Last updated on Feb 23rd, 2021 at 11:45 am

Have you noticed how independent and self-confident  your 5-year-old is becoming? Most children this age develop greater independence, self-control and creativity. Your growing toddler will reach many more developmental milestones during his fifth year.

Here’s what developmental milestones you can expect from him:

Your 5-year-old is probably very sociable and is thrilled to play with his friends. He has tons of energy and needs it for building, pretending, riding, running and jumping.

His imagination drives much of his play and he will constantly be building castles in the sky and fighting imaginary dragons in the garden. He is in the process of acquiring many new skills and can probably ride a bicycle with confidence.

Your child comes up with interesting questions about the world around him, and when he asks ‘why?’, it won’t be an idle inquiry – he’ll want to know the answer as his ability to understand and remember your explanations is developing in leaps and bounds.

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He likes to be with you, helping out with small tasks, sharing jokes and stories. In a way, this is a special time for parents. A 5-year-old’s focus is still firmly on his home and family – the allure and excitement of school, friends and outside activities are yet to come.

Cognitive development:

  • By now your child understands about 13 000 words and has a rapidly expanding vocabulary; he can use five to eight words in a sentence.
  • He is likely to argue and reason by using words such as ‘because’.
  • He knows basic colours such as red, yellow, blue, green, orange and is able to memorise his address and phone number.
  • Your 5-year-old enjoys creating and telling stories, jokes and riddles, understands that they have a beginning, middle and end, and knows that books are read from left to right, top to bottom.
  • Your toddler draws pictures that represent animals, people and objects and enjoys tracing or copying letters.
  • He can place objects in order from the shortest to tallest, understands and uses comparative terms such as ‘big’, ‘bigger’ or ‘biggest’ and sorts objects according to size.
  • If he is taught, your child can identify some letters of the alphabet, a few numbers and will understand terms such as ‘more’, ‘less’ and ‘same’.
  • He can count up to ten objects and recognises categories.
  • Your 5-year-old’s block and dramatic play is much more elaborate and complex. He has a good attention span with good concentration skills.
  • He is project-minded as he plans buildings, makes drawings, plays out scenarios and is interested in cause and effect. Your little one loves to learn. Cherish and embrace this phase by creating plenty of opportunity for imaginative play, reading and developmental games.

Physical development:


  • Your 5-year-old needs about ten to 11 hours of sleep is and is able to dress himself with little assistance.
  • Your child begins to lose his baby teeth while acquiring secondary teeth.
  • He should by be able to skip, bounce or throw a ball.
  • He can walk down the stairs, alternating his feet without using a handrail.
  • He can jump over low objects, likes to run, gallop, hop and tumble and might be interested in performing tricks such as standing on his head and performing dance steps.
  • Your child is capable of learning complex body coordination skills such as swimming, ice- or roller-skating and riding his bicycle due to increased balance and coordination

Social and emotional development:

  • Your 5-year-old invents games with simple rules and organises other children and toys for pretend-play.
  • At this stage your toddler may still confuse fantasy with reality and often fears loud noises, the dark, animals and certain people.
  • He is capable of expressing his anger and jealousy physically and likes to test his strength and motor skills, but is not emotionally ready for competition yet.
  • During this year your child is able to have conversations with other children and adults and might use swear words or ‘bathroom words’ to get attention.
  • You may also find that your child comes across as bossy. As he develops he likes to try new things, takes risks and wants to make his own decisions. He likes to feel grown-up and boasts about his abilities to younger or less capable children.
  • Your toddler wants adult approval and develops a basic understanding of right and wrong, asking your permission before doing something.
  • He will notice when another toddler is angry or sad as he becomes more sensitive to others’ feelings. He now has a good sense of humour and enjoys sharing jokes and laughter with adults.

Recognising a developmental problem:

All children are different and develop at various rates, so if your child doesn’t do all the things listed in this article, it may be because he is focusing on a different area of his learning and development. However, if your child is very different to other children, if you are concerned about his development – or if it seems to deteriorate, seek professional advice.

Also see: Top tips for parents of children aged 4 to 6.

Sources: What to expect: the first year (Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi E. Murkoff & San