9- to 11-year-olds: Ages and stages of youth development

Understanding the different stages of youth development supports youth programming efforts as it encourages relationship building between youth and adult volunteers

Understanding the youth development is a powerful tool in establishing relationships with youth. In a previous article, we examined the age bracket of 6- to 8-year-olds, looking at their physical, social, emotional and intellectual development.

For a point of reference, physical development refers to the growth of the body and development of motor skills. Social development is the interaction between children and their ability to function in social settings. Emotional development looks at how youth handle their feelings and express them. Finally, intellectual development is all about how individuals learn.

As we move into the 9- to 11-year-old age bracket, youth’s physical development is starting to move to the forefront. They will experience growth spurts at different rates that moves them towards adolescence. Typically girls will begin to grow and mature faster than boys during this time period.

Providing active learning experiences is helpful during this time. Hands-on events or activities where they are up and moving – not limited only to sitting and listening – is best. Youth at this age are also developing a more competitive nature between boys and girls. Try to avoid activities that create competition between gender groups. Choose activities that mix boys and girls together in group on an even playing field.

Nine- to 11-year-olds are developing in the following ways, outlined below: 


  • They experience a steady increase in large muscle development, strength, balance and coordination
  • They are very active, with a lot of energy
  • There will be different maturation rates between the sexes; girls will tend to mature faster than boys
  • They will experience an increase in small muscle coordination


  • They generally see adults as authority
  • They follow rules out of respect for authority
  • They are loyal to groups, clubs, gangs, etc.
  • They enjoy code languages and passwords
  • They identify with individuals of the same gender
  • They prefer to work in groups in cooperative activities
  • They approach solving problems with a negotiating style, compromising with peers


  • They are accepting parent/family beliefs
  • They admire and imitate older youth
  • They are developing decision-making skills
  • They are beginning to question authority
  • They need involvement with caring adult
  • They find comparisons with others difficult to process


  • Their academic abilities vary greatly
  • They have an increased attention span, but many have interests which change rapidly
  • They are learning to use good judgment
  • They judge ideas in absolutes, right or wrong not much tolerance for middle ground
  • They have interests in collections and hobbies


The implications of developing programs or interacting with 9- to 11-year-olds:


  • Plan activities that allow them to move about
  • Vary activities – don’t rely solely on sports, general physical activities are important as well
  • Avoid competitions between genders


  • Clarify and enforce reasonable limits
  • Plan plenty of time to be with individuals from their same gender
  • Group activities are important


  • Provide correction quietly – one-on-one
  • Give positive feedback and look for successes
  • Avoid generalized praise
  • Be present at group activities, be visible but be in the background
  • Provide safety net of an adult that will maintain boundaries


  • Youth in this age bracket still very much enjoy “hands-on” activities
  • Help youth form groups/clubs with common interests or hobbies
  • Vary the activities offered to engage rapidly changing interests

4-H Clubs sponsored through Michigan State University Extension are an ideal way to offer mixed gender activities in a safe, environment not focusing on competitions between genders. For further information regarding the growth and development of 9 – 11 year olds, contact a MSU Extension educator in your area. The next article in the series will explore the early teen years.

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