Developmentally Appropriate Milestones for 5-Year-Olds

Often a people pleaser, the 5-year-old may ask permission to move from 1 activity to the next. The need for approval is strong; they often ask adults or peers to validate their work, with queries like, “Do you like my drawing?” 5-year-olds may also feel torn between the desire to please adults or fellow peers and challenge authority at times. Another quirk of this age: the 5-year-old may be delightful at home but testy at school.

A sense of silliness creates close friendships; 5-year-old kids may find humor in “inside jokes” and often adore riddles and knock-knock jokes. At this age, kids often prefer to work or play with 1 or 2 friends at a time instead than with a larger group. Feelings are often hurt when kids feel excluded. At the same time, 5-year-olds are becoming more sensitive to the needs and rights of others. Acts of kindness can be seen as they try to help peers succeed and feel good. Sharing skills blossom during the 5-year-old year, as long as the plan to share occurs before a serious conflict over a toy.

Kids continue to thrive on hands-on learning during the pre-kindergarten/kindergarten years. Interest centers should give students concrete experiences while fostering math, science, language, and fine motor skills. Kids often focus intently on their work at this age; scheduling long blocks of time to use materials encourages complex building block structures, creative pretend to play, and highly detailed artwork. 5 can be an age of perfectionism, and the kid may create the same, or similar, block structures or drawings day every day to ensure success. Rainbows or family photos are popular subjects for drawings and paintings.

Writing skills continue to emerge and improve. Hand dominance is established in almost all kids by age 5. The young 5-year-old focuses intently on writing, often gripping their pencil tightly and leaning over their work. They concentrate on each individual letter and may tire easily. Kids tend to write more quickly as the year progresses, but their work may become sloppy as quantity takes precedence over quality. Invented spelling is frequently used, often representing the beginning and ending sounds of words. The random nature of preschoolers’ stories gives way to more structured storytelling with a distinct beginning, middle, and end.

The kid is less talkative now than at 4. They can give elaborate responses but may not do so, preferring instead to give 1-word answers. You may, however, hear them talking to themselves, especially when they “think out loud” to work through problems while using hands-on materials. During the 5-year-old year, their vocabulary will grow to 13,000 words or greater. Reading emerges for some kids but will not fall into place for another year or 2 for others. The development of reading skills is dependent on changes in communication between the eyes and brain, among other things. Learning to read early on does not always indicate that a kid is gifted, just as late readers often become avid and talented readers in the years to come.

The 5-year-old continues to have a strong desire to move. “Sit and Listen” times, like circle time, are successful if limited to periods of no more than 15 – 20 minutes. Outdoor play is a popular part of the day! If allowed, 5-year-olds will become deeply focused on digging in deep sand or constructing large outdoor blocks, planks, or crates. Gross motor skills such as galloping and skipping fall into place if they have not already, and they may learn to jump rope this year. Structured playground games, like “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Red Light, Green Light” may be popular, though many 5-year-olds do not handle competition well and may react poorly to games where they lose or have to sit out.

Responding to 5-year-olds

Schedule blocks of time for play with a variety of open-ended materials.

Allow projects to continue over days or weeks; offer a safe place for storing materials between uses.

Provide space and safe materials for open-ended outdoor construction play.

Provide books that appeal to kids with a wide range of interests and abilities. Recall that “beginning reader” books often have a highly limited plot that many kids find boring; well-written picture books continue to be popular. Some kids enjoy having more complex “chapter books” read aloud to them.

Limit the use of worksheets or workbooks as much as possible. Alternatively, offer concrete experiences such as cooking with simple recipes, measuring using real tools, and studying live plants and animals.

Encourage kids to explore, test, and articulate theories.

Offer opportunities for kids to work alone, with a partner, and in groups of 3 or 4.

Some 5-year-olds enjoy the opportunity to teach a game or read a story to a younger kid. Self-esteem can blossom when kids share their skills with other people.

Share several non-competitive outdoor games, but enable the option of free play. Parachute games are popular with five-year-olds, as are music and movement activities.

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