Wednesday, January 26, 2011

D is for Developmental Stages

If you want to write for middle graders, you need to have a good sense of what they are able to do and how they think. Sometimes, we get this information through observing kids or by being a parent. But it’s worthwhile to take a little time to review what the experts say.

Here’s a quick quiz about development in 8-12-year-olds:

1. Which quality is typically more important to middle graders: a) fairness or b) conformity?

2. Who do middle graders tend to rely on for affection: a) family or b) friends?

3. What is more important to middle graders: a) developing specific skills or b) developing individuality?

While of course these are generalizations, the answers that reflect middle grade development are “a”. Some characteristics of child development for this age group that might affect your storyline:

1. Even though they are developing more relationships with friends and participating in more activities outside their families, kids in this age group still want support from their parents and families.

2. They might show some attitude, but rules are still pretty important.

3. Middle graders might not have the same ability to reason and problem-solve that teens would in an argument, but they care a lot about how other people react.

4. Their world is expanding quickly and they are interested in “how’s” and “why’s” of the world.

5. Middle graders want to develop skills and become competent.

6. They are often interested in specific activities, e.g. sports, or creative hobbies.

Thinking about how children are developing intellectually, emotionally and socially can help a lot with writing reactions that fit your characters, or providing choices for your character that are in keeping with their age-level.

Interesting links:

This info from the Public Health Agency of Canada on emotional reactions to stressful situations in children of different ages may be helpful material for creating character reactions.
For fun, check out what these 8- to 12-year olds say about living in NYC (but keep in mind this survey is a couple of years old, things may have changed).

YouthBeat is a source of info about marketing to youth that gives some interesting insights on this age group. For example, Through the Looking Glass: How Do We Really See Children Today?

How do you make sure your characters are acting in a way that is typical of their age group?


  1. Great post - very helpful! Thanks! Sometimes it really helps to have some of the basics about an age group spelled out in lack and white instead of just a vague feeling because you've been there or your kids have.

  2. This describes my middle schooler perfectly!!!

  3. Very helpful post and links, thanks!

  4. Wow, this is helpful for those of us writing for middle grade readers. Thanks so much!

  5. Thank you! It's always great to know when something I've written is helpful to people. Yay!

  6. This is really useful info. Definitely bookmarking it. Thanks!


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