By Child and Youth Health
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Mother holding and connecting with young daughter
 
Many children start school at five. Here’s an overview of what you can expect between the ages of five and six, and how you can help your child’s development in a variety of ways.

Social/emotional development

The family is still the centre of the world for your five-year-old. Although she’ll want to play with other children and might form some friendships, her important emotional life is still found at home. Your five-year-old is still very attached to you and might be upset when she begins school.

Once at school, your child will come into contact with different ideas and ways of behaving. He’ll also have to fit in to a whole new system or set of rules that might be very different from those at home. This can be confusing and tiring, so don’t be surprised if your five-year-old is clingy, bossy or teary, especially after school. Children respond to pressure in their own ways. 

Five-year-olds often feel sympathetic to others, although they’re not able to be responsible for younger brothers and sisters. 

Your child will notice a lot about being a boy or girl, and often the sexes will play separately. At this age, children love to play together, rather than playing by themselves.

Your five-year-old is becoming more independent and in control of his behaviour. There will be fewer arguments and few tantrums, if any. He’s beginning to understand what it means to be fair and to follow rules in a game. But you can still expect that it might be too much to cope with sometimes, so he might cheat, get upset or not want to play every once in a while. 

Your child can now be reasoned with. She can ask serious questions, and wants to be taken seriously. She’ll often ask for your permission before she does something, because she’s starting to learn about rules and the idea of being right and wrong.

Developing understanding

Your five-year-old is beginning to get enough of a view of the world to understand that differences can exist alongside each other. He’s also beginning to develop an understanding about values, and that different families might value different things.

At this age, your child likes rules. The world is opening up to her quickly, and rules offer a way of doing things that stops the world from getting too confusing.

Five-year-olds understand a lot more about things like space and time, but many aren’t able to tell the time yet. Your five-year-old will also become very good at sorting things by colour, shape and size. He can name four colours and match 10-12 colours.

By the time your child’s six, she might be able to arrange objects from smallest to largest, shortest to longest and lightest to heaviest. She’ll also begin to understand that the quantity of an object remains the same when arranged differently – for example, a ball of clay is the same amount when flattened out.

Your child can now draw a person with a head, body, arms, legs and features such as eyes, nose and mouth. He can draw a house with doors, windows and a roof, copy letters and even write some letters from memory. He can recognise letters but might not be able to read yet.

Physical development

Your child is often confident and proud of her physical skills – but she can easily misjudge, and falls are common. At the end of her fifth year, what she thinks she can do and what she actually can do will be better matched.

Your five-year-old enjoys being active and is good at climbing, sliding, swinging and dancing. He might also be learning to skip. He can stand on one foot for a short time and can hop forwards on each foot separately. If he’s has had some practice, he can catch a medium-sized ball.

Your child might also have good control in writing and drawing, and she can stay in the lines when she’s colouring in.

Speech/language development

Most five-year-olds have a good command of their native language, although your child might still have difficulty explaining complicated events or ideas, and might leave out important bits. He can have the same difficulty understanding complicated directions, so you’ll need to be careful to explain things in a clear, straightforward way.

When your child starts school, he might come home with words that aren’t commonly used in your house. If you don’t like some of those words, give a simple reason why you don’t like them, and try to to offer alternatives. (You might also like to read our article on how to deal with swearing.)

By now, your child can speak clearly and have a conversation with you about everyday subjects. She can say her name, address, age and birthday. She might ask the meaning of words and can describe the way some items are used – for example, ‘A knife cuts’.

Your five-year-old can tell stories and give short talks to children at school – for example, in ‘show and tell’. He loves listening to stories, reciting or singing rhymes and songs, and hearing jokes and riddles.

What you can do

Supporting and encouraging your child
Your five-year-old needs your support and encouragement, particularly if she begins school in this year. She’ll notice what she can and can’t do in comparison with other children and might want your help to be better at something that’s important to her (like hitting a ball).

You can help your child feel good about himself by concentrating on his special strengths. You can also help him experience achievement by getting him to do simple jobs around the house that he can easily accomplish – for example, putting out the knives and forks. But try to allow him to be ‘little’ for short periods when being ‘big’ gets too tiring!

Spending time together
If there’s a younger sibling at home, your child might feel jealous of the time you spend together while she’s at school. Making sure you still get some ‘special time’ with her will pay rich rewards in giving her the strength and confidence to meet school challenges.

Five-year-old boys need some special help from their fathers (or other close male friends or relatives) – children usually have more opportunities to see what it’s like to be a woman than they have to see what it’s like to be a man. They want to know what it feels like on the inside, as well as what it looks like on the outside. If your son has had a chance to spend time with his father (or another man), he’ll be much more confident getting on with other boys in social situations.

Playing and learning
Five-year-olds enjoy a wide range of play options, so have lots of dress-ups, props, puppets and so on. Give your child opportunities for cutting, drawing and colouring, sorting objects, matching shapes and letters, and enjoying music. It’s important to keep reading stories to her too.

Children this age like to know a lot of facts, and you can be a guide, resource and teacher for your child. Once he starts school, it’s a good idea to talk to his teacher about how he’s going. Make time every day to listen to how your child’s day at school went too. (You might like to read our article on talking about school with your child.)

By now, it’s usually clear whether your child is right-handed or left-handed. Don’t try to force a left-handed child to use her right hand for writing and drawing.

Seeking advice
Seek advice from a health professional if you’re worried, or if your child is:

  • wetting or soiling during the day
  • not interested in interacting with other children or in what’s happening around him
  • having difficulty learning at school
  • still very anxious about separating from you, even after the first few weeks at school. 
The information in this topic is a guide only. Children develop at different rates and in different ways. If you’re worried about your child’s development, or if your child’s development is very different from other children of the same age, talk with a health professional. If there’s a problem, getting in early will help. If there isn’t a problem, the reassurance will save you some worry.