Ages And Stages – What To Expect As Your Child Grows
by Amy Diller
One of the best parts of parenting is watching our children grow and learn new skills. At the same time, we wonder if our kids are on track with their peers and worry if it seems like they’re not developing as they should. There are milestones in physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual growth for each age, but it’s important to remember these stages aren’t rigid. Each child develops at their own pace and displays each skill at different points throughout each year of their life. Our job is to support and guide their learning, providing opportunities for them to practice their emerging growth.
Let’s look at some of the main characteristics of development for each elementary grade and how we can encourage and nurture children’s new-found skills.
Kids in kindergarten are beginning to be more independent from you as they begin school and have playdates with friends. They have developed control over their large motor skills, such as running, jumping, hopping on one foot, and skipping. Give your child plenty of time to do these things. Fine motor skills are demonstrated in the ability to zip and button. When time allows, encourage them to fasten their own coats and clothing. They are also developing fine motor muscles to be able to use pencils and crayons. Practice this skill by having them pick up small things with tweezers or kitchen tongs.
Kindergarteners are learning right from wrong, can talk about their feelings, and want to make their own decisions. Talk about godly and ungodly behavior to reinforce right vs. wrong. Give them language to describe their feelings, such as disappointment, excitement, and jealousy. Whenever possible, provide an opportunity for your child to make decisions by presenting them with two options that are both acceptable to you, such as “Do you want to wear your blue shirt or your red one?” They like to play with their friends and are learning to cooperate when they do.
Spiritually, kindergarteners are curious and may ask questions about God, Jesus, Heaven, and the Bible. Read a children’s Bible with them so they can learn about God’s Word as well as understand the source of truth for us as Christians. Talk to your children’s leader at church for Bible recommendations for young children.
Kids this age are often in constant motion. Typically, they don’t sit still but wiggle and dance and squirm, as well as getting in and out of their seats repeatedly. Expect this activity while teaching good manners in things like sitting at the dinner table. Encouraging high-energy games like tag or soccer may help lessen their perpetual motion.
First graders may be messy completing things such as writing, coloring, and putting away toys because they want to hurry so they can move on to the next thing. Talk about slowing down and doing their best before moving on to something else. Kids at this age enjoy dramatic play. First graders (as well as other ages) benefit from regular routines. One way to help them remember routines is to create a picture chart showing the steps for getting ready in the mornings or getting ready for bed. This will help them see the routine and eventually give them the skills to be independent in as many things as they can.
They ask lots of questions and develop their moral sense about right and wrong. Talking about things that are right (godly) and things that are wrong (sin) encourages development in this area. One thing you can do is to use stories to point out these behaviors in a character’s choices. This is a good time to teach your child about sin. It’s okay to talk about the horrible consequences of sin (spiritual and physical death) and that sin hurts us and can hurt others, like the story of Cain and Abel. We want kids to grow to understand how awful sin is and how very much we need a Savior.
Second graders are better able to read more on their own. This gives them a sense of independence. Aside from books they’re reading for school, provide just-for-fun books at home. Kids at this stage also begin to develop close friendships and gravitate toward those kids for play. This is also the stage where kids may not want to slow down anymore, even when they’re tired. If they no longer nap, set aside a quiet time where they read books or color to give their bodies and minds a rest.
Second graders can learn to perform basic chores like making a bed, helping wash or put away dishes, gathering trash from small trash cans, or sweeping the floor. Be sure to teach them how to do the jobs before they begin. Your child will benefit from having these responsibilities. You may start thinking about giving your child a small allowance for doing chores. This is certainly okay as long as you also give them chores to do that they don’t get paid for to show them that family members work together to care for their home.
Kids at this age begin to notice the beliefs of others and may ask questions about the differences. At the same time, they have questions about physical differences, too. Keep your answers simple and matter-of-fact. They also have questions about God and the Bible. Find ways to answer them even if your initial response is “I don’t know.” Tell your child that you’ll look it up or ask a church leader for help, and will get back to them. This reinforces the idea that grown-ups are still learning things, too. It’s a more realistic picture of what it means to be an adult.
Third graders’ sense of humor is developing, making this a fun stage. Talking about the difference between jokes that are funny to everyone and those that poke fun at others is important. Your child’s friendships grow closer than in previous stages. Having a best friend is very common. Third graders also notice the needs of others and care about them. Empathy is a wonderful trait to encourage. This may be a good time to find ways you and your child can serve others in your community.
Third graders become much more aware of the differences in abilities and physical strengths between them and their peers. Kids at this stage want to do things well and care a lot about what others think of them. Recognizing these differences can lead to your child trying to measure up to others, affecting their self-esteem. Be sure to build them up by identifying positive traits you see in them and talking about how the Lord created them. Help them learn to replace negative thoughts with what God says about them.
At this age, kids ask big questions about the Lord and have their own insights into spiritual things. Reading the Bible with your child and asking what they think about what you’ve read is valuable. When they share, thank them. Let them know that what they have to say is a blessing to you. If their ideas are clearly theologically off, gently correct them with what the Bible says. Kids are beginning to understand symbolism and like to explore what symbols mean. They can think through possible meanings of a Bible passage on a different level.
Fourth graders often physically mature more rapidly than in previous grades. Girls tend to grow and change faster than boys. This can be a difficult area for your child if they are significantly ahead of or behind their peers. Talking about the biology of growth can help them understand that everyone develops at a different rate, and this is a normal part of growing up. Checking in with your child’s pediatrician regularly gives them a different voice to listen to. Sometimes, kids hear things differently from someone besides their parents.
Your child may be more self-critical than before, and they strongly feel the desire to fit in socially, academically, and physically. Fourth graders need encouragement and reinforcement of their positive character qualities. Talking more often about the character traits you see in them rather than just praising accomplishments influences your child positively and provides a different measure of growth for them.
Kids at this stage are far less egocentric and care more deeply about the needs of others. They are concerned with right and wrong as well as fairness and justice. They may start thinking more globally about issues. Kids this age can read their Bibles independently and benefit from guidance on how to have a designated time with the Lord. Be an example for your kids and let them see you reading your Bible, taking time for prayer, and regularly attending church. Challenge your child by helping them establish goals like memorizing verses, reading a couple of verses or a passage of scripture daily, and looking for ways to serve others. Do some of these things together as a family, too.
Fifth graders are hovering over the line between childhood and the teen years, making this a tricky age. They have both the desire to be thought of as older than a child while still wanting to participate in childhood activities. Look for ways to nurture their growing independence and make room for their favorite childhood interests. Due to rapid growth and changing bodies, kids at this stage benefit from regular physical activity, healthy snacks, and time to rest. They may feel stressed about academic expectations and often need help managing their time well. Your child is becoming better able to recognize their own mistakes and take responsibility for them. Talk about the importance of owning their mistakes and apologizing as needed.
Fifth graders are very talkative, often needing to discuss something to help them think through it. Sometimes, all the talking can be tiring. Remind yourself that nurturing open lines of communication through being a good listener is important so as they enter their teen years, they know you will be available as a sounding board and a source of guidance.
Kids at this age also start to see others’ perspectives. They think more about global issues, which helps them develop a strong sense of empathy. Fifth graders have deep thoughts about spiritual matters but are sometimes hesitant to articulate them as they are more self-conscious about what others think. Even if they don’t act like it, they do want you to keep offering opportunities for them to share their thoughts and ideas. Teach your fifth grader how to have independent spiritual practices like using a Bible reading plan, journaling their thoughts and questions, and praying for others. While they do this on their own, continue your family time reading the Bible, discussing what was read, and praying together.
Please keep in mind that all children grow and develop according to their own timetable. Each stage discussed above provides a general picture for your information. Your child may hit milestones earlier or later than what development guides provide. If you feel your child is delayed or advanced in certain areas, discuss the issue with your pediatrician, therapist, or church leader for more clarity and ideas for you to assist your child in these developmental stages. If you’d like more information on this topic, the book Are My Kids on Track? by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan is a valuable resource.