Every couple of months we contribute to the Jefferson County Childcare Association’s newsletter (you can see past newsletters by clicking here).  This month we updated our old blog post What is Pragmatics? to include more developmental information and different activities that target social skill development and submitted that as our contribution to the association.  Have a look and let us know what you think!

What is Pragmatics?

In short, it’s a fancy word for social skills.

It’s easy to forget that communication is so much more than the words we say.  There is eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, and body language that all influence how the information we say is perceived.

A Definition of Pragmatics

Pragmatics is social language use and involves three major communication skills:

  1.  Using language for different reasons, like asking for things or greeting someone.
  2. Changing language based on who is listening, like speaking differently to a child than an adult or to someone who speaks English as a second language.
  3. Following conversational rules for telling stories like taking turns or staying on topic.

Typical Pragmatic Development: Birth Through Age Five*

Below you’ll find a table that outlines typical pragmatic development in children from birth to five years.  The information was adapted from Rhea Paul’s book on assessment and intervention of language disorders from infancy through adolescence.  Please see the reference at the bottom of the page for more information.  This book was essential to my learning in graduate school and continues to be an invaluable resource for me today.

0-8 months Caregivers extract meaning from a child’s actions
8-12 months Children request, refuse, comment, or play games with gestures and vocalizations
12-18 months Children begin to use words to express what they were previously expressing with gestures
18-24 months Children request, answer questions, and acknowledge using words more than gestures
24-30 months Children label and describe items, talk about things that aren’t there, and say “please” for polite requests
30-36 months Children begin to be able to maintain a topic of conversation by adding new information and may ask for clarification if they do not understand
36-42 months Children begin to use language like “Can you . . .?” or “Would you . . .?” to make requests
42-48 months Children begin to report on things that happened in the past, predict things that might happen in the future, express empathy, reason, and create imaginary roles and props
48-60 months Children begin to say things like “That’s my favorite cookie” to make requests rather than asking for a cookie outright


*Adapted from: Paul, Rhea (2007). Language Disorders from Infancy Through Adolescence. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.

How Can We Facilitate Pragmatic Skills in Young Children?

Developing social skills starts in babyhood with the development of a healthy attachment to parents and caregivers. After that, you guessed it . . . play! Here are some ideas to help facilitate social skills in young children.

  • Placing marble mazes (or other exploratory activities) in an area that can be played by two or more children. Encourage verbal discussion as well as problem solving.
  • Introducing a variety of books that deal with perspective taking, feelings and emotions.
  • Arranging the dramatic play area to include a dollhouse with people of many cultures represented.
  • Providing rainbow ribbons so children can come together in dance to express themselves.
  • Placing giant floor puzzles so that children can work together towards a common goal.
  • Playing a parachute game where cooperation is necessary during gross motor activities.
  • Promoting helping skills and acts of kindness by setting up opportunities in dramatic play such as a pet hospital.
  • Preparing muffins and sharing them as a cooking experience.
  • Incorporating open-ended materials, like blocks or pretend play props, in your playtime.
  • Facilitating entry for kids reluctant to join a playgroup.
  • Setting up bath time for baby dolls and modeling caring and helping behaviors.
  • Supplying paint, brushes and a very large piece of paper for the all kids to make a mural together
  • Displaying children’s work at their level.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) – Pragmatic Speech Development

Social Butterflies Club – Pragmatic Language Development Chart

Speech & Health “What is Pragmatics?” Blog Post

Early Childhood News


Do you have a topic you would like to learn more about? Please let me know! You can email or call me at maria@speechandhealth.com or 720-696-2317. You can subscribe to my quarterly newsletter by clicking here.