The Year Ahead: Age 5

Your baby is heading off to kindergarten this year -- where did the time go? There's more excitement on the horizon. Here's some of what lies ahead.

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    Physical Development

    "Physical development consists of both gross motor (GM) and fine motor (FM) development," says Cheryl Wu, M.D., of LaGuardia Place Pediatrics in New York City. "And while every child develops at their own pace, there are certain milestones I expect most of my patients (90 to 95 percent) to achieve by their fifth birthday." By age 5, a child can do most of the gross motor skills; she can jump high, run, climb well, and start to do more advanced movements like ballet or gymnastics or karate. A 5-year-old can draw a triangle and write her own name, and usually has a preferred handedness by now. (Some children still remain ambidextrous at this age.)

    You'll be preparing your child for kindergarten now. "Most teachers want kindergarteners to know how to hold a pencil correctly and to be able to use safety scissors, and those are tasks a parent can practice at home," says Brenda Rogers, M.D., a general pediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, MO. Even though children this age are developing better coordination, they still need our oversight to avoid serious injuries.

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    Behavior

    Your 5-year-old is comfortable with a little more independence, which means she enjoys being around other family members and friends more. Your child is all about testing boundaries and might even demand to do things on her own. Some you should encourage (making her own bed -- don't worry if it's not perfect) and some you need to stand firm on (bathing alone).

    With your child starting (or about to start) kindergarten, pay attention to her ability to follow direction and get along with others, says Carl Sheperis, Ph.D., the director of doctoral programs for Walden University's School of Counseling and Social Service. "If you see your child becoming more aggressive or oppositional once she starts school, figure out the reasons behind the behavior now. It is much easier to address any behavioral issues now than it will be in the teen years." It's important to reinforce good behavior through praise, and to set clear limits so that your child knows what to expect. If your child has some homework, ask if she'd like to do it right away when she gets home or if she'd rather unwind for 30 minutes before starting it. Chances are, she'll choose the latter, but once those 30 minutes are up, remain firm.

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    Language

    A child has mastered speech sounds and people should understand what he is saying to them. "A 5-year-old will have a pretty vast vocabulary," says Lauren Krause, Chief of Speech-Language Pathology at La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago, IL. "If you're still concerned and counting how many words he can say, then that is a clear sign of a delay."

    Your child is able to express himself more clearly; he's able to give explanations, retell stories, and put together sentences to make himself understood. "Kindergartners are also starting the reading process, so it's important to continue to read to your child and work on his own reading capabilities," says Krause. A slight lisp at this age is normal, but if it persists beyond age 6, you should talk to your pediatrician about the possibility of speech therapy.

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    Health

    Your child is (or will be) entering kindergarten, so it's important that he is up-to-date on all of the required immunizations. Every state has its own standards, but your child's pediatrician should guide you. After the doctor checks to see if any vaccinations are needed, your child will be weighed and measured. A 5-year-old typically gains about four pounds and grows about two inches during the year. There will also be vision and hearing tests performed, as well as a tuberculosis test and a blood test for lead poisoning. Your doctor will ask your child some questions to see how his speech is progressing, if there is any sign of a delay or impediment, and how the gross and fine motor skills are developing on track.

    Your little one might also be playing sports now, and there is a potential for dental injury. If your child's tooth is chipped, broken, or knocked out, contact your pediatric dentist immediately. This can save the tooth and prevent infection. If the tooth is knocked out, rinse it off with cool water and, if possible, replace it in the socket immediately (hold it there with clean gauze if necessary). If you can't put it back, place it in a container with cold milk, water, or saliva. Then head to the dentist. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, baby teeth should not be replanted because of the potential for subsequent damage to the developing permanent tooth. '

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    Nutrition

    Portion sizes don't change from the previous year: He can handle adult portions, but keep them manageable and keep snacking to a minimal. "Kids this age have a tendency to fill up on snacks, which interferes with mealtime," says Amy Marlow, a New York-based registered dietician and certified nutritionist serving as an advisor for Happy Family, the nation's leading premium organic baby and toddler food maker. "Kids should be eating three meals a day, along with two healthy snacks."

    Expand your child's horizons when it comes to trying new foods. If he eats lunch at school, he might not be getting much variety, so it's important to make the most of the meals served at home. Be sure to limit foods high in fat and sugar, and concentrate on serving fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. "You want to choose different foods for them to try," says Marlow. "If they don't want to try it at first, don't give up. When they're hungry, they will eat what's in front of them -- even the healthy stuff!" Establish a family mealtime so that your child considers eating well a fun activity.

  • Heather Weston

    Sleep

    Once your child turns 5, he'll be sleeping about 11 hours each night. Although he's not napping anymore, quiet time in the late afternoon is still beneficial. Whether he sits with some books or lies down quietly, be sure he gets some time to rest, says Kim West, LCSW-C, aka The Sleep Lady. "This will help avoid any meltdowns before dinner."

    Get your child up somewhere between 6 A.M. and 7:30 A.M., depending on what time school starts. Many parents deal with kids who are waking up too early, a habit that West says you should nip in the bud. "Anything before 6 A.M. is too early," she says. "Some parents will let their child get up too early as long as the child will sit quietly and watch TV. But waking up too early in the morning can affect the rest of his day, and he'll be exhausted when he's in school."

    A common complaint from elementary school teachers is that students are too tired in class. "Lack of sleep affects their learning and memory abilities, so it's important that they get enough sleep." If your child is an early riser, it probably means that he's going to sleep too late at night. "Adjust your child's exact bedtime and wake-up time to coincide with your family schedule and his school-start time," says West.

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    Social Development

    By age 5, children are socially interactive and communicative. They can follow simple games with rules and begin to enjoy board games. The biggest milestone for this age is going to kindergarten. "This can be a huge adjustment socially and even the most gregarious child may feel shy and reticent," says Jessica Mercer Young, Ph.D., a research scientist at Education Development Center in Newton, MA. "Having your child spend time in the new classroom, meeting the teacher, talking about the transition, reading books about going to kindergarten, and setting up playdates or opportunities to meet other children before school starts are all very helpful."

    Dr. Young suggests that once school starts, set up a playdate with someone that your child has expressed an interest in getting to know, and help foster the relationship. "Having one good friend in kindergarten can make the transition to school easier for all," she says.

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    Education

    The sky's the limit as to what your child will be learning. Many of the lessons (letters, numbers, colors) are subjects she might have already mastered in preschool. She'll start writing upper and lowercase letters and, eventually, words, her name, address, and phone number. Kindergartners learn how to match the sound to each letter; identify, draw, cut, and name shapes; classify and group objects according to characteristics; and use their five senses to identify items.

    Your child will begin learning to read, which can be a daunting task for both parent and child. How can you help them? Increase their vocabulary, says Susan Cooper, M.Ed., early child development expert at www.appliedscholastics.org. "This doesn't mean sitting with a dictionary and memorizing words. What it means is learning new words, using the new words, and seeing the new words. When parents go into a grocery store with their children, make it a learning experience by showing what unusual fruits and vegetables are there and using the new words in conversation. The new words will show up in some reading assignment and your child will know what the word means. The more words a child knows, the easier reading becomes."

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    Challenges

    "When my son turned 5, we noticed a start of constant whining when he doesn't get his way, he's bored, etc.," says Denise Dorman of Chicago, IL. "We punished that whiny style of speaking as soon as my son started using it by taking away things he wanted, like his Legos. But he still whines a lot."

    The Solution: Ignore it

    "Explain to your child that if he continues to whine, he doesn't get what he wants, and that you're not even going to acknowledge him," says Dr. Sheperis. "The next time he whines, ignore it. He's looking for a reaction from you -- even if it's negative -- so if you don't give him one, he'll eventually stop. I was once on a road trip with my kids, and they would not stop whining about how long it was taking and kept asking the dreaded 'Are we there yet?' over and over. I refused to respond. When they stopped whining and stared behaving, I answered their questions."

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    Make the Most of It

    Even though your child is in school now, you should still use playtime as learning time, says Dr. Rogers. "Encourage them to point out letters when you see a sign at the park ('Can you find an 'A' on the sign?'). Identify colors at the grocery store. Sing songs together. I used to sing the 'ABC' song with my daughters when we brushed our teeth because it is fun to learn and is just the right length for brushing time, too. You can use the same song when washing hands. Count dogs at the park. Read, read, read, and then read some more to your child. They love it, they learn from it, and you get to ask questions to stimulate their imaginations."

    Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.