Every child's development is unique and complex. Although children develop through a generally predictable sequence of steps and milestones, they may not proceed through these steps in the same way or at the same time. A child's development is also greatly influenced by factors in his or her environment and the experiences he or she has. The information in this guide explains what child development experts consider to be "widely-held expectations" for what an average child might achieve within a given year. Please consider what you read in the context of your child's unique development.
Below is a snapshot of this year. For more in-depth information click on the specific areas of development in the menu at the left.
Six-year-olds have longer attention spans and continue to prefer structured activities to more open-ended experiences. They enjoy taking on new roles and responsibilities, but still require much direction from adults and frequently ask questions to ensure that they are completing tasks the right way.
The language skills of six-year-olds become increasingly sophisticated throughout the year. Their vocabularies rapidly increase, and their language moves beyond communication to provide a foundation for learning, including the development of independent reading skills. In general, their pronunciation of words is clear and they use complex grammatical forms accurately.
In first grade, children transform into true readers. They apply their knowledge of how print works and practice strategies to decode unfamiliar words. They learn to read aloud with fluency, accuracy and understanding. They read a variety of texts for pleasure (e.g., stories, informational texts, poems) and draw upon a variety of comprehension strategies to understand and enjoy texts. Children this age write stories, notes and descriptions. Most are able to develop an idea beyond a sentence and will add some details to help describe or explain things in their world. They enjoy sharing their writing with others.
In mathematics, six-year-olds can typically count up to "200" and count backwards from "20." They understand the concept of "odd" and "even" numbers and can represent numbers on a number line or with written words. They use increasingly more sophisticated strategies to solve addition and subtraction problems. They also count the sides of shapes to identify them and can combine shapes to create a new one. Six-year-olds can also give and follow directions for moving around a room or on a map.
Scientific discovery for children this age is affected by their tendency to straddle the world between make-believe and reality. Six-year-olds might continue to give animals human characteristics, such as suggesting what a worm might be thinking, or that a butterfly has eye lashes. Gentle encouragement to look closely at worms and butterflies will help children to describe more objectively what they observe. Science experiences for this age group should continue to immerse children in first-hand investigation of the world around them, so they can continue to build a reservoir of experiences from which they can begin to draw as their thinking becomes more sophisticated.
Six-year-olds continue to enjoy moving in a variety of ways. Although far from proficient in motor skills, this does little to dampen their enthusiasm for trying out new activities and sports. They are able to run in various pathways and directions and can manipulate their bodies by jumping and landing, rolling and transferring their weight from feet to hands to feet. Their hand- and foot-eye coordination is still developing, so skills like throwing, catching, kicking and striking are still emerging. With the right equipment, however, and a skillful partner, their motor skills continue to improve. Note: During this period of development, children's actual skill levels will vary based on their amount of physical activity. Sedentary children will not mature as quickly as those who participate in activities like dance lessons, team sports or backyard play.
In terms of social and emotional development, six-year-olds are confident and delight in showing off their talents. They start to display an increasing awareness of their own and others' emotions and begin to develop better techniques for self-control. Six-year-olds enjoy sharing toys and snacks with friends, although conflicts among peers may remain quite frequent. Predictable routines are important sources of stability and security for children this age. Six-year-olds also draw emotional stability from their interactions with adults with whom they feel secure, particularly during challenging situations and circumstances.
A child's development in the creative arts varies greatly based on the child's experiences with art, music, dance and theater. Given exposure and practice, six-year-olds use a wider variety of materials to create visual images that combine colors, forms and lines. They can also remember the words and melodies to a number of songs and may sing or play these songs on instruments. They can also be taught how to read music and write simple music notation. With dance, six-year-olds can create, imitate and explore movement in response to a musical beat. The dramatic play of six-year-olds show greater creativity and complexity in the use of props, costumes, movements and sounds. Children this age can also repeat simple text and cooperate with others in a dramatization.