Field Observation: Development in Middle Childhood


In the United States, thirty-nine percent of the population comprise of children aged five to eleven (Kids Count Data Center, 2011). Furthermore, twenty-three percent of all children are of immigrant families. Hence, it is critical to examine this population especially in terms of how it is developing. In the case presented here, I have chosen to observe an eleven-year-old girl (here pseudonymously referred to as Danielle) born to Vietnamese immigrants. Her parents are divorced and she mainly lives with her mother. There are 4,195,505 eleven-year-olds in the U.S. alone, four percent of children in the U.S. are Asian, and thirty-four percent of all children live in single-parent families (Kids Count Data Center, 2011). In light of this, Danielle’s physical, cognitive, emotional, cultural, and social dimensions are to be examined and appropriate educational approaches suggested.

When I first arrived at her father’s house where she was staying for a week, she was evidently upbeat and hyperactive as she was jumping up and down, smiling, and flapping her legs when she sat down, telling me that she’s happy. This may be a result of her speedy physical and motor development. In middle childhood, increases in strength, height, weight, balance, and coordination are dramatic and children are eager to put their motor skills to use (Lightfoot, Cole, & Cole, 2012). Despite rising obesity rates and Danielle telling me that she eats a lot and spent the day on the computer, and having eaten Cheetos earlier, she is very thin and relatively healthy physically.

Without even being asked, Danielle said that she cannot relate to her peers because they are already dating and tell her she’s too childish. This is an instance of social comparison in which she defines herself in relation to her peers and her self-concept is in contrast to those around her (Lightfoot, Cole, & Cole, 2012). However, she also proudly reports that she earned three B’s and one A in her classes. According to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, during middle childhood children begin to face the challenge of “industry versus inferiority” vis-à-vis their identity. In other words, children learn to identify themselves as competent or inadequate. Hence, regardless of her social life at school, where she may be categorized as a “neglected child” (neither liked nor disliked by her peers), at least in regards to academics Danielle views herself as fairly competent and has high self-esteem in that area. She is also socially competent at home in her use of respectful language, usually in Vietnamese as opposed to her regular use of English, when speaking to her father and stepmother. Her father also allows her to be more independent in light of her maturing.

Socially, she was highly talkative, spoke very quickly, and leaped from subject to subject. Thus, she displayed slight resemblance to what Piaget called “collective monologues” where children talk without taking into account others’ responses due to egocentrism (Lightfoot, Cole, & Cole, 2012). Of course, she was also capable of “true dialogue” in which she would respond to my questions and comments. In fact, she was inquisitive and curious as to what I was jotting down on my notepad.

Afterwards, Danielle’s half-sister invited me to play a video game with her and when Danielle requested to play with us her half-sister denied. Then Danielle threw a histrionic fit and her half-sister let her play while half-heartedly demanding five dollars. In a few moments they moved on and played as if nothing had happened. When we played and Danielle lost, she would again throw a fit and then return to her even state. This may be due to her perspective-taking skills, that is, the ability to define a problem, seek alternatives, choose how to respond, and evaluate results (Bengtsson & Arvidsson, 2011). However, when she noticed that I kept losing she told me to do better, demonstrating not hypercompetitiveness but nonhostile social comparison, i.e. she simply wants to see how she measures up (Lightfoot, Cole, & Cole, 2012).

Considering increasing myelination, especially in the frontal cortex, synaptic pruning, alpha brain activity, and synchronization of neural activity in middle childhood, it is no wonder that Danielle was eager to explore and experiment with every aspect of the game, from selecting her username to choosing the color of her character. If she did not know how to do something she would ask or imitate her half-sister, a gap where learning takes place which Vygotsky called the “zone of proximal development” (Lightfoot, Cole, & Cole, 2012). As she maneuvered the character with the controller, it was obvious she had mastered the concrete operational stage in Piaget’s development model, and even more so when we later played the card game Uno. She understood the different categories and subcategories of cards (a feature of “decentration”), that separating the cards into different piles does not change the total number of cards (a feature of “conservation”), that one can reorder the cards after the deck has been shuffled (a feature of “reversibility”), and, of course, how to play rule-based games. In addition, she could plan several steps ahead in attempting to achieve the objective of eliminating all her cards, such as by placing down a yellow “skip” card so she could then put down another yellow card. Such ability to plan ahead is exhibited during middle childhood (Lightfoot, Cole, & Cole, 2012).

Regarding moral development, I asked Danielle if she knew the difference between right and wrong, specifically whether killing someone is justifiable. She said it is wrong to kill someone, as anticipated, and I followed up by asking why it is wrong. She first replied saying that if people killed each other the world would “run out of humans.” Noticing that her half-sister was chuckling she adjusted her answer and said that “everyone deserves to live.” I pried further and posed the question of what to do if the person had hurt someone she cared about. She told me there are other ways to obtain retribution that doesn’t involve killing, such as calling the police. Thus, she illustrates postconventional morality, specifically Stage 5 – social-contract reasoning – of Kohlberg’s Six Moral Stages. Thus, morality for her is not externally imposed nor self-centered but involves others’ values and rights.

Considering that Danielle will be in the sixth grade this Fall and has no apparent learning disability, I would recommend reciprocal teaching (where teachers and students interact and take turns reading, which studies have shown to be highly effective), both a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach (that is, teaching the basics and encouraging students to accomplish meaningful tasks), and incorporating creativity in the form of “playworld practice,” such as by acting out children’s stories. What should be avoided is heavy reliance on instructional discourse which includes the teacher asking a question which s/he knows the answer to and is testing the student. Although instructional discourse is useful and important, it could lead to passive, rather than active, learning.

In concluding, Danielle, as an eleven-year-old Asian-American girl born to immigrants and living in a single-parent household, appears to be relatively healthy developmentally although her relations with family and peers could improve. If it is true that the children are the future, and if we care about either, then we as adults ought to ensure that children are not alienated so they have the chance at a happy childhood and develop adequately.


Bengtsson, H., & Arvidsson, Å. (2011). The Impact of Developing Social Perspective-taking Skills on Emotionality in Middle and Late Childhood. Social Development, 20(2), 353-375.

Kids Count Data Center. (2011). Data Across States. Retrieved from

Lightfoot, C., Cole, M., & Cole, S. R. (2012). The Development of Children (7th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

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