- 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 range of ages, even spanning a few years in either direction.
Physical Developmental Milestones for School-Age Children
The range and progress of cognitive development can be vast across school-age children, from about 5 to 12 years of age. The same is true for school-age children’s physical development.
General guidelines and characteristics of typical development of physical milestones for school-age children include:
- School-age children gain between 4 and 7 pounds each year, along with an increase of 2-to-3 inches in height. A classroom group typically has a 3- to 6-inch height difference.
- Growth spurts are common in school-age children, as are periods where children’s growth slows. Children experiencing a growth spurt usually require an increase in daily calories. Growth spurts can also lead to body parts being out of proportion. For example, a child may stay the same height while their feet grow more rapidly. This event often leads school-age children to feel awkward or clumsy with their movement and bodies. This phase typically passes once puberty has ended.
- School-age children begin to see an improvement in their motor skills. As they grow older, they have better control, coordination and balance.
- Muscle mass will 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 develop within their age groups. These milestones shouldn’t be considered a checklist to evaluate a child’s development, but more of a guide for what typical physical milestones to expect.
Brain Development in School-Age Children
A child’s brain develops rapidly during their first few years of life. Because of these rapid changes, growth spurts, and other factors, there is a large focus on the development of children’s brains from birth until five 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 are able to consider and understand things from different viewpoints. Other brain functions begin to improve as well, such as:
School-age children will be able to focus on a task or topic. They will also begin to develop methods of ignoring distractions when focusing on a task.
Both long-term and short-term memory skills begin to 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 will be able to focus on important tasks for longer periods. They will begin to read longer books, stay interested in topics at school, and be able to 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 experiences body changes that come at 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 happen very quickly—as if 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.
- 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.
- 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. This topic will be discussed in greater detail in Lesson 4 during this course.
Supporting All Learners
There may be times when family members or caregivers have concerns about their child’s development. As a school-age staff member, you may also notice a child who isn’t developing as quickly or in the same manner as 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 trainer, coach, or 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 as though 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 all 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 their physical development or physical abilities, they should have an IEP, or Individualized Education Program. 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 trainer, coach, or administrator, as well as the family to discuss how your specific program can help support the child’s development. In the Learn activities section of this course, you will find an article titled, The Need for Skilled Inclusion in Out-of-School Time Programs: Kids Included Together Responds. This article has helpful information on the importance of including all children in your learning environment.
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 their overall development. For example, a family’s culture and/or religious views can influence the child’s nutrition, activities, independence and daily routines.
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 stress may 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.
In this next video, you will see a variety of ways to incorporate all learners into the planning of physical activities.
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 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 paces.
- Support children as they go through changes in their physical appearance.
- Create an environment that supports all learners.
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 program. When you are finished, share your work with your coach, trainer, or administrator.
Visit the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention’s BAM! Body and Mind website: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/bam/teachers.htm
This website is designed just for youth and is a great resource to share with school-age children and their families. After reviewing the website, answer the questions in the Planning with BAM! Body and Mind attachment. When finished, share your work with your trainer, coach or administrator.
The American Academy of Pediatrics. (2004). Caring for Your School-Age Child. New York: Bantam Books.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). BAM! Body and Mind. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/bam/
CDC’s developmental milestones. (2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html?msclkid=5ac2a658a92e11ec9f2b0620d78560e9
National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth (2013). CHILDHOOD SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT. Retrieved from
I am moving, I am learning (IMIL). ECLKC. (2022, April 21). Retrieved September 15, 2022, from
Mind and Body: Activities for the Elementary Classroom, Montana Office of Public Instruction: http://www.schoolnutritionandfitness.com/data/pdf/TeacherPDFs/MindBody.pdf