A Time to Pause: Reflecting on Development in the Coming School Year

Growing boy with loose tooth

We are called to be strong companions and clear mirrors to one another, to seek those who reflect with compassion and a keen eye how we are doing, whether we seem centered or off course…we need the nourishing company of others to create the circle needed for growth, freedom and healing.

– Wayne Muller

After the teacher said a quick,”Goodbye parents!” with a kind but determined hand motion, I walked away from E’s classroom feeling a thud way down deep. “Now what?” So much preparation went into the start of school and now that he was successfully there, I felt a bit lost. It took that first full day of school for me to pull it together and begin getting my head around my own goals. Since there is a natural pause that occurs with the exodus of children to school, why not take advantage of that pause to do some reflection about your role, your child’s developmental milestones ahead and your hopes for the school year.

I take this moment of pause to ask:

What will my child be learning in the coming year academically, physically, socially and emotionally? What milestones are ahead?

What can I do to educate myself about his growth potential for the coming year?

What can I do to support that learning and growth?

It’s particularly helpful to set your own expectations for the learning to come since often times, our biggest challenges and frustrations with our children relate to where they are developmentally. “Don’t teach me anything!” said E this summer with passion as he tried to learn to swim. The process of learning can be embarassing, frustrating and sometimes painful. Our sensitivity to this fact can afford us greater empathy and patience. It can also prepare us to be better partners with teachers as we work to support our children’s growth.

Your school may have provided you with a set of academic learning standards for your child’s grade level so that you can get a sense of the areas of focus for the school year. If not, now you can check out the Common Core Standards since forty-three states, the District of Columbia and four territories have adopted them. But unless you are fortunate enough to live in one of the few states (Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and soon-to-be Ohio) that has adopted stand-alone learning standards for social and emotional learning, you may not receive any guidance in that area though your children’s social and emotional learning at school and home will continue.

Keep in mind that development is uneven. As I’m sure you’ve observed, it comes in fits and spurts. The traits listed below are derived from looking at a large number of children at a particular age with many to most showing they are working on these issues. If your child is not yet displaying these traits, there is typically no reason to worry. It’s likely they just may not have moved forward in that particular area yet. Of course, if you have concerns, contact your pediatrician for confirmation. I have a first grader, six nearly seven year old, so I am placing below the typical social and emotional traits for six and seven year olds. If you have children who are other ages, here are some resources for looking up their social and emotional developmental milestones for the year to come.

1. Yardsticks Parent Pamphlets – Chip Wood has created pamphlets for parents  that are easy to use and review. One set will grow with you as your children progress. The pamphlets list typical developmental milestones in physical, social-emotional, language, cognitive, vision, fine and gross motor skills and additional domains.

2. Child Development Institute – This site has a section specially for parents that offers guidance and many specific developmental issues.

3. education.com – This site offers a number of articles on children’s social and emotional development.

The social and emotional development traits of sixes and sevens are derived from multiple sources but the primary source is from Yardsticks; Children in the Classroom Ages 4-141 by Chip Wood. In addition, I’ve developed a list of ways that you as a parent can support those traits.

Typical Social and Emotional Developmental Traits for Sixes:

  • Anxious to succeed, even master whatever they are attempting.
  • Wants to be first.
  • Thrives on encouragement.
  • Loves surprises and treats.
  • May be easily upset when hurt.
  • May invent his own rules to games – winning is important to him.
  • Can be bossy and critical of others (as she works to define her own self-identity and boundaries).
  • Cares about friends.
  • Learns best through discovery and asking questions.
  • Is ambitious and motivated to learn.
  • Can engage in cooperative activities.
  • Enjoys “work,” particularly the process rather than product.
  • Feelings about his relationships with teachers and peers motivates his willingness to participate in school.

Ways to Support Sixes:

  • Compliment efforts and hard work versus final products.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Have patience and leave empty space for responses.
    Look for ways to allow child to be first (i.e. pressing the elevator button, ordering at a restaurant).
  • Ask about friends’ likes and dislikes.
  • Model empathy and perspective-taking to balance criticism of others.
  • Encourage practice and reinforcement of boundaries and rules.
  • Promote cooperative activities when playdates take place.
  • Take advantage of motivation to learn and explore new topics together.
  • Emphasize and provide examples (athletes, musicians) of mastery taking time, practice, failure and persistence.

Typical Social and Emotional Developmental Traits for Sevens:

  • Introspective.
  • Needs stability, routines and structure from adults – parents and teachers.
  • Attempts to make work perfect. May be more fearful of learning and feel pressure to achieve and not make mistakes.
  • Can be sensitive to others’ feelings.
  • Cares about organization of toys and supplies.
  • May change friends often.
  • Listens well and speaks using specifics.
  • Wants to finish what he begins and may go slowly.
  • Enjoys being read to.
  • Can be moody, sad or shy.
  • Enjoys challenging puzzles or small manipulatives (legos).

Ways to Support Sevens:

  • Provide more quiet time and space. Supply private journal or notebook for writing and drawing reflections or stories.
  • Go over morning, after school and bedtime routines. Formalize by having child put routines in writing. Be consistent.
  • Emphasize and provide examples (athletes, musicians) of mastery taking time, practice, failure and persistence.
  • Practice perspective taking. Discuss others’ feelings in the family to encourage empathetic thoughts and feelings.
  • Provide empty bins and receptacles to encourage self-organization.
  • Encourage friendships with playdates. When children move on from one friend to another, discuss ways to include and be kind to old friends as well as playing with new ones.
  • Listen to the details of stories told and ask pointed questions.
  • Give them extra time to do homework or perform a task.
  • Read together everyday.
  • Identify places and things in the house to offer comfort when he is upset.
  • Offer age appropriate challenges in play.

Setting your own expectations about a child’s development can help you be proactive about your support. You will be better able to face any challenge with knowledge and confidence. Here’s to a rich year of learning.

Do contribute to our ongoing parent dialogue. How are your children currently challenging you? How are you supporting their development?



Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks (3rd. Edition): Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

4 Comments on “A Time to Pause: Reflecting on Development in the Coming School Year”

  1. I love these emails! They have been informative & helpful. I may have missed it somewhere but do you have suggestions of games to play with 5 & 6 year olds that relate to these development stages? Looking for something fun so my son does not think it is learning. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Michele! Great question and I have a number of games for 5s and 6s that involve learning disguised in fun. I think a number of readers would appreciate this same information so I will put the ideas into a post shortly. Look for a next email within a few days and happy playing!

  2. Pingback: A Time to Pause | Parent Community Network

  3. Pingback: Spring Growth | confident parents confident kids

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