View of a child (approximately 5-years-old) running in a grassy green field. The child is wearing a yellow hat, red shirt and shoes, and black shorts.

Physical Milestones for 5-year-olds: How Parents Can Help Kids Learn Outdoors

Updated December 2022

For many families, age 5 feels like a huge transition from toddlerhood to “big kid” status. Children this age are still learning and developing at an incredible rate. However, they’ve moved beyond some of the toddler milestones like walking or saying their first words. 5-year-olds have a bit more finesse.

Today’s post reviews physical developmental milestones for 5-year-olds. These are skills that many kids learn to do at around age 5. Every child is unique, of course. As I’ve mentioned previously, I share these milestones so that we parents can help create time, space, and opportunity for our children to explore what they can do. (I covered milestones for 18-month-olds in this post).

It’s often enough to simply play outside.

If you’re worried about your child’s development, please discuss with their doctor.

Below, we’ll list both fine motor (small muscle) and gross motor (large muscle) skills. Almost all of these can be achieved outdoors. In other words, if children play outside enough with just a few tools, many can develop these skills.

In February 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their list of developmental milestones. The newer list does not include many that I’ll list below. The CDC chose milestones that have sufficient published evidence behind them.

However, in this post I’ll include a few more that pediatricians may keep their eyes on. As always, information from here or the CDC cannot diagnose a developmental delay. Sometimes it’s just helpful for parents to know where to encourage their kids.

For example, if many 5-year-olds are recognizing letters and numbers, it’s a great idea for parents to expose their kids to letters and numbers, even if it’s just by reading a book, and pointing out some letters.

Gross Motor Physical Milestones for 5-year-olds

With gross motor skills, we think of using the large muscles of the body, like the core (back and trunk) as well as arms and legs. Balance plays a big role.

(This post reviews gross motor skills for infants).

Hop on one foot.

This is one of the milestones still included on the CDC’s updated list of developmental milestones for 5-year-olds. A 5-year-old child may be able to hop on one foot.

Some kids are also able to skip with alternating feet. This is the perfect example of spending time outside to allow 5-year-olds to develop these skills naturally. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting my children to practice hopping outside on the grass instead of near a coffee table.

The remainder of the gross motor (large muscle) milestones listed here are not on the CDC’s current list.

Stand on one foot.

When I saw children in the clinic for their 5-year-old check up, some were eager to show off all their developmental milestones. They proudly stood on one foot, trying not to wobble. This was the moment when I think we all wanted to venture outdoors for more practice.

Ironically, an indoor clinic is not the best place to evaluate physical milestones for 5-year-olds.

This “milestone” showcases balance, coordination, leg strength, and core strength. When kids are older, some of these same things are evaluated with a duck walk.


Many 5-year-olds are able to somersault. (This was on the CDC’s list in the past, but is no longer). Why isn’t it more common at younger ages? There is a certain amount of planning and body control needed in order to place one’s hands and head on the ground, curve the body and flip the legs over. All without falling to the side. Grass is again a perfect place to practice.

Swing and climb.

Swinging and climbing are examples of physical milestones for 5-year-olds that require certain equipment or tools. Most playgrounds and many trees are perfect for this! Mastering this indoors requires a much more specialized setting.

Walk backwards.

Walking backwards starts at younger ages, often with a lot more hesitance. By age 5, children can navigate walking backwards with more confidence and precision.

Fine Motor Physical Milestones for 5-year-olds

Fine motor skills focus on coordination with the hands and fingers. Many of these skills involve specific “tools,” like a writing utensil or a spoon. We can’t expect a child to see a specific tool for the first time at age 5 and know how to use it. Knowing these milestones is an invitation to introduce tools at younger ages. This way they can safely explore.

At younger ages, there’s no expectation for any kind of mastery. Also, many of these skills overlap with cognitive development. If a child struggles to print their name, it may not just be due to finger coordination, for example.

How to achieve these outside? Kids can draw with chalk or drag a stick through dirt or sand. Some experts believe there’s extra benefit to going beyond pen and paper. More neural feedback from drawing on a rougher surface (chalk on a sidewalk for example) may help the brain learn.

Print some letters.

5-year-olds may write some of the letters in their name and name several letters when they’re pointed out.

Before a child can print letters in their name, they need a lot of exposure to letters and words. This can start in infancy! Reading to young babies is the perfect introduction. As they get older, pointing out words and letters in everyday life adds to this exposure.

When they’re ready and show interest, they can start tracing until they attempt to write. It does not have to be textbook perfect to “count.” The lines themselves may not be exactly straight or proportionate. And, it’s common for lowercase b and d to be confused with each other until age 7, for example.

So, we can see that this physical milestone for 5 year-olds is also cognitive. It demonstrates some dexterity, but also a lot of thought, planning, background knowledge and persistence.

(The updated CDC list no longer includes writing numbers, but does expect children to be able to name some numbers to which someone points).

Button buttons.

A child is expected to be able to button and unbutton a few buttons. This one definitely requires practice and patience. I suggest parents allow some extra time as their child gets dressed in order to give them a chance to figure out buttons.

The rest of the milestones listed here in this post are no longer on the CDC list, meaning their may be less evidence behind them.

I’ll keep them here in order to give parents a general idea of what pediatricians may watch for. And, again, it gives a general idea of what tools to have available.

Drawing milestones can vary. So, I can’t emphasize enough that any developmental concerns should be discussed with a child’s pediatrician.

Draw a person with 6 or more body parts.

There’s a drawing leap from age 4 to 5. At some point, 5 year-olds may start adding a trunk to their drawn figures. I think fondly of the 4 year-olds who draw arms and legs sprouting from a head.

a line drawing demonstrating 4 year old developmental milestone. the drawing is a figure with a head, 2 dots for eyes and a smile. There are 2 lines representing legs extending from the head.
This is more typical of a drawing by a young 4-year-old. There is no trunk. The limbs extend from the head.
a line drawing demonstrating 5 year old developmental milestone. the drawing is a figure with a head, complete with eyes, nose and mouth. The figure has a trunk and 2 arms and 2 legs extending from the trunk.
This has many elements of a drawing typical for 5 year-olds. Note the inclusion of a trunk or “tummy,” (as the artist described it).

Copy a triangle.

By age 5 most kids can copy a square, and sometime before age 6, they may also be able to copy a triangle. Again, chalk or scratching in the sand is a fine introduction. (Knowing shapes is part of a separate cognitive set of milestones).

Use a fork and spoon.

Some children can also start to use a table knife. Many others may be ready to prepare a small bowl of food, like cereal. For the outdoors, picnics are lovely for all things fine motor skills. Beforehand, children can help prepare the food with proper utensils and dishes

Use the toilet.

Using a toilet may be the only motor milestone that takes place mostly indoors. That being said, spending time out and about is easier when a child is comfortable using a public bathroom.

Technically, it includes both fine and gross motor skills.

Many kids still need help in the bathroom at this age, and I think it’s a great idea to help them stay clean. Parent involvement can be key in preventing irritation of the genitalia, especially in girls. That being said, this is a great age to start to teach the many steps of using a bathroom independently. This includes handwashing afterwards.

Summary: 5-year-olds can achieve most developmental milestones by spending time with an interested adult and playing outside.

Whether swinging, hopping, or attempting to write, a 5-year-old can learn most things through play. One of the most important things they need is free time outside to experiment moving their body. Children learn at their own pace. Parents can help by providing time in an open area, ideally outside. If there’s something to climb or swing, it’s even better.

Some fine motor skills require a bit more exposure to shapes and letters. This can be done with reading and conversation anywhere. When it comes time to write, there are many options, including chalk. With enough exposure and time, most will grow up learning just what they need.

Maya M. Mahmood, D.O., FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.

Disclaimer: This post is for information only. No medical advice. See full disclosure here.

text: your child at age 5: developmental milestones (almost) all achievable outdoors. text overlies an image of a young child, about age 5, in a swing outside

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