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    • Describe the major physical developmental milestones for school-age children.
    • Recognize the changes in a school-age child as a result of puberty.
    • Identify the aspects of brain development in school-age children.




    Developmental milestones are a set of benchmarks consisting of skills and abilities that children reach throughout their lifetimes. Educators and health-care providers use these milestones to check a child’s development. Although each milestone corresponds with an age or grade level, it is important to remember that all children develop at their own pace. It is normal for members of a peer group to reach milestones at a variety of ages, even spanning a few years in either direction.

    Physical Developmental Milestones for School-Age Children

    School-age children, ranging in age from 5 years to about 12 years of age, will have a vast range in their cognitive development. The same is true for their physical development. Below are general guidelines for physical developmental milestones for school-age children:

    • School-age children will gain between four and seven pounds each year and continue to have height increases. Increases in height will vary, and a three- to six-inch height difference in an age group is typical.
    • Growth spurts are common in school-age children, as are periods of slow growth. Children in a growth spurt usually need an increase in calorie intake. Growth spurts can also lead to body parts being out of proportion. For example, a child could stay at one height while his or her feet keep growing. This can lead to school-age children feeling awkward or clumsy. This feeling of awkwardness or clumsiness typically passes once puberty is over.
    • School-age children will begin to see an improvement in their motor skills. They will have better control, coordination, and balance.
    • Muscle mass increases in school-age children, making them stronger.

    Take a look at the chart below for a closer look at how school-age children develop within their age groups. These milestones should never be considered a checklist to evaluate a child, instead use them as a guide for what to expect in typical development.

    Brain Development in School-Age Children

    A child’s brain develops rapidly during the first few years of life. Because of rapid changes and growth spurts, there is much focus on children’s brains from birth until 5 years of age. A school-age child’s brain is still developing as they learn how to do new things and think differently. School age children are able to understand logic and concrete information, especially in their own lives. They may still struggle to grasp abstract concepts, especially events that will happen in the long-term future. School-age children begin to be less egocentric and can think about and understand different viewpoints. Other brain functions begin to improve such as:

    • Concentration: School-age children are able to focus on a task or topic. They also begin to develop methods of ignoring distractions when they have a task to focus on.
    • Memory: Both long- and short-term memory skills improve in school-age children. They can recall important things from months or even years in the past and remember where they left their jacket after outdoor time.
    • Attention span: School-age children can focus on important tasks for longer periods. They begin to read longer books, stay interested in topics at school, and may participate in long-term projects.

    Brain development is a form of physical development—it is a part of a child’s body that is growing and changing. The three major brain functions mentioned above allow school-age children to develop their motor skills and participate in sports and other physical activities.

    Puberty: What to Expect

    This age group will experience body changes that come with the beginning of puberty. This happens when certain hormones become present and begin to create changes to parts of our bodies. Sometimes these changes can be drastic and seem to happen overnight, while other times they happen gradually over a few years. The changes that accompany the onset of puberty can often be confusing and even scary for school-age children. The average age of beginning puberty is around 12; however, children are beginning to show signs of these changes at a much younger age. It is important for you to be aware of what kinds of changes school-age children could be going through. This will help prepare you to answer questions from children or their families and be understanding and sympathetic to the children in your care.

    Typical changes for boys

    • The development of the testosterone hormone creates physical changes to the male reproductive organs.
    • Hair growth can begin in the underarms, pubic area, chest and face.
    • Shoulders grow wider.
    • The voice begins to change or deepen. This usually involves a period when the voice “cracks” as it begins to deepen.

    Typical changes for girls

    • Hormones begin working together to create estrogen, which prepares a girl’s body to begin menstrual cycles.
    • Hair growth in underarm and pubic areas can begin.
    • Bodies begin to change and become curvier with wider hips and breast development.

    Other changes

    • All of the hormonal changes in the body can cause the skin to be oily, which can cause acne, or pimples. Pimples can be present anywhere on the body, but the most common places are the face, upper back and chest.
    • Body odor is common. New hormones stimulate the glands in the skin, including the sweat glands located under the arms. These sweat glands mix with bacteria to cause body odor.
    • Hormone changes can lead to mood swings and strong emotions. Sometimes, children will feel upset or sad and not be able to explain why. Many times, the reason can be attributed to hormones.

    These changes can also lead to self-esteem issues as children have difficulty feeling comfortable in their changing bodies.

    Supporting All Learners

    There will be times when family members grow concerned about their child’s development. As a family child care provider, you may also notice a child who doesn’t seem to be developing like his or her peers. It is very important to keep in mind that all children develop at their own pace. This is especially true in school-age children and multi-age environments. If you discover that motor skills are not emerging or growth is not occurring as it should, first discuss your concerns with the child’s family.

    The family may have information about their child’s development to share with you. School staff members and health-care providers have resources about school-age children’s physical growth. Keep information available about local community resources (e.g., counseling center, park programs, fine arts programs) so you can refer parents to them.

    There are a few key points to remember when supporting all learners in a school-age environment:

    • Children develop at their own pace. Never compare children and their abilities. If a family member compares their child to one of their peers, encourage them not to do so. This can be harmful to a child’s development if they feel that they are “not as smart” as their peers.
    • Most children will catch up and be on pace with developmental milestones.
    • If you begin to have concerns that a child may not be developing typically, make observations and record the behaviors that cause you concern. Always share your observations with the child’s parents.

    If a school-age child in your program has a diagnosed need that affects physical development or physical abilities, she or he should have an individualized education plan, or IEP. You should work with the child’s family to discuss how best to support the child’s development.

    In this video, you will see a variety of ways to incorporate all learners into the planning of physical activities.

    Supporting all Learners

    Methods of supporting all learners in physical activities.

    Influences and Factors Affecting School-Age Growth

    There are a variety of outside factors and influences that can affect the development of children. It is important to be sensitive to these factors and influences and to remember that all children will develop at their own pace. The major contributing factors that can affect the development of school-age children are:

    Environment: Living and learning in a positive environment where one feels valued, loved, and challenged, both at home and school, will help foster positive growth and self-esteem. Factors such as environmental pollution and a lack of cleanliness can have negative effects on a child’s physical development.

    Culture: A child’s culture may be one of the biggest contributing factors to overall development. A family’s culture or religious views can influence the nutrition, activities, and daily routines of a child.

    Nutrition: Malnutrition occurs when certain nutrients are either lacking or in excess in a child’s diet. A child who does not receive enough nutrients can be at risk for delayed or stunted growth. A child who has an excess of specific nutrients or food types can be at risk for obesity. Both types of malnutrition can lead to other risks, diseases, and disorders. 

    Genetics: Certain physical attributes such as height and body build can be a result of the family’s genetics. Genetics can also be an influence on the onset of puberty and developmental milestones, as well as certain diseases, disorders, and special needs.

    Socioeconomics: The financial status of a family can affect the types of food that are available as well as the types of activities a child can participate in. Families having financial issues may also not be able to provide proper medical care.


    Watch this video as it explains some basic information about the physical developmental milestones of school-age children.

    Developmental Milestones: School-Age

    An introduction to developmental milestones in school-age children.


    The changes that school-age children go through as they develop and grow can be difficult for children and families to understand. It is important that you provide any resources necessary to answer questions about a child’s development.

    • Recognize that it is normal for all children to develop at their own pace.
    • Support children as they go through changes in their physical appearance.
    • Create an environment that supports all learners.



    Children’s brains continue to develop while their bodies undergo rapid change during the school-age years. For children, this can be an exciting, and yet sometimes awkward, age. To think about how best to support school-agers in your care, read and review the Explore: Scenarios activity. As you work through each scenario, think about how you would respond if this were happening in your family child care setting. When you are finished, share your work with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.



    Explore the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention’s BAM Body and Mind website. This website is designed just for youth and is a great resource to share with school-age children and their families.
    Visit and answer the questions in the Planning with BAM! Body and Mind attachment. When finished, share your work with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.


    Motor skillsMuscular coordination that includes gross-motor skills, or actions that use the large muscles in our bodies, like our arms and legs, for skills such as walking, running or jumping, and fine-motor skills, or actions that use the smaller muscles in our bodies, like those in our fingers and toes, for skills such as writing, or using tools
    EgocentricWhen one’s outlook is limited to his or her own needs, wants, and activities
    PubertyThe process of development when a child’s body matures into an adult body




    Finish this statement: School-age children may sometimes feel awkward or clumsy because…


    Maria’s mom mentions that she has noticed that Maria’s coordination and balance have improved. You respond by saying:


    Which of the following are not changes that usually accompany puberty?

    References & Resources

    The American Academy of Pediatrics. (2004). Caring for Your School-Age Child. New York: Bantam Books.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). BAM! Body and Mind. Retrieved from

    National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth (2013). CHILDHOOD SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT.
    Retrieved from