Developmental Milestones for Elementary School

Skills for Elementary School

It's not just babies who hit developmental milestones, there are developmental milestones for elementary school-age children, too. 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.


Students painting in class
Caiaimage/Robert Daly / Getty Images

Deciding whether or not your child is ready for kindergarten can sometimes be a big decision, one that should be based on how he is performing on all of his developmental milestones, not just his social skills.  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 without undue anxiety and to communicate his needs to the adults around him.  Physical developmental milestones include the abilities to run, skip, jump and climb stairs,  while his cognitive skills should now include the ability to use complete sentences, re-tell a story and count objects.



After negotiating the highly social oriented 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 being able to start seeing 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 with more detail.  Physical milestones this year are both gross and fine motor-related; having the stamina to keep going with a physical activity for 5 to 15 minutes and developing the muscles that allow for 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 and the ability to do mental math.

The social milestones that will help in navigating second grade are those which help your child be more independent. He should gain a better ability to judge his strengths and weaknesses, have a little more self-control and be a little more willing to speak up when his opinion differs from that of his friends.

This independence is echoed in his physical milestones, as he begins to have a greater control over his movements, knowing when his body needs a break and an increased ability for repetitive physical actions as they apply to games.



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. In terms of cognitive milestones, this means that she is able to ask questions until she has all the information she needs 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 milestone perspective, it means she might be beginning to see the connection between well-planned physical activity and her health and well-being. Her social skills may reflect this shift in thinking in the way she is able to understand that other people are a part of her experiences, not simply an observer to what’s going on with her.



In some school districts, fourth grade in itself is a milestone in which 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 and understand how peer pressure can negatively affect her emotional health.

Cognitively this year, you can expect your child to begin developing a keener sense of morality, to better prioritize and budget his time and to start enjoying plays on words and puns. Physical developmental milestones this year involve more developed hand-eye coordination and 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. 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, making it a prime time to learn to play and instrument or take on more complicated art projects.


Continue Reading