Late Childhood Physical Development

Physical growth during late childhood occurs faster than at any other time since infancy. Preteens tend to form a gang spirit based on a strong need to be accepted in a group, whether it's in team sports or in other after-school activities. Many older children in late elementary and early middle school find it hard to adjust to their changing bodies and may feel self-conscious, fearful that everyone is staring at them. That's why it's important for parents to be available to talk to their preteens about any questions troubling them.

Preteen Years

Late childhood is considered to encompass ages 9 through 12, approximately. Other terms linked with late childhood are "puberty" and "preteen." "Tween" or "tweenager" also are names for older children who are transitioning from childhood to adolescence.

Although most children experience puberty between the ages of 9 and 12, some can start before age 9. On the other hand, there are some children who are late bloomers, not reaching puberty until age 13 or even later. If children are either early or late in going through puberty, it's important for parents to reassure their children that there isn't anything wrong with them.

Physical Needs and Challenges

Because they're growing, preteens have a huge appetite and always seem to be hungry. Preteens have a greater need for sleep and may sleep later on weekends than when they were younger. Their skin starts to become oily, and acne may be a problem. As sweating increases, most preteens start using deodorant. Also, because of rapid growth, preteens can be clumsy and lack coordination.

Physical Skills

Many older children enjoy physical challenges in competitive games. By fourth grade children are more physically coordinated, able to kick, bounce, throw and catch balls. They can perform various rhythmic movements while following a pattern, as in line dancing. Fifth-graders expand on the self-initiation movements introduced to them in the fourth grade. Children this age can do many different combinations of movements, while adjusting to a flowing game-like setting. They should be able to perform in all the areas of fitness with some proficiency, exhibiting skills such as:

  • balance
  • coordination
  • speed
  • power
  • reaction time

Sexual Development of Preteen Boys

Preteen boys go through rapid growth spurts in both height and weight. Their muscles start filling out and strength dramatically increases. The voice deepens and both underarm and pubic hair begin to appear and then thicken. Overall body hair also increases. Sexual organs including the penis, testes and scrotum enlarge, and preteen boys often experience their first nocturnal emissions.

Sexual Development of Preteen Girls

Although preteen girls continue to grow taller, they do so at a slower rate than earlier in their lives. Breast development begins 12. Most preteen girls experience their first menstrual period during this time, with ovulation becoming established so pregnancy is possible. Underarm hair develops and thickens. Pubic hair starts to take on an adult triangular pattern. Preteen girls notice their hips start to widen. Fat deposits develop on the legs and buttocks.