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Social Communication & Pragmatics

Kids on PhoneCommunication is not only about the words we use but it also involves non-verbal cues such as, tone of voice, body language, eye contact and facial expression. The use of language for social communication purposes is also known as “pragmatics”. Pragmatics involves knowing when to use certain language depending on; the situation you are in, who you are speaking with and also being able to follow conversational “rules” to navigate social situations.

A person may be able to express themselves using words and sentences, but if they are not using their language appropriately, they may still have a communication disorder. Such difficulties can also occur in parallel with other language disorders. Children develop their conversational skills in their preschool years. They learn about communication (verbal and non-verbal) in the context of conversations with immediate family, familiar adults, peers and teachers. Initially, their conversations are about what is happening in the moment, “here and now”. Those conversations are usually short, but in time and with practise, the pre-schooler learns to be an effective conversationalist.

 As parents of pre-schoolers, you can help your child develop his or her social communication skills by;

• Encouraging your child to say hello / goodbye when you meet or leave a friend’s home, for example.

• Making time for your child to develop close friendships with their peers and to socialise.

• Modelling appropriate social communication skills in a variety of situations.

• Reading stories that reflect social interactions and feelings/emotions with your child can be conversation starters.

• Responding to topics your child initiates in conversation shows them how to maintain a conversational topic.

• Setting aside time to talk with him or her regularly about things that interest each of you can help develop their conversation initiation, turn-taking and maintenance abilities. Young toddlers may only be able to maintain a conversation for about 5 minutes at a time.

Some examples of typical pragmatics skills development are;

• Up to 12 months of age toddlers smile, vocalise, use gestural communication and eventually early words to request objects and actions, to refuse something and to comment.

• 2 ½ year olds begin to use “please” more, They use words to request information and to respond to questions, they engage in more symbolic play and can tell a basic story.

• 3 year olds become better at maintaining a topic in conversation but still may only do so for about half of the time. They are more likely to request clarification if they do not understand something, they use language more in their play with peers and their stories become more sequential.

• 4 year olds use “Can you…?” and “would you…? to request items. They show more empathy, engage in more imaginative play and maintain their interactions more effectively.

If you have any concerns about your child’s speech and language development, please do not hesitate to contact me on 0417 255 062.

Speech & Language Tips Related to "Bugs & Insects"

ButterflyChildren of all ages are interested in bugs, insects and creepy crawlies. Below are some ideas to encourage your child to expand their speech and language skills whilst learning about bugs and insects!

General Games/ Activities:

  • Sing nursery rhymes together and do the actions (e.g. incy wincy spider, little miss muffet).
  • Play board games e.g. “Build a Beetle”, “Honey Bee Tree Game”, “Crazy Bee Game”, “Jitterbugs”
  • Read books about bugs and insects (informational and stories).
  • Talk about the bugs & insects that your child is interested in. Encourage them to explore and find out more about the insects they are fascinated by.
  • Art/ Crafts – draw or build a bug. Talk about the parts of the bug to help think on an interesting name for their bug.
  •  Cookery – decorate cup-cakes. Talk about the colours, shapes and patterns you use to create bug images on the cup-cakes.
  • Play ‘people’ games with your children e.g. “Celebrity Bugs”. Show your child how to play first.
  • Celebrity Bugs (Who am I?)
  • Print out pictures of bugs / insects that your child knows.
    • Place the cards in the centre of the table.
    • Each person is to take turns at selecting a card, one at a time… but no peeking!
    • Once you select your card, show it to the others in the group.
    • The other players are to give clues about the bug to help you guess the bug you are.
    • You can ask questions about the card to help you guess the bug e.g. What
    • noise do I make? Can I fly? Where do I live? Do I bite? Do I sting?
  • Give your child a picture of a bug/ insect or a toy bug and ask them what they think it should be called based on its appearance.
  • Think of a good name for a real bug.
  • Nursery songs & craft ideas for the theme of bugs & insects can be found online HERE.


  • Speech clarity: Practice saying names of bugs, starting with the short names (e.g. bee, fly, ant, spider, beetle) and then move on to multi-syllable names (dragonfly, butterfly, cockroach, caterpillar, centipede).
  • Increase phoneme awareness by listening to the first sound in the bug/ insect names….”I spy with my little eye a bug that starts with ….d…(dragonfly)”.
  • Count the syllables in the names of bugs. You can do this by clapping your hands once per syllable e.g., “bu-tter-fly” -. 3 syllables / beats / claps.

Descriptive Language: encourage your child to think about all the features of the bugs and insects he/ she are learning about. Consider words that describe;

  • Colours, e.g., the intensity of colour, translucency, spots etc.
  • Size, e.g., big, small, tiny, long.
  • Shape, e.g. round, oval.
  • Where they are found or live? e.g. , webs, under rocks.
  • Parts/ feature, e.g. wings, legs, antennae, eyes
  • Texture, e.g., sticky, furry, spiky.

 If you would like further information about any of the above information, please contact Catherine on 0417 255. 062.

Speech, Language & Literacy: Getting Ready for School


A recent media release by Speech Pathology Australia highlighted the importance of language skills for school aged children. They noted that 25% of children starting primary school have difficulty understanding or using language effectively. This affects their ability to learn to read and write. As language permeates every aspect of the classroom, early intervention for speech and language difficulties is vital.

Language is a central part of learning. It aids us in understanding meaning and convey that understanding to others. Language is a vehicle by which we receive information, process it, understand it and share our knowledge of it. It is used to store and access information already stored in memory. As a child’s language skills develop, so too does their ability to learn. A child who has difficulties with any aspect of communication may have difficulty coping with the workload at school. Therefore, therapy for communication difficulties needs to begin before a the child starts school.

Things to look out for:

Below are some questions you could ask yourself about your child’s communication skills. Consult a Speech Pathologist if your child has difficulties in any of the following areas:

  1. Speech sounds: Is your child having difficulty saying certain speech sounds? Some children have trouble saying sounds (e.g. /s, k, th, f, r/) which can lead to difficulties reading and writing words effectively. Early intervention ensures the child starts school with a good knowledge of their speech sound system to learn about letters and their corresponding sounds.
  2. Understanding of language: Does your child have trouble following instructions? Do they find it difficult to recall the events in a story or summarising a story? Do they have trouble responding to questions? 
  3. Use of language: Is your child; mixing tenses, using incorrect pronouns (e.g. “he” for she/he), having difficulty putting sentences together in a meaningful way or having trouble recounting their news?
  4. Voice: Does your child have a persistently hoarse or nasal sounding voice?
  5. Fluency/ stuttering: Is your child stuttering?
  6. Pre-literacy skills: Is your child disinterested in books? Is he or she unable to identify the first sound in a word after you show him/her how to do this? Is he or she having trouble learning letters and numbers? If your child is reading, is he or she reading the text but is not able to answer questions about what they have just read?
  7. Hearing and Vision: Has your child’s hearing and vision been assessed recently? It is important to ensure your child has good vision and adequate hearing for speech and language development and learning. Disruptions in one sensory area can affect other areas in development.

If you would like further information about any of the above information, please contact Catherine on 0417 255 062.

Helping your child become an effective communicator


We all know how important it is to have effective communication skills. Even young children need to be able to express their ideas, thoughts and feelings to their family, carers, friends, teachers and peers. It is important for their learning, but also for their social development.

Many parents ask what they can do to help their child’s communication development. Below are some ideas for activities that you can do with your little ones that will help them reach their communication potential.

First of all, ensure that your child is able to hear. Frequent ear infections can cause transient conductive hearing loss that often goes unnoticed. Such hearing loss means a child cannot hear certain sounds and words clearly. If they cannot hear a sound or word, they will have trouble saying or responding to it. The only way you can be sure that your child’s hearing is sufficient for the development of speech and language is to see an audiologist. If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing, speak to your GP.

Babies & Young Toddlers: 

Before we expect a child to be able to speak, there are a number of early communication skills developing. These include looking, listening, interacting with others (e.g., returning a smile) and using gestures (e.g. reaching up, pointing).

Reinforce your child’s communication attempts by looking at him / her, listening and mirroring their facial expressions or imitating their vocalisations e.g. cooing, laughter, smiles, babbling.

  • Sing nursery rhymes, doing the actions and play games like peek-a-boo and round & round the garden. These games teach your child about “conversational turn-taking”.
  • Narrate their day. Talk about what  you are doing while you are doing it. This can be done during dressing, bath time, bed time routines.
  • Practice saying sounds together, e.g. animal sounds, water sounds in the bath, vehicle sounds.
  • Name body parts whilst singing, e.g. this little piggy, “this is the way we wash our hair...face...hands....etc” at bath time.
  • While reading, point out interesting pictures and encourage your child to point to what they are interested in. If they can’t name the picture yet, name it for them.

Speech & Language tips related to “Workers in the Community”


Your children may already be asking you about where you go to work or about your job. They may be interested in visiting you at work or dressing up to be like you.

When you are out and about together, try talking about the people you see working in the community. Point out particular uniforms or work related clothing worn by those people, e.g. shop assistant, police officer, fireman, baker, swimming teacher. Encourage them to describe the uniforms and ask them why those workers might need to wear a uniform for their work. Talk about the vital role these workers play in the community and how much they are valued. 

Some other things you / your child can do are:

  • Play dress-ups and engage in role-playing. Use specific work related vocabulary, e.g. when playing “builder” or “doctor”, name the tools they use, talk about what they do and their work related clothing.
  • Sing songs about workers. There are websites with songs that describe different workers, e.g.
  • Read about different workers e.g. “Doctor Maisy”, “Postman Pat”, “Jobs People Do”. 
  • Talk about uniforms worn by different workers and why. You could focus on a part of the uniform, such as hats, shoes, protective wear and compare them to similar items worn by other workers. Encourage your child to use descriptive language related to colour, shape, size, materials.
  • If your child has a favourite worker / occupation, encourage them to learn as much about that occupation as they are interested in and allow them to express their knowledge in different ways. They could talk about the occupation with their family or friends, draw pictures, make models  or act out the role.
  • If possible, visit work places, including Mum’s and Dad’s work, so that your child can see how the workers go about their jobs.
  • Pick a different worker for each letter of the alphabet, e.g. P -  painter, V - Vet, T - teacher.
  • Talk about the aspects of your work that you enjoy and why. 

If you would like more information about speech and language development, or would like to discuss your child’s communication, feel free to contact me on 0417 255 062.

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Catherine Downs

Catherine Downs

Catherine Down is Platinum Pre School's preffered Speech Pathologist, she writes specifically tailored articles for the Platinum Newsletter and advises our staff on questions related to childhood speech development. Catherine is a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP) with Speech Pathology Australia (SPA) and is an affiliate member of the American Speech - Language - Hearing Association (ASHA).

Catherine holds a BA in Psychology from the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) and a BAppSc of Speech Pathology from The University of Sydney. Catherine's qualifications and experience give her a unique set of skills for dealing with clients who are having communication, literacy and learning difficulties.

To find out more about Catherine's services or to book an appointment, please call Catherine on 0417 255 062 or visit her website -

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