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Developmental milestones for fourth and fifth graders

By Amanda Morin

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Fourth and fifth grade are years of growth in many ways — socially, academically, and physically. You may notice growth spurts, an increasing need for independence, and a desire to be accepted by peers.

Learn more about developmental milestones for 10-year-olds and 11-year-olds.

Physical milestones

Most kids grow steadily, only to speed up by age 11 or 12. As puberty approaches, girls and boys start developing at different rates. Girls tend to have their growth spurt between ages 9 and 11, while boys have theirs between ages 11 and 12. Most kids in fourth and fifth grade:

  • Have a bigger appetite and need more sleep

  • May be clumsy because of growth spurts

  • Use one hand and foot much better than the other (“Right/left dominance” starts at around age 7 and is set around fourth or fifth grade.)

  • Develop hand-eye coordination quickly (This might be when you learn a child needs glasses.)

  • Show improvement in handwriting and the ability to use tools

  • Complain of growing pains or muscle cramps

  • Coordinate movements (like dribbling and shooting a basketball or doing martial arts)

  • May try to develop strength and endurance due to increased muscle mass — especially in boys

  • Start showing signs of puberty, like hair growth or oily skin; girls may have weight gain or redistribution and boys’ voices may start to change

Cognitive milestones

Kids this age typically start thinking more about abstract ideas , and not just about things they can observe. They get better at organizing thoughts and planning, too. Don’t expect them to be able to sort facts from opinions quite yet, though. That skill is still in process.

Most kids this age:

  • Realize that thoughts are private and that people see others differently than they see themselves

  • Start predicting the consequences of an action and plan accordingly

  • Can argue more than just one side of an issue

  • Begin to rely on friends, the news, and social media to get information and form opinions

  • Develop a better sense of responsibility and help out around the house (For example, kids may look out for younger siblings.)

  • Start understanding how things are connected (For example, kids may understand the effects of climate change or how the mood of one person can impact others.)

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Social and emotional milestones

Fourth and fifth graders start to have active social and emotional lives. At this age, kids may be trying hard to find their own talents while also trying to be and look like everyone else.

Kids this age often:

  • Are uncertain about puberty and changes to their bodies

  • Are insecure or have mood swings and struggle with self-esteem (This tends to be more pronounced in girls.)

  • Test limits and push boundaries

  • Are increasingly independent from family, withdraw more from family activities, and need privacy

  • Form stronger and more complex friendships

  • May face strong peer pressure and find it hard to resist if they struggle with self-esteem

  • Have a deeper understanding of how relationships with others can include more than just common interests

  • Have a first crush or pretend to have crushes to fit in with peers

  • Value friends’ opinions; share secrets and inside jokes

  • Are kind, silly, and curious, but also can be self-involved, moody, and disrespectful

  • May test out new attitudes, clothing styles, and mannerisms while figuring out where/how to fit in

Ten- and 11-year-olds have varying levels of maturity. That’s true physically and emotionally. They may reach milestones earlier or later than expected.

But if there are concerns, parents and caregivers should check in with their child’s health care provider. Parents and teachers should also connect. They can work together to find ways to provide support.

Key Takeaways

  • Friendships become more complex and more important at this age.

  • Fourth and fifth graders begin to understand how things are connected — to see the bigger picture.

  • Ten- and 11-year-olds are growing so fast that they may have big appetites and need a lot of sleep.

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