Development characteristics

Developmental characteristics of children in grades K-2

Children in grades K-2 develop and learn in ways that differ from younger children, older youth and adults. Understanding the developmental and learning characteristics of K-2 children provides a foundation for developing effective programs.

The remainder of this section presents an overview of the developmental and learning characteristics of children in grades K-2. Remember that these are generalizations and that children develop at varying rates. For example, a physically advanced child may be slow to develop language. Such uneven development also is evident when comparing children within a group. Just think of the different heights you find among 6-year-olds! Development and learning are complex processes not yet thoroughly understood. Generalizations can serve as guideposts for planning activities, choosing materials, etc., but getting to know the children is the best way to plan.

Physical development

Major task: Refine gross (large) and fine motor skills

  • Gross motor skills are largely mastered. Children continue to practice these skills and use them to release energy (running, jumping, skipping, etc.).

  • Fine motor skills are developing. More practice is needed to refine these skills and achieve control (cutting with scissors, using a pencil, manipulating small objects, etc.).

  • Children need to have frequent opportunities for physical activity. For these youngsters, sitting still is more demanding than being physically active.

Social development

Major task: Develop a positive self- concept

  • Perceptions of self are forming. Children need opportunities to experience success and receive positive feedback from adults and peers.

  • Pleasing adults is important. Children seek adult praise and support.

  • Self-control is developing. Children need positive adult guidance to help them learn self-control.

  • Children are self-critical and sensitive to criticism from others. Accepting failure is very difficult.

  • Children are becoming more knowledgeable about their own feelings and those of others. Emotional ups and downs occur, but usually don’t last long.

Cognitive development

Major task: Acquire the ability to think about and solve problems mentally

  • Thinking ability remains tied to experiences in the real world. Children construct knowledge from physical experience, social interaction, and reflection.

  • The ability to see things from others’ perspective is developing.

  • Verbal skills become more sophisticated. As children become able to understand others’ perspectives, their ability to communicate is greatly expanded.

  • Reasoning becomes more logical.

  • Great gains are made in the ability to read, write, and use numbers.

Learning characteristics

Major task: make sense of the world and master the skills necessary to function successfully

  • Children have an innate curiosity about the world around them. Their interest motivates them to explore and learn about it.

  • They enjoy intellectual challenges. Riddles, word games, and lots of conversation allow them to show off new thinking skills.

  • Learning is tied to concrete experiences. Children need to manipulate objects and interact with adults and peers in a meaningful context.

  • Children learn best when their physical needs are met.

  • The learning process usually is more important than the product of learning. Finishing a project is often irrelevant. However, as children approach 8 years of age, having a product to show for their efforts begins to take on significance.

  • Attention spans tend to be short, interest is maintained anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.

  • Unstructured play is important. It permits children to explore, test, experiment, imagine, and create in a non-threatening environment.


Becky Harrington, director of operations and systems,, 612-624-7974