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Child Developmental Stages and Age Groups
Activity planning begins with a clear understanding of the children's needs and interests based on their development. It's important to realize that age and development are not synonymous. Some children develop faster or slower than others. It's more complicated than this, but development is a function of genes, experiences, overall personal, physical, emotional and social health, and one's quality of life in general.
Knowing these characteristics helps in determining the kinds of experiences that are best for both young and older children. They can help adult leaders anticipate problems that may occur for children during activities and help staff effectively motivate, encourage, and redirect children and youth during experiences.
Children 6 to 10
In order to understand how best to serve children in your front-line staff position, it's important to understand where young children are in their development toward adolescence. The following characteristics are general ones for this age group.
| Children's Ways ||Adult Roles|
|The youngest children in this age
group are often (not always) very busy,
sloppy, erratic, and in a rush to complete a task.
As they get older, their interest in being both
neat and correct grows.
Adults should always set
good examples in these
behaviors. Children look
to adults for models.
|Having and keeping friends becomes
|| ||Adults encourage friends
to sit together, play
together, and work at
resolving issues that threaten
|Children learn new things and need to
constantly replace old ways of thinking
with new ways. Leaving the familiar for
the new untried ways is difficult
|| || Adults can help kids recall
how successful they have
been in the past during
unfamiliar experiences, and
how normal it is to be unsure
about alternative ways of
thinking about something.
| They are generally more eager to learn,
more curious, more enthusiastic, and
imaginative at this age than at any other times
in their lives.
|| ||Adults can use these qualities
to regularly introduce many new experiences to children.
|They begin to apply logic to solving problems,
and get good at using numbers, letters, and words.
|| ||Adults should provide
children with lots of guidance and opportunities to solve
problems; find games that use
numbers, letters, and words
since it is in using these and
accomplishing things with
them that children learn. |
|They need routine and consistency from
adults in their lives.
|| ||With routine consistency
children do not have to worry
or wonder about what comes
next or what's expected of their behavior. However, provide
flexibility as conditions that
call for it arise. |
|Discovering things and inventing are favorite kinds of activities.|| ||Adults can ask children to
make or design things that
solve real and immediate
problems in the program
| Take-apart and put-together activities are popular with this age group.
|| || Adults serve this interest
when they bring in items
that can safely be taken
apart. Encourage the parts
to be used in interesting
|Writing can be a favored activity,
especially when it helps kids get something they want or need.
|| ||Labeling, pen-pal
writing, shopping lists,
program posters are all great
writing experiences with
| Kids enjoy math if it's connected to
and supports what they are invested in.
|| || Adults should use games,
cooking activities, and
problem solving to reinforce
|Science is seen by kids as a way to
explain the world they are becoming more
and more curious about.
|| || Adults should read up on the
science children show interest
|Their energy often needs focus and redirecting from adults.|| ||Be alert to the need to re-
direct energy before it creates problems.
|Children often have friends or partners of choice.
|| || Adults should support these
relationships when they are
positive and productive.
| Children 11 to 14
In order to understand how best to serve youth in your front-line staff position, it's important to understand where young adolescents are in their development towards adulthood. The following characteristics are general ones for this age group.
| Youth's Ways |
In their late elementary and middle
school years, children:
| || Adult's Roles|
|Begin to develop more personal self-
awareness concerning the physical, social,
and emotional changes that are rapidly
occurring for them.
|| ||Adults need to be sensitive
and patient as youth struggle
with these changes.
| Begin to challenge their own ideas about
how they think the world works, as well as
challenging the adult-based rules they used to
live by without question.
|| || Although the challenge
appears to be personally
directed towards you, adults
must remember the challenge is focused on the ruled-on
issue, not on you.
|May begin to show skill in certain content
and ability areas.
|| ||Adults should encourage
youth to try lots of
experiences associated with
these areas, and show interest
in these areas.
| Boys and girls depart from playing together
and often gather in all-girl or all-boy groups to
play and do things. Thirteen is thought to be the year with the most significant developmental differences between boys and girls. Girls at this age often
take interest in older boys.
|| ||Adults need to be sensitive to
|Youth copy their peers in how to behave,
how to dress, what to admire, etc. They put lots
of energy into developing and perfecting their
own sense of self or identity. Often self-absorbed,
but eager to be in the company of their friends.
|| || Adults need to help youth
differentiate between when
it's appropriate or acceptable
to "follow" and when they
need to pull back from the
group. Make wise,
independent decisions as
part of figuring out identity.
|Youth really want to talk to adults, but don't
always know how.
|| ||Adults who are skilled
listeners are highly prized
by youth. Practice developing
good listening skills by really
listening more than speaking.
|Youth have a strong desire for independence,
especially from the constraints that are more
typical of "little kids." Older youth enjoy
relationships with caring adults.
|| ||This doesn't mean that
you eliminate rules. Have
rules that match older kids'
abilities to be responsible.
|They like to have their ideas solicited by
adults rather than volunteering them.
|| ||Provide positive recognition
privately and in groups as
youth attempt to assume
more mature behavior.
| They generally enjoy helping younger children,
being part of planning for them, establishing rules
associated with the plans, and assuming leadership.
Fairness in all things is a guiding principle in their
lives. They are quite alert and sensitive to adult
behavior which is perceived as unfair.
|| || Adults should strive to
include youth in programs
for young children. Adults
should be consistent and fair
in their interactions, help, and
|They have the same developmental needs as younger
children, but need to have them attended to in ways
more approximating those of adults.
|| || Provide spaces, activities,
and privileges to youth that
are different from those
available to younger children.
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