Teachers arise from somewhere within me that is beyond me, the way the dark soil that is not the root holds the root and feeds the flower.
– Mark Nepo
“How old do I have to be to be a grown up?” E has asked a twice over the past few weeks. Sometimes to small people who have little say over so much of what they must do each day, being a grown up seems like a luxury filled with freedom. Children have an innate sense of their own development. When it’s time to start walking, they work their muscles through crawling and pulling up and cruising the furniture. When it’s time to start reading, they notice text everywhere they go and start asking what words say and mean. If we, as parents, become aware of the changes they are undergoing, we can support them through our empathy and our sensitivity to the emotions that arise with change.
With the great hope of spring coming soon when the natural world is focused on birth, there is an opportunity to reflect on our own children’s development. E is reaching his seven and a half year point this month and his interests have changed considerably since the start of the year. In fact, in the fall he was deeply engaged in fairly sophisticated Lego building and has recently regressed to building train tracks, an interest of his toddler and preschool years. And I know this regression signals development. It provides great safety and comfort as he enters unfamiliar territory. Learning to read, losing and growing new teeth, learning another language, questioning friendships and losing his teacher to maternity leave have all been enough challenge to keep him occupied and long for the comfort of old pleasures.
Last year, I examined the particular social and emotional traits of sixes and sevens in anticipation of the coming year’s development. Here, we’ll take a look at late sevens and eights in order to understand where they are and if you have your own seven or eight year old at home, you can learn along with me. These traits have been documented by researchers looking at commonalities when studying a number of children in the same age group over a period of time. If your child is seven or eight and does not exhibit some of the traits below, it is no cause for worry. If you do not recognize most traits in your child, then asking your child’s pediatrician for guidance would be the best course of action.
Chip Wood of Yardsticks; Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14 writes,
Seven is an age of intensity. Individualized activity consolidates new cognitive structures and feelings. A balance between hard work and self-assessment produces a sense of competence, setting the stage for greater self-direction at older ages. 1
A seven year old may
- have greater curiosity about the world and what they are learning through exposure to new things.
- have longer attention spans than six year olds.
- enjoy solitary, focused work and play (as opposed to group work).
- have greater sensitivity to peer and teacher critiques or implied criticisms.
- question friendships or may decide friends are not friends anymore.
- be moody or touchy and may not share feelings though you can tell they are upset.
- calculate risks of failure. May not engage if they feel they could make mistakes in front of people.
- have stronger, well-defined preferences.
- care about organizing their own stuff.
- be more creative problem solvers.
- be better at understanding other’s perspectives.
- be still working on understanding rules so may “tattle tell” as a way of advancing their own understanding.
- enjoy jokes and humor as a release from the serious learning and development agenda.
- feel teacher relationship is critical and can greatly impact sense of well-being. Changes in teachers can be challenging.
Chip Wood writes of eight year olds,
The eight-year-old is exploring his potential. He may be struggling with feelings of inferiority as he tries out one new area after another in an expanding awareness of the broader world. 1
An eight year old may
- have a solid sense of school rules and routines so they are more flexible with changes.
- often have a larger friendship group, enjoy socializing and having fun.
- love cooperative work or group activities preferably with their own age and gender.
- grow in their problem solving abilities and want independence because of it.
- be quick to assert what they know.
- measure themselves against their peers and worry about areas they aren’t as skilled in.
- desire increased privacy.
- have a shorter attention span than seven year olds.
- be developing a sense of moral responsibility beyond themselves and are curious about other cultures. This is an ideal time to expose them to other cultures whether its through community events, restaurants, traditions or travel.
Of course, I have been a proud contributor to NBC Universal Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit. They have a relevant application that can be downloaded. You can enter your children’s ages and it will keep you updated on their development. They have information for each grade level on academic, health and wellness including nutrition and physical development and social and emotional development. They also include specific ways parents can support those developmental milestones. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do explore this outstanding resource!
Great Schools best known as the go-to source for all basic information on schools around the country has now produced a video series entitled “Milestones.” It provides specific guidance for parents on understanding academic expectations at each grade level, K-5.
And finally, the WNYC New York’s NBC Affiliate has produced a terrific video entitled “Being 12; The Year Everything Changes” featuring a series of twelve year olds talking about what it’s like to be their age.
At times, it can seem difficult to keep up with constant growth. Do we need new shoes again?! Keep these resources at the ready. Make reading about developmental milestones a part of your change of season rituals. You’ll be better prepared with empathy, patience and support as your kids undergo changes. And that will add to your confidence as a parent!
Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks (3rd. Edition): Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.