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What developmental skills should a 5-year-old have?

Zariah Kale

Zariah Kale

Zariah is a writer, history nerd, amateur chef and mum of three. When she is not negotiating screen time with one of her two tweens, or falling asleep during movies, you'll find her scouring vintage shops for one-of-a-kind pieces or apologising to friends for the "late reply" over text.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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Are humans competitive by nature? Or is it something we have become because this world has become so fast and aggressive?

These were the thoughts that raced through my head as I watched my 5-year-old play with a bunch of other kids his age at the park.

They were playing tag, and my child seemed to be the first one to be tagged.
Again, and again.

So there I was, sitting on the bench, rocking my 7-month-old daughter, and wondering if I was parenting right. And why was my 5-year-old losing the game?

I wish I hadn’t, though, because while I was focused on assessing the athletic abilities of 5-year-olds, I was missing out on their laughs and giggles.

I wish someone had told me that I didn’t need to worry because it didn’t matter if he was faster than the other kids or taller than them; what mattered was that he ticked off the developmental skills any 5-year-old should have.

So here I am, telling every parent who is concerned about their child’s development to check progress with milestones- and not by comparing him with his friends.

Here are the four simple milestones that can help you assess your 5-year-old’s development:

Milestones in social/emotional development

Here’s why I didn’t need to worry as I sat there watching my child play: He was on point with his social and emotional development. He understood the rules of the game and was getting along with the other kids.

By the time they reach the age of five, children have developed the social skills necessary to interact with others in more nuanced ways. They also begin developing their sense of self and independence. A 5-year-old should have reached the following social/emotional milestones:

  • Playing cooperatively with other children.
  • Expressing emotions and understanding others’ emotions.
  • Understanding and adhering to rules and procedures.
  • Developing a sense of self-identity and independence.
  • Having empathy for others.
  • Developing relationships and friendships with people.

Language/communication milestones

The third is language and communication. A child should have mastered the following language/communication milestones by the 5-year mark:

  • Speaking in entire phrases
  • Questioning and answering.
  • Correct grammar and vocabulary usage.
  • Understanding and using prepositions and pronouns.
  • Participating in a conversation with others.
  • Storytelling and sharing their views and ideas.

Milestones in movement/physical development

Although my kid was not the fastest, he checked every box on the physical development chart.

According to the CDC, children’s motor skills and interest in physical activity improve around the age of five. Around this time, they should be able to perform more sophisticated physical activities.

Movement/physical development milestones for a 5-year-old include:

  • Skipping and hopping
  • For a few seconds, stand on one foot.
  • Catching and throwing a ball with more precision
  • Simple shapes are carved out with scissors.
  • More precise drawing and colouring


Cognitive milestones

At the age of five, children are continually learning and gaining new skills. They are curious, keen to learn, and becoming more self-sufficient. They want to do more tasks by themselves, so if you find toothpaste on the sink, or juice spilled on the counter, your 5-year-old is on track!

On a more serious note, a 5-year-old should have the following cognitive milestones:

  • Colour and form recognition and identification.
  • Counting to ten or more.
  • Understanding fundamental math concepts such as addition and subtraction.
  • Understanding the concepts of yesterday, now, and tomorrow
  • Recognising and identifying alphabet letters.
  • Complying with multi-step directions.
  • Recognising cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Improving problem-solving abilities.

What is normal intellectual development for a 5-year-old?

As they learn, grow, and develop, 5-year-olds make substantial intellectual gains. Children are eager to explore, ask questions, and participate in many cognitive-developmental activities at this age.

Five-year-olds typically accomplish these intellectual milestones:

Language development: By age 5, most children know 2,500 to 5,000 words and can speak in complete phrases. They can tell stories and express themselves.

Cognitive development: Children’s cognitive ability grows at age 5 as they begin to understand time, forms, and colours and can count to 100. They can reason and follow multi-step directions.

While they may refuse to understand why they can’t have chocolate cake for breakfast, they can understand why they need to wear shoes outside as well as how to feed the cat.

Memory: Children, especially those ages 5 and above, can remember fundamental facts and experiences. They can also follow daily schedules and school procedures.

Also, just a heads-up: never make promises or absent-mindedly agree to their requests. They will remember, and then you will have to drive them to the park at 10 p.m. because, last week, as you were distracted with a work call, you promised you would.

Imagination: Five-year-olds are creative and are also more expressive with different mediums of art. They can also generate novel solutions and think of ideas that they should be able to express or explain.

Social skills: Five-year-olds are growing more social and can interact with people more complexly. They share, turn, and cooperate. They may obey rules and communicate their emotions.

How can I encourage intellectual growth in my five-year-old?

Many parents want to help their children grow intellectually, which helps them in their personal and professional lives. After all, intellectual growth is vital to children’s development.

Here are some things you can do to help your 5-year-old learn:

  • Reading: Reading boosts intelligence. Help your youngster read age-appropriate books, newspapers, and other materials. Do they love dinosaurs? Great! Get them books on dinosaurs to get them started!
  • Ask questions and answer questions: Asking questions helps your child learn and understand the world around him. Allow kids to explore different topics and try new activities. As parents, we often ignore these questions or give an answer that doesn’t explain the concept. Next time your child asks, “Why are clouds white?” Turn around and ask them why “they,” think clouds are white. Listen to their answer and appreciate their ideas. Then teach them how to look it up in a book. Or explain it yourself.
  • Learning Games: Learning and problem-solving toys help boost children’s brain growth. Puzzles, blocks, and board games, as well as Rubix cubes and chess, are great toys for kids!
  • Limit screen time: Technology can aid learning, but too much might hinder it. Encourage your child to play outside, read, and make crafts.


What are normal 5-year-old social skills?

When children reach the age of five, they start to develop social skills and want to play with kids their age. They are more likely to share toys and play pretend games with them.

Five-year-olds understand taking turns and learn the importance of cooperation and teamwork. At this age, children can demonstrate empathy and recognise and respond to emotions such as anger, happiness, and sadness. They also learn to resolve conflicts, communicate independently, listen to others, and work together to solve problems.

Five-year-olds can understand and follow classroom and playground norms and grasp the consequences of breaking them. You’ll also notice your 5-year-old will now have their own best friend or a group of friends they prefer to play with.

Remember, every child is different and grows at their own pace. As long as they are meeting their milestones, you don’t have to worry. Let them learn, laugh, and play, and don’t turn growing up into a race.

Related Articles

Ages and stages: Developmental milestones for preschoolers
Navigating the waves of preschool behaviour: Helping little learners stay on course
How to help your little one develop their fine motor skills

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