School Age: Typical Development

Below you will find a brief review of typical development, divided into four sections, each describing a different aspect of development.

  • The next page describes the impact of trauma on each of these aspects of development.
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Physical Development

Growth during this period moves at a relatively steady pace. Muscle development results in greater gross and fine motor control, allowing children to acquire the skills for sports, dance, art, and playing musical instruments, for example. Practicing newly formed skills strengthens muscles and promotes neurological growth. Development in the frontal lobes–the center of neurological development during these years–allows for greater capacity for planning, reasoning, and working in a logical sequence. The growth of the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, gives children increasing abilities to assemble and integrate information from different sources, and to apply what they have learned to new situations.


Cognitive Development

Neurological growth also shows itself in progressively ordered and logic-driven thinking as children move from kindergarten toward middle school; this is known as the “concrete operational stage” of cognitive development.  In the early grades, children need external supports to help them think; for example, combining and separating groups of blocks helps them “see” addition and subtraction until they can rely on the accurate memory of math facts to mentally manipulate numbers. Although some children enter school without an explicit awareness of letters and how they can fit together to form words, most will be fluent readers and able to write coherent narratives by the time they reach adolescence.


Social Development

Children’s play during this time becomes more varied and more sophisticated. While they may continue to enjoy imaginative, dramatic play, they also become interested in the competition offered by board and video games. While younger children often welcome social interactions with a range of peers, as they get a bit older, they tend to gravitate toward children with similar interests and activity levels—some will gather in a quiet corner of the classroom, others will race around the playground. This is also the time that social aggression shows itself in bullying and activities designed to exclude and/or isolate individuals or groups of children. In these instances, adult intervention is necessary to protect both the victims and the aggressors from short and long-term harm.


Emotional Development

Because children of this age spend much of their waking life in the classroom or on the playground, school is a crucial arena for developing self-esteem and self-confidence. Increasing self-awareness allows children to begin to experience themselves as learners; they can recognize that hard work and practice can improve skills and give them a sense of accomplishment and pride. It is particularly important to support children who lack self-confidence because they may give up easily and shy away from peers they deem to be more successful, which then interferes with the social interactions that are so intimately tied to healthy emotional development. As part of their growing independence, children may experiment with disobedience and rule-breaking. Protests over unreasonable bedtimes and complaints about unfair expectations for helping with household chores are a normal part of testing limits and growing up. However, most children remain eager to please and enjoy the approval of parents, caregivers, and other important adults.


School Age: The Impact of Trauma on Development »