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 Stages of Girl Development

by Stephanie Lingwood

Working with younger girls can be thrilling, tiring, fun, and challenging –- sometimes all at once! Then, just when you think you know what you’re doing, the girls change.

The changes girls go through from Kindergarten through grade 5 are remarkable. There is incredible variety in skill, ability, and thought processes between girls of different grades – even between girls of the same age! While it can be challenging to keep up with girls’ rapid changes, it is also incredibly rewarding to see girls change and grow right before your eyes.

As with any child, the key for adults is patience. Girls take longer to do things than adults; tying shoes, planning meetings, and learning new skills seems to take forever. It can be tempting to just take over and do it for them! However, the best thing adults can do is allow girls the time to try and practice new things. In the end, this practice time helps girls develop into successful and independent adults.

Girls in Kindergarten-Grade 1
Girls in this age group vary widely in motor and social skills. Expect to help with tasks like using scissors, tying, reading and writing, and to be called in as a referee when girls think rules have been broken. They are keen observers (and imitators) of adult behavior, and expect adults to follow the rules as well.

Defining Moment: Starting school
Tips for Adults: Girls are proud to share their experiences and what they’ve learned. Give them opportunities to use their newly-developed skills, plus plenty of time to play and have fun.

Self Image: Exploring human relationships: rules, being "fair", being a good friend
Tips for Adults: Be consistent with rules; choose a few that matter and stick to them. Guide them in making up rules for the group, a game, or other activity. Be specific with instructions, and give instructions one at a time. Consistently use rituals like opening/closing ceremonies to help girls settle into a routine.

Pressures: Wanting to learn and try everything
Tips for Adults: Provide a wide variety of activities. Outdoor exploration, art, take action projects and science are all good choices. Expect that they may not be able to – or want to – finish everything they begin.

Activity Interests: Large-motor activities (like being outdoors, painting on easels)
Tips for Adults: Use games as a way to teach; incorporate time to play games, run around and sing songs that have motions. Have girls draw pictures to record thoughts or ideas. They like projects where they can touch, see, and do: try planting a garden, sculpting clay, or playing "let's pretend."

Girls in Grades 2-3
In grades 2-3, girls are gaining independence. Girls want to help plan activities. They also have an increased attention span and want ample time to finish what they begin.

Defining Moments: Getting bigger, stronger, and developing fine-motor skills
Tips for Adults: Girls like to try building things, and can count and understand time and distance. Teach them how to use simple tools. Provide opportunities to take day trips, overnights and try new sports/games.

Self Image: Spending more time with their peer group, especially girls
Tips for Adults: Girls are generally enthusiastic about Girl Scouts at this age, since it gives them a "girl-only" space. Give them lots of chances to team up with other girls during activities; they often like to meet girls from other groups as well.

Pressures: Desire for more independence and control, as well as more emotional and physical space from adults
Tips for Adults: Include girls in setting rules. Make a "kaper chart" that lists all the parts of your meeting – arrival activity, opening ceremony, business, activity, snack, clean-up, closing – and have girls rotate responsibility for each. (You’ll still need to help and guide them!) They still like clear directions and structure, so keep up rituals like ceremonies and give directions only one or two at a time.

Activity Interests: Love to be physically active – preferably in groups – and playact
Tips for Adults: Provide lots of opportunities for active play – if you can go outside, even better! They love to investigate, ask questions, and help others, so simple science activities and projects that benefit the community are great choices.

Girls in Grades 4-5
By grades 4-5, girls have developed a fair amount of independence; they like to make decisions, plan activities, and share their opinions. With guidance and time, girls in these grades are capable of planning meetings and trips, budgeting, setting the direction of their group and managing conflicts.

Defining Moments: Are more perceptive of conflict, right/wrong, and inequities.
Tips for Adults: Provide time and space to help them work out conflicts. Try using a “talking object” (the person holding a given object is the only one who can speak; everyone else must listen); having girls create their group’s rules in the beginning helps greatly when addressing conflicts.

Self Image: Like to please their peers and adults
Tips for Adults: Girls will meet high expectations you set for them. Be careful, though - unrealistic perfectionism can cripple girls this age, and they are often sensitive to criticism.

Pressures: Desire for a feeling of belonging with other girls
Tips for Adults: Give girls lots of chances to work as a team. Encourage girls to be themselves, and celebrate their differences. Bullying starts to be an issue at this age, so address any bullying behavior early. Let girls who are bullying know (privately) that bullying behavior is unacceptable; check in with bullied girls to see how you can help.

Activity Interests: Like to develop their talents and explore different activities
Tips for Adults: Help them plan adventures – a weekend at camp, a road trip to Mt. St. Helens or the ocean, or using transit to find a hidden treasure in your community. Provide opportunities to try different sports (horseback riding is a favorite), explore, and celebrate each girl’s talents.

Next, learn about the Stages of Teen Development.

Interested in writing an article about the issues facing girls today? Please contact Stefanie Ellis.