The Cognitive Development of Your 5-Year-Old Child

An inside look at what a 5-year-old child learns and understands

5 year old child development - father and son reading a book
Five-year-old children are discovering the magic of reading and the fun of learning and discovery. Hero Images/Getty Images

What goes on in the mind of a 5-year-old? Quite a lot. The 5-year-old child development phase is an exciting time. This is the age when many children begin kindergarten and enter into the world of school, becoming familiar with things like classroom rules and even homework. Five-year-olds will begin learning more about the world around them and will gain new confidence as they develop new skills and understanding. Here are some cognitive milestones you can expect to see in a child at this age.

Reading, Writing, and Language

Many 5-year-olds have already mastered the alphabet. They are able to write letters and are familiar with their corresponding sounds. Reading abilities can vary at this age. While some children may be just beginning to learn simple words, others may be reading first-grade level books. They will show increasing interest in learning new words, and their vocabulary will begin to grow at a rapid pace.

Generally, 5-year-old children can remember stories and can repeat them in broad terms, although details may be tricky for them. At this age, children will be able to understand that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

Five-year-old children will be able to pronounce words more clearly and will speak in more complex sentences. They'll begin to learn the rules of grammar, and will enjoy having conversations with their peers and with adults. Family dinners and mealtimes will become much more fun and interesting!​

Numbers and Math

Numbers begin to take on meaning for 5-year-olds as they learn numbers and how to count. For instance, they begin to understand that the number five represents five of something. They will begin to do simple subtraction and math.

Children this age will learn shapes such as triangle and square if they don't know them already, and may even begin to learn three-dimensional shapes such as cubes and cones. They'll become more skilled at sorting objects based on different characteristics, and will enjoy board games and other activities that encourage sorting, matching, and memory.


Five-year-olds can understand concepts such as "above," "below," "before," "after," "more," and "less." They are able to grasp concepts of time, such as "yesterday," "today" and "tomorrow."


A 5-year-old child’s imagination will blossom as she increasingly begins to engage in more complex playing involving make-believe. Children this age will invent increasingly more complex and creative games, and parents can nurture their imagination by encouraging pretend play

Songs and Games

Many 5-year-olds enjoy singing and dancing, and their natural love of repetition will dovetail nicely into learning songs and movements. Many kids this age also enjoy telling jokes, although they often won’t be able to tell jokes correctly or understand punch lines very well. Five-year-olds also love competing with others at board games and other activities, although many 5-year-olds may become upset at losing and will need to work on how to deal with not winning a game.

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