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Physical Developmental Milestones: School-Age

In this course, you will learn the major developmental milestones for school-age children. These milestones include physical development, puberty, and brain development. You will also learn basic information about the physical development of all children.

  • 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 functional skills and abilities that children reach throughout their childhood. Educators and pediatricians use these milestones to check that a child’s development is progressing along the typical track. Although each milestone described below corresponds with an age or grade level, it is important to remember that all children develop at their own pace. It is normal for 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 wide range in their cognitive development and skills. The same is true for their physical development. General guidelines and characteristics of typical physical developmental milestones for school-age children include:

  • School-age children gain between four and seven pounds each year., Increases in height will vary, and a three-to-six height difference in age groups is typical.
  • Growth spurts are common in school-age children, as are periods of slow growth. Children experiencing a growth spurt will usually need an increase in daily calories. 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 phase typically passes once puberty is over.
  • School-age children will begin to see an improvement in their motor skills. As they grow older, they will have better control, coordination, and balance.
  • Muscle mass will also begin to change in school-age children, making them stronger as they age.

Take a look at the chart below for a closer look at how school-age children will develop within their age groups. These milestones should never be considered a checklist to evaluate a child’s development, but more of a guide for what typical milestones to expect.

5 Years

  • Stands on one foot for 10 seconds or longer
  • Hops; may be able to skip
  • Can do a somersault
  • Uses a fork and spoon and sometimes a table knife
  • Can use the toilet independently
  • Swings and climbs
  • Improved coordination (getting the arms, legs, and body to work together)

6-8 Years

  • Strong motor skills, but balance and endurance can vary
  • Sense of body image begins to develop
  • Can use scissors and small tools
  • Can tie their shoelaces
  • May begin writing in print and cursive
  • Develops a quicker reaction time

9-12 Years

  • Becomes more aware of his or her body as puberty approaches; body image develops
  • Develops secondary sex characteristics like breasts and body hair
  • Enjoy active play, such as bike-riding, swimming, and running games
  • Becomes interested in team sports
  • Gets dressed, brushes hair, brushes teeth, and gets ready without any help
  • Uses simple tools, such as a hammer, by themselves
  • Likes to draw, paint, make jewelry, build models, or do other activities that use their fine motor skills

Brain Development in School-Age Children

A child’s brain develops rapidly during the first few years of life. Because of these rapid changes and growth spurts, there is a large focus on the development of children’s brains from birth until 5 years of age. However, school-age children’s brains are still developing as they learn how to do new things and think differently. In fact, our brains continue to mature well into our twenties. Jean Piaget theorized about the stages of brain development and different types of intelligences. School-age children are in the stage of brain development that Piaget called the concrete operational stage. In this stage, children understand logic and concrete information, especially in their own lives. They may still struggle to grasp hypothetical or abstract concepts, specifically those 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 as well, such as:

  • Concentration: School-age children are able to focus on a task or topic. They begin to develop methods of ignoring distractions when focusing on a task.
  • 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 can recall things like where they put 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 participate in long-term projects.

Brain development is a form of physical development—it is a part of a child’s body that grows and changes. The three major brain functions mentioned above help school-age children develop their motor skills, interact and engage with others, 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 hormones in the body begin to create changes, such as the widening of hips, growth of body hair, and maturity of sex organs, etc. Sometimes these changes can be drastic and seem to happen overnight, while other times they happen gradually over a few years. The onset and speed of changes that accompany puberty can often be confusing and even scary for school-age children. The average age of beginning puberty is around 12; however, children can begin 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 experience as a result of puberty. This knowledge prepares you to answer questions from children and/or their families, and to be understanding and sympathetic to the drastic physical changes the children in your care are going through.

Typical changes for boys

  • The development of the testosterone hormone creates physical changes to the male reproductive organs, causing them to grow larger.
  • 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

  • The hormone estrogen prepares a girl’s body to begin menstrual cycles.
  • Hair growth begins in the underarms and pubic area.
  • Hips become wider and breasts begin to develop.

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 decreased self-esteem as some children may have difficulty feeling comfortable in their changing bodies.

Supporting All Learners

There may be times when family members or caregivers have concerns about their child’s development. As a family child care provider, you may also notice a child who isn’t developing as quickly or like their peers. It is very important to keep in mind that all children develop at their own pace and have their own individual strengths. This is especially true for school-age children in multi-age environments. If you discover that a child’s skills are not emerging, or growth is not occurring as it should, or if you are concerned about a possible developmental delay, discuss the situation with your Training & Curriculum Specialist, coach, or family child care administrator. They will be able to help you better assess the situation and, if necessary, refer the family to programs or services available for their needs.

When supporting all learners in a school-age environment, remember:

  • Children develop at their own pace. Never compare children and their abilities. When children are compared they are likely to feel they are “not as smart, competent, or capable” as their peers, which is harmful to their development. If a family member compares their child to a peer, encourage them not to do so by letting them know children develop at their own pace and have their own individual strengths.
  • Most children will catch up and be on track with their developmental milestones.
  • If you have concerns that a child may not be developing typically make observations and record the behaviors that cause your concern. Always go to your coach, trainer or administrator first before discussing this with a family member, as approaching the family first can potentially cause them to worry unnecessarily.

If a school-age child in your program has a diagnosed need that affects physical development or physical abilities, they should have an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The IEP helps identify the child’s strengths and challenges and lays the framework on how the school or program will help the child improve and build skills. You should work with your coach, Training & Curriculum Specialist, or a family child care administrator and the family to discuss how your specific program can help 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

A number of outside factors can influence and affect a child’s development.  It is important to be sensitive to these factors and influences and to remember that all children develop at their own pace. Some contributing factors that can affect school-age children’s development include:


Living and learning in positive environments where a child feels valued, loved, and challenged, fosters positive growth and self-esteem. Factors such as pollution, lack of cleanliness, and lack of stimulation can have negative effects on a child’s physical development.


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, independence, and daily routines of a child.


Malnutrition occurs when the body does not get the nutrients it needs. A child who does not receive enough nutrients can be at risk for delayed or stunted growth. As well, 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. Malnutrition most often occurs due to inappropriate dietary choices, low income or socioeconomic status, difficulty obtaining food, or due to various physical and mental health conditions.


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


A family’s financial status can affect the types of food that are available and accessible, as well as the types of activities a child may be able to participate in. Additionally, families experiencing 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. As such, it is important to provide resources to help 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 the children in your care, read and review the Scenarios: Supporting Physical Development activity below. As you work through each scenario, think about how you would respond if it was happening in your family child care setting. When you are finished, share your work with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s BAM Body and Mind website contains resources that can be used for planning activities with the school-aged children in your care. Review the different links provided in the Planning with BAM Body and Mind activity and answer the questions. Share your responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.    


Concreate operational stage:
The stage of cognitive or brain development that typically occurs between the ages of 7 and 11. Kids at this age become more logical about concrete and specific things, but they still struggle with abstract ideas.
When one’s outlook is limited to his or her own needs, wants, and activities.
Jean Piaget:
Swiss psychologist who developed widely respected theories on child development.
Motor skills:
A function that involves the precise movement of muscles to perform a specific act. Gross motor skills are actions that use the large muscles in our bodies, like our arms and legs, for skills such as walking, running or jumping. Fine motor skills are actions that use the smaller muscles in our bodies, like those in our hands and fingers, to perform tasks such as drawing, cutting with scissors, or writing.
The process of development when a child’s body matures into an adult body, such as the maturation of reproductive organs.


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

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

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Developmental milestones.

Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc. (2002). Ages and stages questionnaire (ASQ).

National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth (2013). Childhood Sexual Development. Retrieved from