5th grade physical development guide: Find out what you need to know

Here's what you should know about your fifth-grader's physical development.
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By Aisha Labi

By fifth grade, children have begun to establish many of the personal habits that will help determine their future health and wellbeing. Gross motor skills, which involve whole-body movement, are just about fully developed by this age, although they will continue to be refined as children grow and gain strength. The same applies to fine motor skills, which involve the coordination of small muscle movements. Children in fifth grade are usually 10 or 11 years old, and the physical development guidelines below cover children in the typical age group. However, the age at which children reach milestones for physical growth varies considerably, especially around the onset of puberty, which can start around this time. Keep in mind that the information here is intended only as a general guide, and if you are concerned about your child’s physical development, you should consult your pediatrician.

Gross and fine motor skills

Your fifth-grader’s gross motor skills, which involve whole-body movement, should be almost fully developed by the time they are 10 years old. Physical activity at this age should include games and sports that focus on fundamental skills such as throwing, catching, and hitting balls, and riding a bike. Unstructured playtime remains important, but as your child’s ability to run and jump and throw, kick, and catch a ball with accuracy improves, organized sports such as baseball or soccer may be worth exploring. Other activities to consider include dance, judo, and gymnastics.

Your child’s fine motor skills, which involve the coordination of small muscle movements, are also nearly fully developed by fifth grade, although they will continue to be refined through practice. You will see evidence of greater control and accuracy as your child performs tasks such as writing, using a keyboard, or playing a musical instrument.

Hygiene

By the time they reach fifth grade, many children are ready to take full responsibility for their personal hygiene. However, parents should remain involved and supervise bathing or showering to the extent that they feel is necessary. Especially if the body changes that accompany the onset of puberty have begun, it’s normal for your child to become more modest at around this age and to resist intrusion into her bathroom routine. It’s important to so strike a balance between respecting her privacy and making sure that her body is being cleaned effectively.

The precise age at which children are ready to bathe or shower on their own varies from child to child. Often, children will indicate that they are ready for more privacy and would prefer to start washing themselves, but the transition is usually gradual and parents will still need to weigh in with advice or to check that everything has been properly cleansed. Some children, especially girls with long hair, might still require help with shampooing or rinsing out conditioner even after they have mastered washing the rest of their body.

Most children do not need to wash their hair every day. How often your child’s hair needs to be washed will depend on a number of factors, including hair length, whether your child is taking part in sports, and whether the hair is curly or straight.

Although many children do not need to use deodorant before puberty, some may have a strong enough body odor that they should start applying deodorant sooner. Especially if your child is taking part in sports and sweats a lot she may need to start wearing deodorant regularly. Let your nose be your guide.

Many girls start puberty by 10 or even earlier. Talk to your daughter about what to expect when she begins menstruating and teach her the importance of good menstrual hygiene.

Oral hygiene

Your child should see a dentist for regular checkups, just as she sees a pediatrician regularly. Discuss your child’s oral hygiene with her dentist and ask about measures such as fluoride supplements and dental sealants, which protect your child’s teeth against cavities and decay.

By the end of fifth grade, your child will have lost all or most of her baby teeth and maintaining good oral hygiene habits is more important than ever. Tooth decay and cavities are entirely preventable yet remain widespread and affect children in the United States more than any other chronic infectious disease. Untreated dental problems can become infected, causing pain and problems with eating, speaking, and learning.

Your child should be brushing her teeth at least twice a day, and after eating, if possible.

Children should be flossing independently every day by around the age of 10, when their manual dexterity is sufficiently developed.

See a dentist immediately if your child injures a tooth. Dental injuries are common among children through age 14, and if left untreated can result in severe complications.

If your child plays a contact sport, she should wear a mouth guard to protect against dental injury and concussion.

If a child’s permanent tooth becomes dislodged due to an injury, place the tooth in a container of milk and seek dental advice as soon as possible. Permanent teeth can sometimes be re-implanted successfully.

Sleep

Sleep overview

Sleep is fundamental to the development of a healthy child. As your child ages, their schedule will fill up with more homework and extracurricular activities, such as sports. To ensure that they are set up for success at school, it is important to continue to prioritize a good night of sleep. Well-rested children perform better academically, are less susceptible to viral infection, and have lower rates of obesity. Experts say the biggest detractor from a healthy night of sleep for children is technology. The artificial light emitted from computers and mobile-electronic screens can disrupt your child’s sleep cycle and cause their to wake up feeling sluggish. A well-rested child will wake up spontaneously in the morning and will have energy for the entire day. If you notice that they are yawning at inappropriate times, or get reports from school about their hyperactivity and misbehavior, your child is most likely not getting enough sleep. Consult with your child’s health care provider about additional steps you can take to ensure your child gets a more restful night of sleep.

How much sleep?

Fifth grade students need 10 hours of sleep every evening. Students who need to be up at 6 a.m. to get ready for school should go to bed around 8 p.m. Though an 8 p.m. bedtime may seem unattainable to some, experts recommend making sleep a priority by encouraging your child to get as much sleep as possible. The closer they are to getting the recommended amount of sleep, the better.

Learn more about supporting your child with our fifth grade physical health tips and physical activity recommendations pages.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Dr. Jayne Greenberg, District Director, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.