Academic Milestones for 5-Year-Olds: What to Expect and How to Help Your Child Succeed

If you’re a parent wondering what should a 5-year-old know academically, you’re not alone. One of the struggles that comes along with homeschooling is gauging your child’s academic progress and knowing what to focus on. While Kindergarten is only considered mandatory in 19 states, there are definitely some key developmental and learning skills that are important to instill in your child from an early age.

Of course, every child develops at a different pace, so there is no one size fits all answer to this question. With that being said, let’s take a look at the milestones you’ll want to hit and everything your 5-year-old should know academically.

A Note Before We Begin

As parents, it’s pretty much our full-time job to worry about our child’s well-being and whether or not they are on track for their age. My personal advice is try not to get caught up in comparisons. Easier said than done, I know. 

Look, I’m sure your neighbor’s kindergartener is a brainiac that will solve all of the world’s problems before puberty. But that does not mean your child needs to compete with that.

In fact, there is a spectrum when it comes to “normal” learning and development, so don’t worry if your child isn’t mastering EVERY skill for their age group just yet.

Just like anything in life, stress is counterproductive and toxic to the learning environment. So try to be patient and work with your child on improvement, not overnight mastery.

Basic Skills to Foster at Five

First off, let’s cover the basics. 

Disclaimers and mother-to-mother encouragement aside, one of the most important skills to foster with your 5-year-old is growing their sense of independence. This not only helps you in your role as chaos coordinator, but it will boost your child’s confidence and social maturity as well. 

While social maturity is not necessarily an academic skill, it certainly has a profound impact on your child’s ability to flourish academically. It is hard to teach a child who can’t sit still or effectively manage their emotions.

There are so many things you can do to work on your child’s skills in this area, like doing activities that center around problem-solving and cooperation, which can be big stressors in a kindergartener’s day. 

Also, focus on building their attention span and setting them up for success when it comes to following multi-step directions.

And finally, a 5-year-old should be able to memorize their address and phone number, which is not only great for safety reasons, but opens the door to memory-based learning down the road. 

What Math Skills Should A 5-Year-Old Have?

  • Counting to at least 10
  • Addition and Subtraction to 5
  • Simple Patterns
  • Comparisons
  • Time to the Nearest Hour
  • Days of the Week and Months of the Year

So, what about math?

Let’s start with counting. How high should a 5 year old be able to count? There is some disagreement on this, but your child should be able to count to at least 10 and recognize these numbers when written. Some 5 year olds can count to 20 or even 30.

A 5 year old should know how to solve basic addition and subtraction problems within 5, using objects or manipulatives. We love this abacus for helping our children visualize math problems.

But you can totally use everyday objects to bring math to life and keep your kiddo’s interest. Say, for example, you line up 3 hotwheels cars and add 2 more. Ask your child, “You had 3 cars and I added 2 more. How many cars do you have now?” They should be able to answer this question with ease.

Likewise, it is important for your child to understand that the number 10 is a base number made up of smaller numbers. This is a building block that will help immensely as your child begins to tackle more complex math problems in the coming years.

Other important math concepts your 5 year old should know include simple patterns, grouping and sorting, measurement, the idea of “greater than” and “less than”, and identifying 2D shapes.

And finally, a 5 year old should know their days of the week and months of the year, as well as basic concepts of time to the nearest hour.

What Language Skills Should a 5 Year Old Have?

  • Coherent conversations
  • Pronouns
  • Verb tenses
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Letters of the Alphabet and Sounds
  • Some Sight Words
  • Comprehension

By age 5, most children have language skills that allow them to interact well with adults in what I would call a (mostly) coherent conversation. They should be able to speak clearly enough that others can understand what they are saying 90% of the time

That said, your little one is still working on ironing out pronunciation and grammar issues, so keep your journal handy to jot down the funnies as they continue to grow their language skills.

While their vocabulary is still relatively limited, most 5-year-olds can string together ideas using complex sentences to express their feelings, resolve conflict, and initiate conversation.

A 5 year old should know and use appropriate pronouns like me, she, him, her, and them, as well as the correct verb tenses when talking about all things, past, present, and future.

One of the big milestones to hone in on at this point is phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made up of different sounds and syllables, and it really is the foundation of early literacy. 

Of course, your kindergartener should know the letters of the alphabet and what sound each letter makes as they start to identify these sounds in words. Focus on identifying beginning and ending sounds in a word and words that sound the same, like rhyming words.

Now is also a good time to start introducing sight words to your child, with the goal of mastering at least 10 sight words by the end of the year.

Lastly, a 5-year-old should be able to listen attentively to a short story and retell key aspects of the story, with some prompting if necessary. Reading comprehension should be on the rise at this age, as kids are able to dive deeper into the narrative and garner more details from the story.

What Writing Skills Should a 5 Year Old Have?

  • Correct Pencil Grip 
  • Form Uppercase and Lowercase Letters 
  • Leave a Finger Space 
  • Write Numbers 0-9
  • Trace Shapes

Ah, the caveman grip. Okay, it is technically called the palmar grasp, but I am pretty sure our ancient ancestors are smiling down as your toddler scribbles on their paper, saying “that’s how we did it in my day, son.”

At 5, now is the time to start weaning your child from their primitive ways and teach them to hold their pencil correctly. I love this straightforward video on how to guide your child into the right grip, which really makes a big difference in letter formation and penmanship.

While we aren’t looking for perfection, and their handwriting is generally pretty enthusiastic to say the least, your child should be able to form uppercase letters, gradually moving into lowercase letter formation by the end of the year. 

That said, it is important to keep your expectations in check. They won’t always stay within the little lines on the paper, and some of their letters might be flipped, especially b’s and d’s. That’s okay. Practice is key, and your child will continue to strengthen their hand muscles as they progress through the year. 

I love these kindergarten journals that have extra large ruling to help children who are just starting out in the world of handwriting. And, there is a place to draw a picture, so how fun is that.

Although new to the writing arena, your child should have a basic understanding that words are made up of individual letters, and as such, place a finger space in between letter groupings when putting pencil to paper.

Finally, when looking at what should a 5-year-old know academically, your child should know how to write numbers 0-9. They should also be able to trace 2D shapes and other designs, which will help further develop their pencil control.

Final Thoughts on What Should a 5-Year-Old Know Academically

Whew! So, in a nutshell, that is what your child should know. I hope this post has been helpful in answering the question “What should a 5-year-old know academically?” Remember, not every 5-year-old will hit every one of these marks. 

And that’s okay.

Just remember that children learn at different paces, and each have their own strengths and difficulties. Try not to be discouraged or show disappointment when your child is struggling in an area that you feel they should have already mastered. 

Learning is a journey, not a destination. You can help them get there; just be patient, consistent, and above all else, loving in your instruction. You’ve got this!

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One Comment

  1. I NEEDED this article, my son turns 5 in august and is starting kindergarten in September. I work a lot and my wife stays home with purr son. I thought he was up to par in these areas u described. I was wrong and I’ve started to stress out about him being to far behind and I’ve been forcing shapes and numbers on him. Thank you for what you wrote. For me to be patient and that it’s a journey not a destination.

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