Developmental Milestones for Elementary School

These childhood years are filled with great challenges and growth

As children reach the age to enter elementary school, there are a number of developmental milestones you can look for. With each year of school, your child faces new challenges that require her to continually acquire new sets of cognitive, physical and social-emotional skills. It's a time of a great amount of growth, so let's explore those milestones over the years.

Students painting in class
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Deciding whether or not your child is ready for kindergarten can sometimes be a big decision. It's one that should be based on how he is performing on all of his developmental milestones, not just his social skills. You should also notice that his physical and cognitive skills are expanding as quickly as his social skills and ability to regulate emotion.

Socially, your child should be able to start taking turns and sharing, separate from you and without undue anxiety. He should also be able to communicate his needs to the adults around him.  

Physical developmental milestones include the abilities to run, skip, jump, and climb stairs. His cognitive skills should now include the ability to use complete sentences, re-tell a story, and count objects.


After negotiating the highly social environment of kindergarten, your child will enter the more academically challenging first-grade classroom. The social developmental milestones that will help her successfully negotiate this atmosphere include starting to see others’ points of view and relating well to praise.

Cognitively, your child should be able to see patterns in words, numbers and, to some degree, the world around her. She will also begin to answer basic questions in more detail.  

Physical milestones this year include both gross and fine motor skills. She'll have the stamina to continue a physical activity for five to 15 minutes. She will also develop the muscles that allow for a better pencil grip and neater handwriting.


In second grade, your child will be asked to think a little more in-depth and a little less concretely. Cognitive milestones that support this learning include the ability to understand the concepts of money and time, as well as the ability to do mental math.

The social milestones that help him navigate second grade are those which encourage independence. He should gain a better ability to judge his strengths and weaknesses and have a little more self-control. You might also notice that he's more willing to speak up when his opinion differs from that of his friends.

This independence is echoed in his physical milestones. He will begin to have a greater control over his movements and know when his body needs a break. He'll also have an increased ability for repetitive physical actions as they apply to games.


3rd Grade

For many students, third grade marks a growth spurt, physically, emotionally, and cognitively.

Your child is making the move from black and white thinking to seeing more of the grays. This means that she is able to ask questions until she has all the information needed to draw a conclusion about something she is learning. It also means she can create and solve concrete math problems from word problems.

From a physical perspective, it means she might begin to see the connection between well-planned physical activity and her health and well-being. Her social skills may reflect this shift in thinking as well. She will begin to understand that other people are a part of her experiences, not simply an observer to what’s going on with her.

4th Grade

In some school districts, fourth grade in itself is a milestone. The students have moved from early elementary school to the intermediate grades. Being older brings with it more challenges in every realm of development.

Social skills are particularly important this year, as peer relationships take on more importance. Your child should be developing the ability to see that friendships have many different levels. He may also begin to understand how peer pressure can negatively affect his emotional health.

Cognitively, you can expect your child to begin developing a keener sense of morality. He may also better prioritize and budget his time and start enjoying plays on words and puns.

Physical developmental milestones this year involve better hand-eye coordination. You'll also notice some ability to persist in physical activity to reach a goal, be it playing a game or completing physical fitness testing.

Fifth grade is a big year, marking the transition between elementary and middle school for many children.

There are a number of social skills that will help in navigating this transition, but none more than the ability to recognize the difference between “fair” and “equal.” Once your child understands that fair doesn’t always mean equal, she can be more accepting of peers and less critical of differences in the classroom.

Cognitive skills that show your child is maturing include the ability to see both sides of an issue and to logically argue for one side of it.  

Physically your child is maturing, too. Her developmental milestones this year include the ability to more easily integrate cognition with movement. This makes it a prime time to learn to play an instrument or take on more complicated art projects.