What are development milestones?
Development milestones are social and physical skills that children can do as they develop. Different skills, emotions and activities are reached at different ages.
All over the world and across cultures, children meet development milestones in generally the same order. But each child is different and will develop at their own pace.
How can I help my child to develop?
Ensure your child gets enough sleep. Pre-schoolers still need 10 to 13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. This may or may not include a daytime nap.
It's important to give your child good sleep habits that will help them throughout their life. This may include a regular:
- bedtime routine (such as a bath and a book)
- wake up time
It's best to avoid screens before bed. If you have to wake your child up most mornings your child may need more sleep. If they are cranky or overtired during the day, they might need more sleep.
A healthy diet is also important. Mealtimes can be a great opportunity to sit together with your child without distraction.
Try to enjoy eating a variety of healthy foods together. Talk with your child about their day. By 5 years old, your child can help by setting the table or serving up some food.
What physical skills should my child have at 5 years?
Most pre-schoolers continue to enjoy and develop skills in:
- skipping, jumping backwards and jumping while running
- throwing, kicking and catching balls
- swinging and climbing
Daily tasks should be getting easier for your child. These include:
- getting dressed
- going to the toilet
- cleaning their teeth
- using forks and spoons confidently
They will also be improving in their fine motor skills. Examples are using paper clips or child-safe scissors. They can start to write letters and make drawings of people. They may be able to write their name.
What social and emotional milestones should I expect by 5 years?
At the age of 5 years, your child is probably more relaxed about being away from you. They might enjoy playtime with a friend.
Play is an important way for your child to learn. They may enjoy playing make-believe or 'pretend' games, as well as singing, dancing and acting.
By now, your child will be learning about the value of friends. They will feel good when their friends are happy. Your child might start to behave in a way that supports friendship. They might say 'sorry' and agree to rules of a game.
It's important to remember that children can feel anxious about starting preschool or school. This is the case even for children who are happy to be away from their parents for short times.
What should my child be able to understand and communicate at 5 years?
Pre-schoolers start to know the difference between fantasy and reality. They learn and use hundreds more words. Your 5-year-old should be able to:
- speak in sentences
- take turns in a conversation with a group of people
- enjoy stories, rhymes and jokes
While your child might sometimes seem demanding, you'll probably notice that they do not have as many temper tantrums. This happens because their ability to communicate has developed. They can find other ways to express themself.
By 5 years of age, children can usually:
- understand the meaning of opposites ('high' and 'low', 'dark' and 'light')
- count to 10
- talk about ideas and feelings
- know several colours
- use connecting words such as 'when' and 'but' and adjectives like 'funny' or 'pretty'
- use words to explain what's happening in their brains, like 'don't know' or 'can't remember'
Some children start to talk about events in the past, present and future by their fifth birthday. They start to tell stories about what's happened to them. Sometimes the details of these stories might not be in the right order.
How can I help my child develop through play?
Your child learns by exploring and experiencing new situations. Let them try and do things by themself. They might seem to struggle a bit. Praise and encouragement will help build their confidence.
Be enthusiastic and excited about your child starting school. Try not to let them see if you are worried about if they are ready for school.
You can also:
- Encourage active play that uses energy. Outdoor running and ball games are good activities.
- Make time for creative play with paint, pens or crayons. Give them time to listen to music and play with musical instruments or toys.
- Let them be creative with dress-ups, dancing and crafts.
- Read, sing and say rhymes with them.
- Encourage them to play games that help develop social skills like sharing and taking turns.
- Cook with your child.
What if I am worried about my child?
Children learn things and do things at different ages. You may want to talk to your doctor or child health nurse if your 5-year-old child:
- isn't understood by others or able to have a conversation
- doesn't play with other children
- doesn't pretend during play
- can't eat, toilet, wash or dress themself
- has trouble seeing or hearing
- has lost skills they once had
Resources and support
There are parenting support services available, including parenting support lines in your state or territory.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: October 2023