5–6 years old: Cognitive and linguistic development

5–6 years old: Cognitive and linguistic development

What happens in your little one’s brain as they get older? Follow your child’s cognitive development from age 5 to 6.

Cognitive development refers to the acquisition of skills such as memory, attention, reasoning, and planning. These skills allow children to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours, in addition to helping them store information, solve problems, exercise judgment, and understand the world around them. Cognitive development also includes language development, which is a child’s ability to communicate, understand speech, and express themself verbally.

Cognitive and language development: 5–6 years old

Cognitive skills

At this age:

Remember that not all children develop the same skills at the same speed. The material on this website is for general information purposes only. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, speak with a doctor.
  • Your child is starting to make complex associations between concepts. For example, they now know that most animals have hair and walk on four legs, and that they can be big or small. They also understand that animals are grouped into species that share certain characteristics, such as cats, dogs, and horses.
  • They can rank objects by size (i.e., they can tell if one is larger or smaller than another).
  • They can distinguish between times of day (morning, afternoon, evening), but still struggle to situate future events in time. For example, your child may know that their birthday is in October, but they’re not sure whether it comes before or after Christmas.
  • They’re able to solve simple problems by exploring possible solutions. For example, if they build a block tower that keeps falling down, they can study it and independently come up with a strategy to make it sturdier.

Little by little, your child will begin to do the following:

  • Plan and carry out more elaborate building projects, such as three-dimensional structures.
  • Understand other people’s perspectives (e.g., how another person feels).
  • Gain a better understanding of various measurements, namely size, weight, length, width, and height.

Language skills

At this age:

  • Your child has a precise and diverse vocabulary which allows them to express ideas easily.
  • They can understand more complex and specific instructions than before (e.g., “Circle the smallest square”).
  • They can recount experiences using more complex sentences without losing track of the order of events (e.g., “I would have liked to play with my friend, but we had to go pick up Mom”).
  • They can keep a conversation going on a given topic over several exchanges.
  • They can pronounce words properly, but may still have some difficulty making the “th” (as in something) and “r” (as in rock) sounds.
  • They generally conjugate verbs properly when speaking, but can still have trouble with irregular past tense forms (e.g., “I eated” instead of “I ate” or “this breaked” instead of “this broke”).

Little by little, your child will begin to do the following:

  • Talk about their interests in great detail.
  • Better understand explanations of events that aren’t situated in the recent past or near future.
  • Take part in group conversations and be able to listen as well as take turns speaking.
  • Tell a made-up story that includes all the classic story elements: a starting situation, a trigger, a problem, a solution, and a resolution.

How can you help your child progress?

Your child is unique and will develop at their own pace. They have strengths and weaknesses and are becoming increasingly self-aware. You can encourage your little one’s cognitive development with these simple everyday actions:

When you read to your child,
they develop their language comprehension and vocabulary.
When you talk to your child after school,
they learn to talk about what happened during the day and how to express their opinions and emotions.
When you include your child in a family or group discussion,
they learn to wait their turn to speak and how to take part in a conversation.
When you encourage your child to observe and think things through before starting a task or a craft or building project,
they strengthen their ability to use reason and creativity to achieve the desired outcome.
When you play board games together,
your child learns how to take turns and starts making connections between strategies and results.
When you name the letters of the alphabet when reading a book, the back of a cereal box, and so on,
your child learns to recognize letters, which will help them learn to read.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Marie-Ève Bergeron-Gaudin, speech-language pathologist, and Noémie Montminy, doctoral student in psychopedagogy at Université Laval.
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: August 2021


Photo: iStock.com/PeopleImages



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