youth can also be influenced by their surroundings and environment, which may affect the way they communicate. They may begin to use language from social media sites, a popular television show, or integrate what they hear from their friends into their vocabulary. School-age children and youth may also begin changing their communication methods depending on where they are. They might speak one way to a family member or teacher, and then adopt a different approach when speaking with peers.

Communication Trends

The way we communicate today has been drastically changed by new technologies. We can access and send information across the globe in an instant—from a device that can fit in our pocket. Your program has policies that govern the use of technology in the program for you and children and youth; make sure you understand and follow these policies. Even if children and youth aren’t allowed to use cell phones in the program, it is likely that they will use technology to communicate outside of the program. It is important for you to understand the various ways school-age children and youth may be using technology to communicate.


A text message is an electronic message that can be sent over a cellular or virtual network, usually from one cell phone to another. Depending on the type of device, images can be included in a text message. Text messages can also be sent using tablets and other devices that can connect to the Internet or a cellular network. Safety can become a concern because texting is instant and can be difficult for families to monitor.

Social Networking

Social networking is another new technology that has drastically changed the way we communicate. Websites like TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have made it easy to communicate and share information and photos with just about anyone. Unfortunately, not everyone uses social media responsibly. As this type of communication has gained popularity, there has been a rise in cyberbullying, identity theft, and activity by online sexual predators. As a school-age staff member, you should be familiar with what social networking is and be mindful for any misuse happening within your program. Look for signs that a school-age child may be a victim of cyber-bullying or other victimization. Talk to your trainer, coach, or administrator about what to do if you notice a child who seems upset after using the computer, seems withdrawn or secretive about their online actions, or if you hear children and youth talking about another child’s online profile.

Be sure to model good behavior and follow your program’s policy for staff cell phone use. As always, check with your program director on the specific policy on internet use, cell phone use, social networking, and texting for school-age children and youth.

In the Explore section of this lesson, you will find a list of resources about safe internet use for school-age children and youth. You can share these resources with families in your program and review them yourself so that you can guide children and youth in a responsible way.

Supporting Communication for All Children

Some children and youth in your program may have conditions that affect their language and communication development, including developmental delays, autism, neurological and perceptual disorders, or vision, hearing, speech, or language impairments. Children with Individualized Education Programs (IEP) have a specific plan to help them meet their personal goals, and very often these school-age children will need changes or adaptations to daily routines, the program environment, and programming. The Kids Included Together (KIT) program can be a valuable resource for ideas.

Below is additional information to consider as you continue to plan for responsive and engaging interactions, environments and experiences that support the children and youth in your program. Use different ways to communicate information with children and youth. For example, visuals like picture schedules for arrival or photos showing steps of getting video games set up provide children with a sense of predictability, and they provide opportunities for interactions with print.

Other children may need different supports. For children and youth with a hearing impairment, you may have to adjust the speed or sound of your voice (speaking more clearly or at a slower pace). You may also have to check more often if they understood what you said. Children and youth with visual impairments may use Braille, large-print and big books. Other children and youth may require the use of assistive technology. This may include communication devices that enable them to explore their surroundings and interact with others.


Components of Communication

Watch this video to learn about the components of communication


Interacting with School-Age Children

Working with school-age children and youth is different than working with younger children. School-age children and youth are growing and developing into young adults and their stage of development needs to be considered. It is a healthy part of development for school-age children and youth to take risks, push boundaries, and crave independence. The way you interact and communicate with them can help encourage healthy development. Here are some tips for interacting with school-age children and youth:

  • Be respectful. It is important to always speak to school-age children and youth in a respectful way. Value their feelings, thoughts, age, and intelligence. Imagine, for example, a kindergartener tells you about her “boyfriend.” Instead of dismissing this conversation as silly or cute, you can honor the child by saying something like, “I’m glad you have such good friends. What do you like to do together?” Also, remember that sarcasm isn’t respectful. It is hurtful and makes others feel bad. It’s OK to be playful, but be sure to stay friendly and positive.
  • Be truthful. School-age children and youth ask a lot of questions. They are inquisitive and curious about their lives and the world around them. Always provide them with factual answers and have resources to share. If, for example, a 3rd grader asks why a new child with a disability “talks funny,” you might answer, “Claire has cerebral palsy. You can go introduce yourself and find out how to communicate with her.” If you don’t feel comfortable answering a question or you don’t have an answer, say so. Then work together to find an answer.
  • Be age appropriate. Do not talk to school-age children and youth as you would talk to a younger child. Don’t shy away from using sophisticated vocabulary—just be ready to define or explain yourself!
  • Practice active listening. When you practice active listening, it lets the person you are talking with know that you are paying attention, you understand what they are saying, and it helps validate the speaker’s feelings. You should take the time to repeat, or retell, what the speaker is saying in a respectful way. For example, you might say, “It sounds like you’re having a difficult time working with Jamie on the rocket project. You don’t feel like he’s listening to you. What have you tried already?”
  • Take the time to talk. Take time each day to speak directly, or one-on-one, with as many children and youth as you can. Ask children specific questions personal to them for example “How is your new puppy doing?” or “What did you like most about the book that you read”? Engaging in quality conversations will help to build relationships and connections and make children and youth feel comfortable talking with you.
  • Consider tone and body language. Don’t forget to think about how you say things and what you look like while you’re doing it. School-age children and youth are perceptive and can understand tone of voice and common body language.

As school-age children and youth grow, self-expression becomes a very important aspect of development. They are beginning to have more sophisticated and purposeful feelings, emotions, and thoughts. As a school-age staff member, it is important to encourage children and youth to share their thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. In many school-age programs, character education is being taught and communicated to children and youth in a manner that will help them develop as moral, respectful, healthy, and successful citizens. Creating a culture of character in your school-age program will significantly improve the way children and youth interact with adults, as well as with each other. Cultivating character also involves teaching children and youth strategies to effectively and positively deal with managing conflict. Conflict resolution is a learned skill that you can help school-age children and youth develop.

Review the Learn attachment, Communication Benchmarks: Kindergarten through Fifth Grade which shows how children and youth develop communication skills from kindergarten through fifth grade. This chart is intended as a reference for you or as a resource you can provide to families.


Think about the school-age children and youth in your program and how your interactions support their communication development. Use the Communication Benchmarks: Kindergarten through Fifth Grade Learn attachment, and the information described within this lesson, to help complete the Thinking about Communication activity. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.

Additionally, below is a list of resources to promote safe social networking in your program. Explore these resources for additional information on keeping the children in your program safe as they use technology to communicate. You may wish to share these resources with families.

Print Resources

  • Allen, Kathy. Cell Phone Safety. Capstone Press, 2013.
  • Linde, Barbara. Safe Social Networking. Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2013.
  • Minton, Eric. Social Networking and Social Media Safety. Power Kids Press, 2014.
  • Nelson, Drew. Dealing with Cyberbullies. Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2013.
  • Schrier, Allyson. Gaming Safety. Capstone Press, 2013.
  • Schwartz, Heather. Cyber Bullying. Capstone Press, 2013.
  • Schwartz, Heather. Safe Social Networking. Capstone Press, 2013.
  • Shea, Therese. Avoiding Online Hoaxes. Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2013.

Online Resources


Observing the environment for the four major communication components will be helpful as you plan activities and experiences for school-age children and youth. Complete the Communication Components: Observation Activity. Share your work with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Active Listening:
A communication technique in which the listener repeats or rephrases the information the speaker has shared, furthers the speaker’s responses, or reflects the speaker’s emotions. This makes the speaker feel that they are being heard and understood.
Sending electronic messages, sometimes with images, through a cellular telephone or other device.
Social Networking:
Using websites and other online resources to share information and photographs and connect with others.
A person who uses technology to spread mean messages, rumors or threats.


Finish this statement: Listening skills include …
A parent asks you what kind of literacy experiences are offered at the school-age program. What do you say?
Which of the following can be a tool to help children with special needs understand the program and communicate about their routines:
References & Resources

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2014). Your Child’s Communication Development: Kindergarten through Fifth Grade. Available at

Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Hart, B., & Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (2012). Early Childhood Generalist Standards for teachers of ages 3-8 (3rd ed.).

The Six Pillars of Character. Retrieved from

Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective, (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.