The schoolchild – Physical development

The years from age six through to the start of adolescence are physically a time of consolidation. A school-aged child’s bodily development is steady rather than dramatic: he or she gradually becomes taller, heavier, stronger and better co-ordinated. Physical development is generally overshadowed by the demands placed on the child by full-time, formal schooling.

The term ‘schoolchild’ is strongly connected to the institution ‘school’, which in this context means the primary school which children attend nowadays. But this does not imply that the development children undergo during this period only occurs in those societies where children do go to school. Not only the physical growth characteristic of this age level, but also typical developments of an emotional, social and moral sense most likely occur in all children.

Growth

Whereas the pre-school years are a time of rapid growth and development, the middle years of childhood are a time of less spectacular change. Until puberty intervenes, the average annual gain in height is about 6cm and in weight about 2.6kg. There is a wide variation in the size of normal children, and most of the differences in size result from hereditary factors. The best way for parents to monitor their child’s growth is by height rather than weight. Regular measurements of height are made as part of each child’s annual health check-up at school; if these show that a child’s height is outside the normal range for his or her age, parents should consult their doctor in case a growth disorder is responsible.

Teeth

Furthermore, during schooldays, the first set of teeth is replaced by a second, permanent set. This change begins sooner with girls than with boys. The first molars and incisors usually break through between the age of six and eight years, the second incisors between seven and nine years, the canines between nine and twelve years, the premolars between ten and twelve years, and the second or true molars between eleven and thirteen years old. The wisdom teeth are last to be cut. Sometimes, however, these rearmost molars fail to break through at all.

Physical achievement

The motor co-ordination of school-age children becomes increasingly precise. They become stronger and more flexible, agile and co-ordinated; most of their games reflect this. Their balance improves: they can manage a bicycle, walk along the top of a wall. Their hand-eye co-ordination improves: ball games are part of every playground repertoire. At the age of seven a boy can throw a ball about 10 metres. He can throw it twice as far and more accurately by the age of 10, and three times as far by the time he is 12.

Difficulties of hearing and vision

The start of full-time schooling may bring to light physical disorders that have hitherto passed unnoticed. In the home environment deficiencies in hearing or sight are not as likely to be brought to the attention of parents, who are probably more concerned with their child’s emotional well-being than with his or her education. Once the child leaves nursery school and attends primary school, however, the demands made on him or her to pay attention to lessons and to read from a blackboard increase dramatically. Some children are unjustly labelled as being slow learners when, in fact, they are having difficulty in hearing what is being said or in seeing what is being written by the teacher at the front of the class. For this reason, most primary schools give their pupils a hearing test and an eye test in their first year. Parents may find that their son or daughter needs treatment for an ear disorder or needs to wear glasses.