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Developmental Milestones

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

  • 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 lifetime. Educators and pediatricians 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 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 school-age children and their physical development. The information below will give general guidelines for physical-developmental milestones.

The following are characteristics of typical physical developmental milestones for school-age children:

  • School-age children will gain between 4 and 7 pounds each year and continue to have height increases. Increases in height will vary and a 3- to 6-inch height difference in a classroom group is typical.
  • Growth spurts are common in school-age children, as are periods of slow growth. When children are going through a growth spurt, they will 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 the same height while their feet go through a growth spurt. This can lead to school-age children feeling awkward or clumsy. This 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.
  • Muscles masses will begin to change in school-age children, which will make them stronger.

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 as a guide for what to expect.

Examples of Physical Development Milestones

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 on her or his own
  • Swings and climbs

6-8 Years

  • Strong motor skills, but balance and endurance can vary
  • Sense of body image begins to develop

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

Brain Development in School-Age Children

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

  • Concentration:
    School-age children will be able to focus on a task or topic. They will also begin to develop methods of ignoring distractions when they have a task to focus on.
  • Memory:
    Both long- and short-term memory skills will begin to improve in school-age children. They will be able to 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 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 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. This topic will be discussed in greater detail in Lesson 4 during this course.

Supporting All Learners

There will be times when family members grow concerned about their child’s development. As a school-age staff member, 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 skills are not emerging or growth is not occurring as it should and if you are concerned about a possible developmental delay, discuss the situation with your administrator or training and curriculum specialist. 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.

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

  • Children develop at their own paces. 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 their 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 go to your administrator first before discussing this with a family member.

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 plan. You should work with your administrator or training and curriculum specialist and the family to discuss how your program can help support the child’s development. Attached to 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 the learning environment.

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 paces. 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 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 their overall development. For example, 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 disabilities.

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.

In this next 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.


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 paces.
  • Support children as they go through changes in their physical appearance.
  • Create an environment that supports all learners.


View and complete the Scenarios activity. As you work through each scenario, think about how you would respond if this were happening in your program. When you are finished, share your work with your coach, trainer, or administrator.


View and complete the Planning with BAM activity. When finished, share your work with your coach, trainer, or administrator. 


Concrete operational stage:
The stage of cognitive or brain development that occurs roughly between the ages of 7 and 11
When one’s outlook is limited to his or her own needs, wants, and activities
Jean Piaget:
Developmental psychologist whose theories on cognitive development are widely respected and accepted
Motor skills:
Muscular coordination. 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 fingers and toes for skills such as writing, or using tools
The 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