little boy looks at a book while seated

Your guide to age five 

This guide is intended to provide some context into what you might expect for neuro-typical five-year-old development. Milestones and development are different for everyone.

Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track developmentally and helps you identify any concerns early enough to make a difference. Children develop at their own pace and may skip over some milestones, while others take more time.

Kids do tend to follow some patterns when it comes to their growth and development. They reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, act, and move. These milestones are behaviors that emerge over time, forming the building blocks for growth and continued learning. Developmental milestones are things most children (75% or more) can do by a certain age. There are four main categories of these types of tasks and skills: language, social and emotional learning, cognitive skills, and physical capabilities.

Your healthcare provider will help you understand whether your child is experiencing delays and how to address them. This is why regular visits to health care providers for all growing children are so important, even if they are not sick. Regular health visits are a chance to check your child’s development. They are also a good time to catch or prevent problems.

What to expect at age five

Five-year-olds are most often known for their boundless imaginations and love for play. Many children this age also discover their love for storytelling – recounting details of exciting things that happened to them during their day. Parents and caregivers appreciate that 5-year-olds become better able to listen to and follow directions, but they are still learning to regulate their emotions, so meltdowns may happen when they don’t have the ability to understand or manage their feelings or a new situation.

Children at this age show more curiosity about the world. As a parent or guardian, you can guide your 5-year-old through daily adventures as they learn and explore something new and different every day. Asking them questions about what they have learned will help them make sense of the things they don’t understand yet. Open-ended questions like “What did you think about that?” or “Why do you think that happened?” can help your 5-year-old think through ideas and use their imagination.

Many 5-year-olds will be starting kindergarten, a significant developmental milestone in and of itself. Even though your 5-year-old seems like a “big kid” compared to just a year ago, they still need as much downtime, routine, and structure as younger children. Their longer, over-stimulating days will tire them out, so resist the urge to over-schedule them and prioritize plenty of sleep to avoid tantrums. Many young school children will use up all of their restraint and “good behavior” during school trying to listen, learn and sit still, so it’s not uncommon for them to struggle with this when they get home. 

Keep reading this guide to learn more about your 5-year-old’s growth and development during this exciting year.

The major developmental milestones for 5-year-olds

Age 5 language and communication milestones

There is a wide range in language and communication skills development happening throughout this year. Even if your child is slightly delayed in a few of these areas, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a speech or language delay. If your child is not meeting one or more milestones, has lost skills they once had, or you have other concerns, act early. Acting early (early intervention at younger ages) can make a big difference in your child’s future academic confidence. If you’re concerned your child’s language skills are lagging, ask their teachers and healthcare provider about doing a speech and language evaluation.

By age 5, your child may be able to

  • Understand simple rhyming. Examples: cat-hat, ball-tall.
  • Use more complex sentences they made up or heard that give at least two details. Example: The girl walked down the long street barefoot.
  • Use the future tense. Example: I will go to school tomorrow.
  • State their full name and remember their telephone number and address.
  • Speak clearly so that a stranger can understand their speech about 90 percent of the time.
  • Answer simple questions about a book or story after you read it or tell it to them.

Age 5 social and emotional learning milestones

Five-year-olds rapidly develop social skills with peers and adults as they start kindergarten.

By age 5, your child

  • Will want to be like their friends.
  • Can follow rules.
  • Is aware of gender.
  • Likes to sing, act, and dance.
  • Can take turns when playing games with other children.
  • Is more responsible and says “I’m sorry” when they make mistakes.
    • Likes to imagine and pretend while playing (for example, pretends to take a trip to the moon).
    • Shares with others.
    • Can engage in cooperative play.
    • Does simple chores at home, like matching socks or clearing the table after eating.

Cognitive skills

By age 5, your child

  • Will know about everyday items, such as food and money.
  • Can count 10 or more objects.
  • Can copy a triangle, square, and other geometric shapes.
  • Is able to draw a person with six body parts.
  • Can correctly name the primary colors and possibly many more.
  • Can name coins and money.
  • Is Able to tell the difference between what is real and what is make-believe.

Physical skills

By age 5, your child will be able to

  • Stand on one foot for at least 8 seconds.
  • Hop, skip, swing, and do somersaults.
  • Use the toilet on their own.
  • Catch a ball.
  • Climb the stairs without holding on.
  • Do a somersault.
  • Run in an adult manner.

If your child’s development isn’t progressing in certain areas, share your concerns with your child’s healthcare provider. You can use this free printable milestone checklist to plan your conversation ahead of time and identify specific issues to address.

Vaccines for 5-year-olds

At 4-6 years of age, your child should receive vaccines to protect them from the following diseases

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis) (DTaP) (5th dose)
  • Polio (IPV) (4th dose)
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) (2nd dose)
  • Chickenpox (Varicella) (2nd dose)
  • Influenza (Flu) (every year)
  • COVID-19 

Healthy eating and activity for 5-year-olds

  • 5-year-olds need at least one hour of exercise daily, but this can be spaced throughout the day. Try to build in lots of active, moving play. 
  • Outdoor free play is essential for young children. Allowing your child to play and socialize without structure is excellent for brain development.
  • Serve your child a well-balanced diet with lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Kids this age can have up to 16-20 ounces a day of cow’s milk or a fortified soy or pea milk. No sweetened or flavored milks of any kind are recommended. If your child eats a varied diet, milk may not be necessary.
  • If whole fruit isn’t an option, 100% juice might be okay. A small amount (4-6 ounces of juice) in this case is an alternative to whole fruit when necessary. Avoid food and drinks high in sugar, salt, and fat.
  • Make sure you are assisting with brushing and flossing twice a day, with regular professional dental care based on your child’s needs. Children don’t have the dexterity to effectively brush independently until about age 8.
  • Your child should get somewhere between 11-13 hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep can cause behavior problems and make it hard for your child to pay attention at school.

Keeping your 5-year-old safe

  • Discuss appropriate touch. Explain that some body parts are private, and no one should see or touch them. Use correct terminology like “penis” or “vagina.” Tell your child to come to you if someone asks to look at or touch their private parts, is asked to look at or touch someone else’s, or is asked to keep a secret from you. There are great books to help you have these conversations.
  • Teach your child what to do in an emergency, including how to call 911.
  • Wear protective clothing, a hat, and apply sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher at least 15 minutes before your child goes outside to play and reapply about every 2 hours.
  • Always supervise your child around water, and consider having them take a swimming class.
  • Depending on your child’s weight and height, it may be time to adjust your carseat’s position or move to a booster. Every seat has specific instructions, so it’s important to check your manual or their website to stay current and safe. Car seat safety is based on height and weight, not age!
  • Make sure your child always wears a helmet when riding a bicycle (even one with training wheels) or scooter. Do not allow your child to ride in the street.

Screen time

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programming for children ages 2-5. High quality programming might promote healthy communication or be interactive. They recommend co-viewing (watching with them) to make sure they understand what they are seeing. Here are some tips for healthy screen time for you (yes, you!) and your 5-year-old:

  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving.
  • Keep screens out of bedrooms and consider creating other screen-free locations in your home such as the dining area.
  • Turn off screens and read a book together.
  • Encourage playing with other children (not on screens) to build social skills and your child’s ability to make friends.
  • When watching programming with your child, discuss what you’re watching, educate your child about advertising and commercials, and ask “why” questions.
  • Turn off all screens one hour before bedtime.

Conversation starters and parenting hacks

You can help your 5-year-old develop the ability to hold a conversation by asking them questions. Here are some creative questions to help get the conversation started. Most importantly, model good listening behavior by making eye contact when speaking with your child rather than looking at a screen or trying to multitask. Show them that what they have to say matters to you.

  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Why would you choose it?
  • If your pets could talk, what would they say?
  • What color do you think is the happiest? Why does it make you feel happy?
  • Ask your child what they are playing. Then, because your 5-year-old can now answer “why” questions, make a point to ask deeper questions that address meaning and purpose, such as, “Why did you build that tower with a bigger bottom than top?”
  • Play with toys that encourage your child to put things together, such as puzzles and building blocks.
  • Give your child small household chores to perform, such as helping set the table or picking up toys after playing.
  • Teach your child the skills needed to cross the street independently (looking both ways, listening for traffic), but continue to help your child cross the street until age ten or older.
  • Get outside together.
  • Read to your child every day. Ask them “why” questions when done, such as why do you think the author chose that ending?
  • Keep consistent daily routines and times for meals, snacks, playing, reading, cleaning up, waking up, and going to bed.

Turning 5 is a significant milestone for many families because it is the start of formal schooling as a kindergartener! It’s normal for parents and children to be nervous or worry about being ready. Talk with your healthcare professional, your child’s teacher(s), school, and most importantly, your child about how the transition is going. Reassure yourself and your child that there is a wide range in when and how children grow, develop, and reach milestones. 

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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