You are on page 1of 14

Connie Allred

Developmental Progress of Kindergartners

Physical Development

The most impactful time for physical and motor development for a child is between the

ages of 0-12 (Brotherson, 2009). By kindergarten, most children have made substantial progress

in their gross motor functions. Five-year-old children are able to jump rope, catch a ball, walk

on their tiptoes and balance on one foot (Trawick-Smith, 2010). They have begun to be

conscious of their physical abilities and mastery of physical feats leads to feelings of pride and

success (Trawick-Smith, 2010). By kindergarten, children have started to develop the skills

needed to care for themselves and work independently (Catalano, 2002). Because of this,

kindergartners are ready to begin to conquer more fine motor skills like holding and writing with

a pencil. As they continue to develop, their growth follows a pattern. These patterns include the

order in which muscle development takes place (head to toe, inside to outside, large muscle to

small muscle) (Brotherson, 2006). A kindergartners gross and fine motor skills develop at

different rates based on factors such as genetics, birth weight, nutrition and body composition.

A childs physical development progresses sequentially and within categories. Locomotor

movement is the movement that is required to get from one place to another (Brotherson, 2006).

Kindergarten-aged children have mastered the gross motor skills of crawling and walking and

can now move onto movements like hopping, skipping and leaping (Trawick-Smith, 2010).

Nonlocomotor movement are those movements that occur while staying in one place

(Brotherson, 2006). Five to six-year-olds are able to sit, stand, push, pull, turn and twist.

Manipulative movement involves using the hands and feet (Brotherson, 2006). Kindergartners

are at the point in their development that they can begin to master fine motor movements like

holding a pencil and writing as well as throwing and catching a ball (Trawick-Smith, 2010).

Moral Development

In kindergarten, children are not only learning about numbers and letters but are also

developing the ability to discern between right and wrong (Catalano, 2002). Morality involves

thinking, feeling and acting. Development psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg created the Stages of

Moral Understanding based on Piagets Heteronomous Morality. Kohlberg claimed that young

children base morality on punishment and obedience to rules that authority figures have put in

place (Dunn, 1995). Piaget and Kohlberg both agreed that young children obey rules out of fear

of punishment. Piaget also believed that children abide by the Morality of Constraint (Eberhardt,

2014). They see everything in black and white terms and an act is either right or it is wrong.

The rightness or wrongness of an act is based on whether or not it evokes punishment.

According to Susan Crosser from Ohio Northern University, young children think of right

and wrong in terms of absolutes, physical damage, punishment, rules and their own perspective

(2008). Young children are very egocentric but as they age, they begin to develop an empathy-

based guilt. For the first time, they may feel bad for hurting anothers feelings rather than just

being put out that they got in trouble. Research has found that there is a difference in how little

girls and little boys deal with issues of morality (Dunn, 1995). Girls tend to be more concerned

about maintaining feelings and assuaging hurt feelings while boys will argue it out (Dunn, 1995).

Children at this age are becoming more aware of when and how moral rules are broken. If

another child breaks a rule, they will probably be called out and labeled as bad. Children are

also starting to notice when a moral rule does not apply to someone. Because of this, children

will begin to realize the lack of a universal morality system and will test moral gray areas

(Eberhardt, 2014).

As children test out their concepts of morality, feelings are incorporated into their

schemas. Moral transgressions create emotions such as fear, sadness and anger. Morally

positive experiences elicit emotions like happiness and satisfaction (Dunn, 1995). The variations

in emotional experience can affect a childs moral orientation. A childs temperament may be

influenced by adult reactions to their morally negative and positive behavior (Eberhardt, 2014).

Social Development

The social competence that is developed during the first five years of life has a lasting

effect on a childs ability to form relationships, their emotional well-being as well as their

likelihood that they will eventually become a successful and capable adult (National Scientific

Council, 2004). For kindergartners, social interactions and relationships with adults and peers

influence their budding sense of self and understanding of others. Close relationships, especially

those with adults, help create a young childs self-concept, contribute to their sense of security

and help them understand the world around them (California Department of Education, 2016).

According to Richard Catalano of the University of Washington, children learn patterns

of socialization from family and school (2002). This process of socialization involves four

principles. First is the perceived opportunity for interactions with peers and involvement in

activities followed by the second principle which is the actual degree of interaction or

involvement. Third are the skills necessary to participate or interact successfully and fourth is the

perceived reinforcement from these activities (Catalano, 2002). Catalano believes that when this

socialization process successfully takes place, a child will develop a bond with that social unit

whether it be their own family or a peer group. This bond will inhibit or encourage social

behaviors based on the beliefs of the social unit. Young children are just entering this world of

socialization and are seeking out new relationships. These interactions may prove to be positive

or negative depending on the social unit with which a child forms a bond (Catalano, 2002).

These opportunities for involvement and interaction help children learn problem-solving, turn-

taking, empathy and cooperation. Relationships with friends foster social connections and help

children discover their own preferences and characteristics as well as those of others (Trawick-

Smith, 2010).

Kindergarten may be the first time for some children that they take place in a social

learning community. Children must be able to learn and play independently and in small groups

without being supervised. This is not only an important preparation for future schooling but it

also fosters a sense of independence and accomplishment in a child (Lee, 2012). Kindergartners

need to learn that they are capable of doing things on their own and making their own decisions.

This will help alleviate anxiety and encourage children to be curious and accept challenges and

risks (Morin, 2016).

Emotional Development

A childs emotional development involves the expression and management of emotions

as well as the ability to establish relationships (Denham, 2008). Emotional development is hard-

wired into a childs brain based on their own experience as well as their environment. As

children development, they begin to understand their own feelings as well as those of others

(Denham, 2008). They also begin to learn how to regulate their emotions, become empathetic,

establish and maintain relationships and regulate their behavior. Children that use more

empathetic terms and are able to regulate their emotions are typically better liked by peers than

those who do not or can not (California Department of Education, 2016).

Emotion and cognition have been found to work together in contributing to attention,

decision making and learning (Denham, 2008). Poor emotional regulation can impair a childs

thinking. A kindergartners ever increasing vocabulary and communication skills also make

them more adept at expressing their emotions through words. This lessens the likelihood of a

child exhibiting inappropriate emotions or throwing a tantrum. When children are able to

regulate their emotions, they can relax and focus more attention on acquiring learning skills (Von

Salisch, 2001). Regulation also helps children learn to plan and think about potential future

activities. As children develop, they will learn that some activities require more attention than

others. Learning to regulate their emotions will enable them to monitor conditions and plan or

imagine behaviors that might be necessary (Von Salisch, 2001).

Brain Development

There are a variety of factors that influence a childs brain development including

nurturing, genetics, nutrition, and their environment. Scientists used to believe that the

development of brains was predetermined and solely based on genetics (Brotherson, 2009).

More modern research has proven this to be false (Brotherseon, 2009). It is now known that

early experiences and conditions have a large impact on the brain development creating neural

connections that influence the wiring of the brain (Rhoshel, 2006). The basic elements of the

brain include the brain stem, the cerebellum, the midbrain, the limbic system and the cortex.

Different parts of the brain are under construction at different times based on a childs

developmental progress (Rhoshel, 2006). Young children are able to absorb information at a

much faster rate than adults which is why it is so essential to provide stimulating and engaging

learning environments at an early age.

Identity Development

Children begin to develop their sense of self from the time they are babies (Trawick-

Smith, 2010). Relationships with family members, adults, other children and members of their

community shape characteristics and behaviors. Positive relationships with parents and

grandparents foster a sense of confidence and security in children (Lee, 2002). Those who feel

confident, capable and worthy are more likely to be optimistic and excel in school Giving

children positive messages about their backgrounds helps them to develop a sense of pride in

their families, communities and languages (NCCA, 2016). Young children who have a strong

sense of identity and belonging are less likely to be afraid of differences or show prejudicial or

racial tendencies (Lee, 2002).

Teaching Reading

There are several cognitive prerequisites to learning to read. Phonological awareness,

letter knowledge and listening comprehension have all been found to be associated with reading

performance (Leppanen, 2004). Students should hopefully enter kindergarten with some

exposure to these skills. Their ability to discern between letters and sounds should improve

throughout the school year. By the end of kindergarten, children should be able identify both

upper case and lower case letters and the sounds letters make . Vowel sounds are more difficult

for children to master because the sounds are so similar (OConnor, 2005). Kindergartners can

read some words as well as simple books. Many children will rely heavily on predictable

patterns as well as pictures within the book and their memory of story events. It is important to

let a child read and to resist the urge to constantly correct/help. Young children who develop

pride in their ability will continue to seek out reading opportunities (Lee, 2012). It is also

important to keep reading sessions short and to encourage children to track with their finger as

they read or listen to reading aloud. This helps to reinforce that print is the representation of

spoken words and that in English, words are read from left to right.

Kindergartners can recognize many sights words such as their name, common words like

mom, dad, or the as well as those they may use frequently in their writing. Vocabulary

development is extremely important during this year (Lee, 2012). Students should constantly be

exposed to new words from a variety of genres. An easy way to do this is to have students

engage in a simple read aloud coupled with rich vocabulary explanations (Lee, 2012). Books

used for this purpose should be from both narrative and informational contexts (NAEYC/IRA,

1998). The teacher can pick 5 to 10 words that are critical to understanding the story. As the

words come up in the story, the teacher can use a few strategies to define them (Pang, 2013).

She can use a short phrase to define the word like catastrophe, that means a big problem. She

can also point to illustrations as she says the word. Using noises or gestures can be used to

demonstrate the meaning like shrugging shoulders for the word shrug or having the children

make the sound of a lion for the word roar (Pang, 2013) The teacher can change their voice

based on the intentions of the character or the descriptive language (Pang, 2013). At the end of

the reading, the teacher can ask some why questions to gauge comprehension.

The most effective read alouds are those that are interactive, teach vocabulary explicitly

and require students to answer and ask questions and engage in analytic talk (Mascareno, 2016).

Analytic talk requires children to make inferences and predictions about the reading. Teachers

can model effective reading strategies by thinking aloud and demonstrating their thought process

while reading. Teaching vocabulary explicitly promotes word consciousness or the

definitional, multiple and nuanced meanings of a word (Holmes, 2014). Vocabulary instruction

can take place at an incidental, informal or formal level depending on the emphasis the teacher

wants to place on targeted words (Holmes, 2014). The verbal interaction that takes place during

read alouds promotes childrens language and literacy due to the integration of new words and

content (Mascareno, 2016).

Repeated readings help children become familiar with the language and structure of

different types of text (NAEYC/IRA, 1999). It is important to re-read stories to help children

improve their understanding as well as their ability to recount events. To make repeated readings

more interesting and engaging, teachers can have different focuses for each read (Mascareno,

2016). During a first reading of a book, the teacher can take a more active role by reading and

demonstrating thinking while the children are listening. The second time around, children can

answer and ask questions and comment more frequently. The third read aloud can focus on

reconstruction of the story by the students with teacher guidance. The process of repeated

reading improves students comprehension of a story and extends their thinking (Mascareno,


Teaching Writing

Early on in their literacy development, children do not differentiate between drawing and

writing. As they mature, children begin to make separate writings or scribbles that are often

directionless. These scribbles eventually become horizontal and move from left to right on the

page. Finally, the scribbles take on distinct forms and become letters (Jones, 2010). Children

who are drawing or scribbling do not yet understand that writing is related to speech. They may

begin to form letter-like shapes that resemble letters but they still do not yet have an

understanding of the alphabetic principle (Labat, 2015). Children reach a critical point in their

writing development when they begin to represent the sounds they hear in speech. Usually they

start writing the beginning sounds of words because they are often the most salient (Jones, 2010).

As they continue to develop, they will eventually be able to identify individual sounds and

represent all sounds with letters.

Because a kindergartners motor skills are still developing, there are various ways that

writing can be introduced. Motor actions based on letter shapes promote letter knowledge and

spelling (Labat, 2015). The shape of letters can be traced with the finger and hand or a pencil.

Teachers can also use tactile techniques like finger painting and having students trace letters in

the air before having them try to recreate them on paper. Kindergartners also need to be taught

how to correctly hold a pencil and should first practice forming the letters in their name. The

beginning of kindergarten may be a childs first introduction to the letters of the alphabet or the

building blocks of writing. Kindergartners learn how to form these letter, what sounds they

make and how to combine them to make words (Labat, 2015).

Throughout kindergarten, children learn that words are written and read from left to write

and how to distinguish between a letter and a word (Puranik, 2013). They begin to develop a

basic understanding of punctuation and learn the importance and purpose of common

punctuation marks like question marks and periods. Children at this age are encouraged to sound

out words in order to spell them (Puranik, 2013). Since kindergartners have not mastered the

written word, sounding out words leads to invented spelling. Research shows that children

should be allowed to use invented spelling so that the focus of their writing is on communication

and not correct spelling (Lee, 2012). With daily practice and instruction, children should

naturally transition into conventional spelling.


Once kindergartners are comfortable with the writing process, teachers can introduce the

mechanics of writing a simple sentence (Jones, 2010). It is helpful to sometimes have sentence

starters like I like or I am that can help students formulate their own sentences. Once

students have mastered writing simple sentences, teachers can encourage them to flesh out their

sentences by adding some descriptive words. A child may write I like dogs. The teacher could

then guide them in the creation of a more complex and descriptive sentence by writing about the

specific types of dogs they like (I like big dogs with black fur). An activity that is useful in

teaching descriptive sentences is one that shows how sentences can expand. The teacher writes

out three different sentences on strips of paper. The first is very basic like The dog ran. The

second embellished the sentence a little more, The black dog ran. The third is a full

descriptive sentence, The black dog ran fast. This helps students to see how descriptive words

can add more meaning and flavor to writing.

As the students become proficient in descriptive sentences, writing prompts can be

introduced (Jones, 2010). Creative writing is a time when students can write based on their own

ideas and experiences. The teacher can create a prompt and model the thinking and writing

process for the students. The topic should be interesting to students and it may be beneficial to

give more than one to choose from. The students can then practice their writing (or drawing)

skills in a way that is fun and engaging for them. Journals are a great way to showcase a

students writing and their progress throughout the year. Students can write, draw, practice their

letter formation and increase their fine motor skills.

Under the Common Core Standards, kindergartners should practice three types of

writing: opinion, informative and narrative (Common Core, 2016). In an opinion piece, the child

will give an opinion on a topic. This opinion may be based on a book the class has read or a

prompt the teacher has given. Informative writing gives information about a topic. Children

may be asked to write about what they have learned regarding a specific animal or a book.

Writing a narrative is similar to writing a story. Kindergartners should be able to write events in

sequence and possibly add a reaction to what happened or some key details. By the end of the

year, students should be able to produce a few sentences for each type of writing. Under the

Common Core Standards, drawing and dictating sentences also counts as writing (Common

Core, 2016).


Kindergarten is a time of crucial development in a childs life. Their personalities are

blooming and they are being exposed to so many different experiences for the first time. Their

sense of self is being shaped as well as their sense of community. They are developing academic

skills that will influence their schooling experience for years to come. Because the kindergarten

year is such a sensitive and influential time, teachers must be aware of the impact of their

instruction and interaction with their students. It is important to know effective teaching

strategies and techniques but to also be familiar with the rationale behind each. Kindergarten

teachers need to not only know how to teach strategies and concepts but why they are doing so.

It is essential to base reading and writing instruction in the developmental research of

kindergarten-aged children. This will create a learning environment that is engaging and

effective for both teacher and students.


Brotherson, S. (2006) Understanding Physical Development in Young Children. North Dakota

State University. Retrieved from

Brotherson, S. (2009). Understanding Brain Development in Young Children. North Dakota State

University. Retrieved from

California Department of Education (2016). Social-Emotional Development Domain. California

Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations. Retrieved from

Catalano, R. (2002). Raising healthy children through enhancing social development in

elementary school: Results after 1.5 years. Journal of School Psychology Vol. 41 p. 143-164.

Common Core Standards (2016). English Language Arts Standards. Retrieved from

Denham, S.A. (2008). Assessing social-emotional development in children from a longitudinal

perspective. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health Vol. 63.

Dunn, J. (1995). The development of children's moral sensibility: Individual differences and

emotion understanding. Developmental Psychology Vol. 31 Issue 4.

Eberhardt, N. (2014). Piaget and Durkheim: Competing paradigms in the anthropology of

morality. Anthropological Theory Vol. 14 Issue 3.

Holmes, K. (2014). Service Learning: Flooding Students with Vocabulary through Read Alouds.

The Clearing House Vol. p. 37 3943.

Jones, C. (2010). Comparing Two Methods of Writing Instruction: Effects on Kindergarten

Students Reading Skills. The Journal of Educational Research Vol. 103 No. 5.

Labat, H. (2015). Facilitating Effect of Multisensory Letter Encoding on Reading and Spelling in

5-year-old Children. Applied Cognitive Psychology Vol. 29 p. 381-391.

Leppanen, U. (2004). Development of reading skills among preschool and primary school

pupils. Reading Research Quarterly Vol. 39 No. 1.

Lee, K.S. (2012). Socioeconomic Background, Maternal Parenting Style, and the Language

Ability of Five-and-Six-Year-Old Children. Social Behavior and Personality Vol. 40 p. 767-782.

Mascareno, M. (2016). Language complexity during read-alouds and kindergartners' vocabulary

and symbolic understanding. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology Volume 44 p. 39


NAEYC/IRA (1998). Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for

Young Children. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Young Children, July

1998, 53 (4): 3046. Retrieved from

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (2016). Identity and Belonging. Early

Childhood Education. Retrieved from


National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004). Childrens Emotional Development

Is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard

University. Retrieved from



Pang, Y. (2013). Graphic Organizers and Other Visual Strategies to Improve Young ELLs

Reading Comprehension. New England Reading Association Journal Vol. 48 No. 2 p. 52.

Puranik, C. (2013). Dimensionality and reliability of letter writing in 3-to-5-year-old preschool

children. Learning and Individual Differences Vol. 28 p. 133-141.

Rhoshel, K. (2006). Brain development in children and adolescents: Insights from anatomical

magnetic resonance imaging. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews Vol. 30 Issue 6.

Trawick-Smith, J. (2010). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective. Pearson

Merrill Prentice Hall 5th ed.

Von Salisch, M. (2001). Childrens emotional development: Challenges in their relationships to

parents, peers, and friends. International Journal of Behavioral Development Vol. 25 No. 4 p.