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    • Identify typical cognitive developmental milestones in school-age children.
    • Discuss what to do if you are concerned about a school-age child’s cognitive development.




    Think about the school-age children that you care for in your home. You have already noticed the differences between the youngest 5-year-olds and the oldest 12-year-olds. As school-age children grow from kindergartners to preteens, their bodies and minds undergo extraordinary changes. They are on their way to adulthood, and they are learning the skills they need to be successful in their homes, communities, and schools. Cognitive development is a major part of the changes you see, but it is not the only change. It is important to remember that physical development and social-emotional development contribute to cognitive development during the school-age years. You will learn more about other aspects of children’s development in other courses (for example, in the Social & Emotional Development course and the Physical Development course). This lesson highlights the cognitive developmental milestones you can expect during the school-age years.


    School-age children’s thinking skills become increasingly sophisticated as they encounter new people, places, and ideas. They develop the ability to learn in abstract ways from books, art, movies, and experiences. You have the exciting opportunity to witness some children’s first encounter with formal schooling and to watch others learn as they move between grades and schools.

    The chart below highlights cognitive development during the school-age years. Keep in mind that individual differences exist when it comes to the specific age at which children meet these milestones and that each child is unique. Milestones provide a guide for when certain skills or behaviors typically begin to emerge. Milestones help you understand and identify typical patterns of growth and development or help you know when and what to look for as school-age children mature. You can use this information about developmental milestones, and what you learn from families, to create high-quality interactions, experiences, and environments for school-age children.

    Cognitive Developmental Milestones

    Middle childhood (ages 5-7)
    • They begin to see things from other school-age children's perspectives and begin to understand how their behavior affects others.
    • They are developing their oral language skills, acquiring new vocabulary, and understanding sentence structures.
    • They enjoy planning and building.
    • They understand concepts of space, time, and dimension. They understand concepts like yesterday, today, and tomorrow. They know left and right.
    • They begin to develop a sense of self-confidence and mastery of their learning.
    • They are learning to read and write and can sound out simple words.
    • They begin to reason and argue.
    • They can perform simple addition and subtraction.
    Early adolescence (ages 8-12)
    • Most early adolescents are fully capable of perspective taking and understand and consider other's perspectives.
    • They begin to think hypothetically, considering a number of possibilities, and are able to think logically.
    • They become more goal oriented.
    • They may develop special interests that are a source of motivation.
    • Cognitive development may be impacted by school-age children's emotional state.
    • They begin to understand facets of the adult world like money and telling time.
    • They may enjoy reading a book. They can interpret the context of a paragraph and writes stories.
    • They appreciate humor and word games.

    Cognitive development is a unique process specific to each school-age child. Sometimes school-age children may exhibit cognitive difficulties that can affect their learning and behavior. These difficulties may be viewed as school-age children “going through a stage.” School-age children experiencing difficulties may not receive proper interventions, supports, or care from caregivers and other adults. We might ignore some behaviors because we think that they are related to mood changes most middle and early adolescent school-age children experience. However, certain behaviors should not be overlooked. These include, as suggested by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (2014):

    • Excessive depression
    • Antisocial behaviors, or the inability to relate to peers or fit into a peer group
    • Acting out
    • Difficulty staying engaged in an academic task

    It’s important to recognize behaviors that might be annoying to us (e.g., listening to loud music, talking back once in a while, and occasional moody behavior) and behaviors that are truly hurtful (e.g., excessive depression, antisocial actions, harmful risk-taking). If you are concerned about a school-age child’s development, those feelings should not be ignored. 

    Talk with the child’s family so that you can work together. This may be difficult, but it can make the difference in meeting a child’s needs. You can share information with families about typical child development and let them know you are available to talk.

    As discussed in other lessons, if families are concerned about a child’s development, they should talk to the child’s health-care provider about their concerns. Their health-care provider can perform developmental screenings and possibly refer the child to specialists. Families should also contact their local school district. The school district can arrange a free evaluation of the child’s development. This early intervention can help children get the services and help they need.


    Just as children’s bodies grow through the childhood years, their brains are growing too. You will see major changes between 5 and 12 years old in a child’s thinking skills. Watch this video to learn more about milestones for school-age children and youth. 

    Cognitive Development in School-Age Children

    Watch the range of cognitive development between ages five and twelve.


    A school-age child’s positive cognitive development can sometimes be disrupted and they may not achieve expected milestones. This can cause learning delays. Researchers suggest that using school-age children’s personal strengths might increase the likelihood of positive healthy development (Benson, 2006). This has been called a “developmental assets” approach, and you can learn more about this approach in the Apply section of this lesson. The following is a list of ways you can support school-age children’s development.

    • Provide thought-provoking materials and challenging games for school-age children to complete if or when they have some downtime.
    • Provide a variety of developmentally appropriate and culturally diverse books for school-age children to read.
    • Model the values of caring, respect, honesty, and responsibility.
    • Make sure that the family child- care environment is culturally sensitive and that there are no negative portrayals of different genders, races, or ethnicities.
    • Ensure the space reflects the needs and interests of school-age children.
    • Provide spaces where school-age children can cool down or de-stress.
    • Allow school-age children to design or personalize part of the space.
    • Implement activities where children and youth can use their strengths and abilities.



    Observing school-age children and youth can help you see where they are developmentally, which is important as you plan learning experiences for them. Read, review and complete the Stages of Development Observation activity. Then share with a trainer, coach or family child care administrator.



    How might you support school-age children’s strengths or developmental assets through your planned experiences and activities? Browse through the following resources to gather ideas, and then share them with a trainer or coach.

    Strengthening School-Age Children’s Development

    Creating a Positive After-School Program Climate

    This resource, created by the San Francisco Unified School District’s Student, Family, and Community Support Department, provides an overview of specific actions and program activities intended to strengthen and build students’ development.

    Tips for Building the Developmental Assets Most Linked to Common Positive Youth Developmental Program Outcomes

    Created by the Search Institute, this print-friendly resource provides suggestions for how to build the assets that are most connected to common positive youth development outcomes.

    Building Assets Through Teen Programming

    Created by the Ann Arbor YMCA, this print-friendly document highlights the 40 assets identified by the Search Institute (resource above) that are connected to common positive youth development outcomes.

    Explanation - 40 assets

    PDF of 40 assets


    Cognitive skillsthe mental skills or behaviors that help children access information, solve problems, reason, and draw conclusions
    Developmental milestonea set of skills or behaviors that most children can do at a certain age range
    Developmental delaymay be suspected when children do not meet developmental milestones at the expected times; delays can occur in any area of development
    Developmental screeninga tool used to help identify children who are not developing as expected and who may need supports; screening can be completed by pediatricians, teachers, or others who know both the child and child development well.
    Developmental Assetspersonal strengths that school-age children possess that are linked to positive healthy development




    True or false? Physical development and social-emotional development do not contribute to cognitive development in the school-age years.


    Which of the following skills are not expected for children 5 to 7-years-old?


    Select which example illustrates support for school-age children’s development.

    References & Resources

    Benson, P. L. (2006). All Kids are our Kids: What communities must do to raise caring and responsible children and adolescents (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, June 23). Middle childhood (6-8 years of age). Retrieved from

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, June 23). Middle childhood (9-11 years of age). Retrieved from

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, June 23). Young teens (12 -14 years of age). Retrieved from

    Institute for Human Services for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program. (2008). Developmental Milestones Chart. Retrieved from

    Leffert, N., Benson, P., & Roehlkepartain, J. (1997). Starting Out Right: Developmental assets for children. Minneapolis, MN: The Search Institute.