Development milestones - 5-11 years


22 August 2019

This article was last reviewed by the Health at Hand team in 2019.

What to expect - Early childhood (5-7 years)

Physical developments

Motor skills. As your child becomes more skilled at using their fingers (which is a fine motor skill) they’ll be able to acquire some basic life skills such as using a knife and fork, getting dressed by themselves (doing up buttons, zips and laces) and brushing teeth and hair. Their co-ordination will improve, as will their ability to understand and follow instructions. 

It will become apparent if they’re left or right handed.

Your child will start losing their baby teeth. Permanent teeth start coming through around 6-8 years.

They will become toilet trained (see bedwetting). 

Social development

5–7 year olds enjoy playing games with simple rules. Sharing doesn’t always happen but play can be creative, often mixing reality with fantasy.

Your child usually has a best friend and an enemy, which can change frequently.

Children can be self-centered during this stage but also have the capacity to be sensitive to others. They can take a social perspective from others, for example the feelings of others and consequences of what they say.

They should also have a basic understanding of what’s right or wrong.

Non-literal meaning and humour develops.

Speech, language and communication development is a gradual process and children develop skills at different rates. Research by NHS Cambridge Community Services in its 2002 pearl project found that in this age group 3000 to 5000 new words are acquired each year.

From the age of 7 onwards your child will:

Use language to predict and draw conclusions

Use long and complex sentences

Understand other points of view and show they agree or disagree

Understand comparative words, for example ‘it was a longer bus ride today than yesterday’

Keep conversations going by giving reasons and explaining choices

Start conversations with people they don’t know.  

There will also be a great increase in reading as children will read to learn information and to increase fluency. This is also the stage that reading is connected with hard work rather than pleasure.

In this stage of development your child can make predictions about the text as well as justify their thinking. The more children read the greater their vocabulary becomes. It’s important that they read books at the right level. 

Writing is an integral part of reading and an essential part of literacy. Your child will begin drawing, scribbling and reproducing letters (and letter like forms) long before they understand what the letters mean. Children at this age will begin to see the connection between their reading and writing. Children will use their knowledge of word families  such as at, hat, cat, fat, to both read and write words. These are groups of words with a common pattern or feature, the example above has ‘at’ in common.

The improvement in their manual dexterity will help them develop their handwriting, progressing onto joined up words.           

Middle childhood (8-11 years)

Motor skills

Your child will continue to develop in the areas above. While a six year old will have the ability to colour in a basic way, a 10 year old will have the ability to colour within the lines.

Your child between 8 -11 years will generally show an overall body strength and some will want to test this by climbing or swinging from trees, for example. Also with the increase in manual dexterity and co-ordination this could be a time that your child develops more interest in team and individual sport.

Other physical developments

Around this age some children may enter into puberty.

Generally physical growth is slower and less obvious in this age group as opposed to infant and toddlers. Growth can sometimes come in large spurts.

Most children will have vision screening during their routine developmental checks, however this is not a full eye examination and  as your child begins reading and doing school work it may become apparent if your child needs glasses to correct any eye problems. The NHS recommends that all children are offered vision screening between the ages of four and five by a specialist. This test during the first year of school should include screening for lazy eye, a condition where vision is less clear in one eye forcing the child to rely on the other eye more to see. 

Social development

Children can see authority figures as less than perfect and as a parent you’ll start seeing your child pushing for independence. Talking back and other forms of rebellion are common at this stage.

8–11 year olds are beginning to define themselves in terms of their style, possessions, what they like and don’t like doing. 

This is also a period when real fears of rejection and failure are developed and children become sensitive to social norms. Peer pressure and friendships start taking precedence over family.

Further information and resources

Here are some links for some additional sites to give more information of development milestones. 

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde: Child development

NSPCC Learning: Child health and development

Early Years Matters: The developing child

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