HomeHealth & BehaviorSocial Skills

Developmental Milestones: Age 5

Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track with his peers or alert you to potential concerns. Below are some milestones to watch for your 5-year-old.

By Joyce Destefanis, M.A. , Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.

Since birth, you've watched your child grow and develop. You've noted his height and weight, when he crawled, stood, and walked, even when he spoke his first words - and perhaps compared all of these milestones of his infant and toddler years to the "norms." The preschool and early school years are also full of changes. From three to five your child's motor skills, language, thinking, and social development change dramatically.

Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track with his peers or alert you to potential concerns. Below are some milestones to watch for.

Milestones: 5-Year-Olds

Motor Development: Gross Motor Skills

  • Runs in an adult manner
  • Walks on tiptoe, broad jumps
  • Walks on a balance beam
  • Skates and jumps rope

Motor Development: Fine Motor Skills

  • Hand preference is established
  • Laces (but cannot tie) shoes
  • Grasps pencil like an adult
  • Colors within lines
  • Cuts and pastes simple shapes

Language and Thinking Development

  • Speaks fluently; correctly uses plurals, pronouns, tenses
  • Very interested in words and language; seeks knowledge
  • Understands and names opposites
  • Uses complex language
  • Still confuses fantasy and reality at times
  • Thinking is still naïve; doesn't use adult logic

Social and Emotional Development

  • Distinguishes right from wrong, honest from dishonest, but does not recognize intent
  • Plays make-believe and dresses up
  • Mimics adults and seeks praise
  • Seeks to play rather than be alone; friends are important
  • Plays with both boys and girls but prefers the same sex
  • Wants to conform; may criticize those who do not

Tips for Parenting 5-Year-Olds

Your cooperative, easy-going 5-year-old loves to play and that's how he learns.

  • Join in activities that develop coordination and balance - skipping and hopping, walking on the curb or crack in the sidewalk, or climbing trees.
  • Encourage fine motor skills by letting your child cut pictures out of magazines, string beads, or play with take-apart, put-together toys.
  • Take advantage of his interest in numbers by counting anything and everything; teach simple addition and subtraction by using objects, not numerals.
  • Let your child know what to expect from an upcoming event or activity so he can prepare. Avoid springing things on him.
  • Help him recognize his emotions by using words to describe them: "I see you're angry at me right now."

A "Snapshot" of Two 5-Year-Olds

This story of Jimmy and Maria illustrates the range of skills, interests, and abilities considered typical development for this age.

Jimmy pressed his forehead against the window as he watched his neighbor Maria drive away in the car with her mother on their way to her first day of kindergarten. He sighed and waved. He hoped Maria would see him, yet he didn't want to go outside to make sure.

Jimmy felt sad and disappointed that he was't going, too. At the same time he was glad that he could stay home.

Motor Activity

Jimmy had asked his mother why he wasn't going to school. He was going to be five soon, just like Maria. And he could do all kinds of things. He was good at running, jumping, and climbing. He could roller skate and ride a tricycle. Maria could do some of those things, too, but not like Jimmy.

Maria couldn't really climb a tree, but Jimmy was the best tree climber ever. He didn't tell his mom, but he had climbed the tall tree in Maria's back yard. She didn't even try to climb it. She just yelled at him to come down. She thought he was going to hurt himself.

"Girls! Maybe it's a good thing that Maria is going to school," Jimmy thought. "It's better to play with boys anyway. Boys do more fun things. Girls like to sit and color and write and play house and cut out paper dolls and all those yucky things." But Jimmy had to admit that Maria liked to play ball and chase and run, too.

If only Billy lived closer! But mom said he's too young to walk all the way over to Billy's by himself.

Comments from readers

"My twin brothers just turned five and I teach them kindergarten all the time. They know how to sit and listen, and can tell time and do their multiplication tables. So, I do not think that this article represented the average 5 year old correctly. "