The physical, cognitive and socioemotional developmental characters of students in the Primary Grades (1st-3rd)
Strategies we can use in our classroom based off this knowledge
Theories that apply and deepen the understanding of this knowledge
During this stage growth begins to slow down but bone growth in not complete yet. Children in this stage are still working on developing gross and fine motor skills.
Children typically start this stage uncoordinated and clumsy because the large muscle in the legs and arms are better developed then the small muscles used for smaller movements. As children age, their fine motor skills and stamina begins to improve.
Students begin to develop milestones like:
Improved hand eye coordination
Dancing in time with music
Gained strength in big and small muscles
Children in this stage are often full of energy but need frequent, short breaks because they tire quickly.
How to Apply this Knowledge in the Classroom
During long periods of classwork, provide short breaks that incorporate movement. This helps boost student concentration and productivity.
Provide plenty of opportunities for movement and games.
Minimize tasks that require students to copy from the board.
Ask students to use their best handwriting for projects and tests.
As children age changes occur within the brain. During this stage the two hemispheres of the brain begin working together more efficiently.
During this stage a process of remodeling the brain, called pruning, is occurring. This process allows the brain to get rid of the knowledge it doesn’t use to make room for the knowledge it will need and regularly uses.
During this stage children begin to develop the skills needed to reason and think logically.
At the beginning of this stage children often struggle with decision making because they want to do everything at once but as they develop, they begin to start planning ahead.
Children being to look for the reasons behind things ad start asking questions.
Children start to develop a longer attention span and can sit and listen to topics that interest them for up to 45 minutes.
At this stage, children often hold great pride in their work
John Piaget (Constructivism)
Jean Piaget developed a theory about the developmental stages. In his theory he discusses the 4 stages that children go through in their development (sensori-motor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operations).
During this stage of development children begin to move from the pre-operational to the concrete operation in Piaget’s Stages of Development.
This means they go from being egocentric to being able to have the ability to think about how certain actions may affect others.
They also begin to develop an understanding of concrete problems, although they have yet to begin to think abstractly. This means they develop the ability to add, subtract, sort and transform (10 Pennies= 1 Dime) objects.
Piaget also created the theory of constructivism. This theory states that humans are constantly adapting to the environment by organizing the world in ways that can be understood. When we take in new information, we apply it to information that we already know. This means that experiences can affect that way that children develop both cognitively and socioemotionally.
Give students assignments that are open ended and allow them to explore their own interests, but give them clear steps to follow.
Break assignments down to manageable sections.
Display student work.
Include crafts and other hands on activities, that help students grasp abstract concepts, when planning math and science lessons.
If students become actively engaged or interested in a lesson or discussion, go with it if possible.
How to Apply this knowledge to the Classroom
Children often struggle with emotions during this stage of development.
During this stage children are often deal with a variety of emotions such as moodiness, insecurity and shyness because they are still developing self-regulation skills.
During this stage children can be very self-centered and egocentric. Although, as time passes, they begin to develop empathy.
Children begin trying to develop an understanding of who they are during this stage.
Children may change friendships quickly and often spend time with small groups.
As they develop, children begin to enjoy larger friendship groups, and being a part of a team, group or club.
During this stage children can be sensitive to criticism and can be highly motivated by praise.
Vygotsky (Social Constructivism)
Unlike Piaget, Lev Vygotsky focused to the effects of collaboration on cognitive growth. He believed that learning is a social process and we learn through interaction with other people. We then then take the knowledge we gained through the interaction and internalize it.
He believes that assessing a child’s capabilities with the help of a skilled worker, rather than testing what he or she already knows, is a much better indicator of a child’s cognitive ability.
His theories have caused the creation of an educational strategy called collaborative learning. This strategy allows a group of students, who have different abilities, to work together towards a common goal.
How to Apply this Knowledge to the Classroom
Show understanding of students. They may be going through an emotional high or low, and teacher understanding is important for their self-esteem. If they are feeling down, try to have a one on one conversation with them or leave them a note letting the know that their feelings are valid.
Provide students with the choice to do projects as an individual, partner or small group.
Provide quiet spaces for them to work and read.
Change groups to allow students to get to know other classmates.
Although this presentation was created to give an overview of the development of first through third grade students, it is important for educators to understand that all students learn differently. As a result of the complex process of development, no two children will develop at the same rate or in the same way. Also, different areas within a child may to develop at different rates. This means that a child’s physical characteristics may be more developed then their cognitive or vice versa.
This is why it is important for educators to base their lessons after the needs of their current students, and to provide students with a variety of learning opportunities. By differentiating your instruction, you are allowing students to learn in a way that is comfortable to them.
All students are Different (Differentiated Instruction)
Poverty is a chronic stress for children and families across the world. Children who are raised in low income household have to deal with physical, social, emotional and academic problems.
Children from low income homes often lack nutrition. Eating nutritious food is important for the healthy development of bones, muscles and the brain. When students experience poor nutrition they struggle with listening, concentrating and learning.
Students from low-income homes also struggle with hope and motivation, which causes them to have a hard time achieving at school. They believe they can’t perform well so they don’t try.
Teachers ca help low income students by strengthening their relationship with students and providing lots of praise. Teach students that their brains can change and grow, and that they can do this succeed at school.
Poverty and its effects of Child Development
Why is This Important?
Having knowledge and understanding the characteristics of your students as they develop, allows you to create the most effective lessons possible. The lessons you create for Kindergarteners would looks very different then those created for a 5th grade student. This information will allow you to effectively set up and manage a 1st-3rd grade classroom and will give you the opportunity to become a better teacher.
I created this presentation for teachers to learn about the development of their students so that they can use it while creating their lessons. The understanding of students’ physical, cognitive and socioemotional development stages allows teacher to create developmentally appropriate lessons for their class.
Who was this presentation created for?
Anderson, M. (2011). Knowing Third Graders. In What Every 3rd Grade Teacher Should Know. MA: Northeast Foundation for
Engle, P. L. and Black, M. M. (2008), The Effect of Poverty on Child Development and Educational Outcomes. Annals of the New York
Academy of Sciences, 1136: 243-256. doi:10.1196/annals.1425.023
Jensen, E. (2013). How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement. Educational Leadership. Levine, L. E., & Munsch, J. (2018). Child
development: An Active Learning Approach. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Morin, A. (n.d.). Developmental Milestones for Typical Second and Third Graders. Retrieved from