School-age children development


This article describes the normal physical, emotional, and mental abilities of children ages 6 to 12 years old.


School-age children typically exhibit fairly smooth and strong motor skills. However, they vary widely in coordination (especially eye-hand), endurance, balance, and physical tolerance.

Fine motor skills may also vary widely and influence a child’s ability to write neatly, dress appropriately, and perform certain chores, such as making beds or doing dishes.

There will be significant differences in height, weight, and build among children of this age range. It is important to remember that genetic background, as well as nutrition and exercise, may influence growth.

A great deal of variance also occurs with the age at which children begin to develop secondary sexual characteristics (girls - breast development, underarm and pubic hair growth; boys - growth of underarm, chest, and pubic hair; and growth of testicles and penis).

Early school-age children should be able to consistently use simple, but structurally complete, sentences that average 5 to 7 words. As the child progresses through the elementary years, syntax and pronunciation becomes normal. Children use more complex sentences as they grow.

Language delays may be due to hearing problems or intelligence deficits. In addition, children who are unable to express themselves adequately may be more prone to exhibiting aggressive behavior or temper tantrums.

A 6-year-old normally can follow a series of 3 commands in a row.

By about 10 years old, most children can follow 5 commands in a row. Children with a deficit in this area may try to cover it up with backtalk or clowning around and will rarely expose themselves to potential ridicule by asking for clarification.

Frequent physical complaints (such as sore throats, tummy aches, arm/leg pain) may simply be due to a child’s enhanced body awareness. Although frequently no physical evidence for such complaints can be found, the complaints need to be investigated, both to rule out substantial conditions and to assure the child that the parent is concerned about his or her well-being (maintaining trust).

Peer acceptance becomes increasingly important during the school-age years. Behaviors that are important to be part of the group need to be negotiated with parents to allow the child to have some conformity and group standing without crossing beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior within the family’s standards.

Friendships at this age tend to be primarily with members of the same sex. In fact, early school-age children typically denounce or talk about how “strange” or “awful” members of the opposite sex are. This lack of appreciation of the opposite sex steadily diminishes as the child approaches adolescence.

Lying, cheating, or stealing are all examples of behaviors that school-age children may “try on” in learning how to negotiate the many expectations and rules placed upon them by family, friends, the school, and society in general. Such behaviors challenge parents to deal with the misdeed privately (avoiding peer ridicule), applying a punishment that is meaningfully related to the behavior, and modeling reparation and forgiveness.

An ability to maintain attention is important for success both at school and at home. 6-year-olds should be able to focus upon an appropriate task for at least 15 minutes. By the age of 9, a child should be able to focus attention for about an hour.

It is important for the child to learn how to deal with failure or frustration without decreasing self-esteem or developing a sense of inferiority.

Safety is important for school-age children.

  • School-age children are highly active and have a need for strenuous physical activity, peer approval, and increased daring and adventurous behaviors.  
  • Children should be taught to play sports in appropriate, safe, supervised areas, with proper equipment and rules. Bicycles, skateboards, in-line skates, and other types of recreational sports equipment should fit the child appropriately. They should be used only in accordance with generally recognized traffic and pedestrian rules, and with accompanying safety equipment (such as a bicycle helmet, knee, elbow, wrist pads/braces, and helmets for skating). Sports equipment should not be used in darkness or in extreme weather conditions.  
  • Swimming and water safety lessons can prevent drowning. Safety instruction regarding matches, fires, lighters, barbecues, camp fires, and cooking on stoves or open fires can prevent major burns.  
  • Wearing seat belts remains the most important way of preventing major injury or death due to a motor vehicle accident.


  • If physical development appears to be outside the norm, consult your child’s pediatric health care provider.  
  • If language skills appear to be lagging, request a speech and language evaluation.  
  • Maintain close communication with teachers, other school personnel, and parents of friends to be aware of potential problems as they arise.  
  • Encourage children to express themselves openly and talk about concerns without fear of reprisal.  
  • While encouraging children to participate in a variety of social and physical experiences, parents should be careful not to over schedule their children’s free time. Free play or simple, quiet time is important for the child not to feel constantly pushed to perform.  
  • Children today are exposed through the media and their peers to a vast array of issues dealing with violence, sexuality, and substance abuse. Parents are encouraged to discuss these issues openly with their children to share concerns or correct misconceptions. Setting limits may be necessary to allow children to be exposed to such issues only when they are developmentally ready to do so.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.