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Physical Development: An Introduction

Summary: This lesson provides an introduction to children’s physical development. At all ages, children need physical activity to enhance their overall development, health, and learning.

  • Discuss the importance of physical development and physical activity in children’s lives.
  • Identify examples of gross motor and fine motor development in children.
  • Discuss how physical development is linked to overall health and learning.



Our bodies go through amazing transformations when it comes to physical growth and development. Think about the vast physical changes that occur between infancy and young adulthood. Recall your own physical development as you were growing up. Perhaps you remember learning to ride a bicycle, playing a new sport, or completing a 5K race. Physical activity has numerous benefits for our overall development and growth. Moving the different parts of our bodies, sitting up, rolling, crawling, walking, running, jumping, holding and manipulating different items are all examples of ways in which we use our bodies to explore our environment and learn about the world. Increased physical activity has also shown benefits for improving our brain health, weight management, reducing disease, strengthening our bones and muscles, and improving our ability to do everyday activities. All of these benefits affect our ability to age well and to keep our

Physical activity is supported by gross motor development and fine motor development.

  • Physical development refers to advancements and refinements in children’s motor skills as they better their ability to use and gain control over their bodies.
  • Gross motor skills involve the use of large muscles in the legs and arms as well as general strength and stamina. Examples of gross motor skills include: rolling over, crawling, walking, jumping, throwing, climbing, hopping and skipping.
  • Fine motor skills involve the use of small muscles in the arms, hands, and fingers. Fine motor skills are supported by children’s improvements in perception, or the ways in which children use their senses to experience the world around them. Examples include: grasping objects, scribbling, cutting with scissors, drawing, and writing.

Children’s abilities to perform self-help tasks (e.g., dressing, eating with forks and spoons, brushing teeth, etc.) are affected by the development of gross and fine motor skills.

As a family child care provider, you have many opportunities to observe the development of children’s motor skills during daily routines and activities. As children’s bodies mature, they progressively strengthen their muscles and are better able to control their bodies. Their brain development also affects their ability to participate in increasingly more complex motor activities. For example, as a toddler becomes steadier on her feet, she falls down less and eventually begins to walk independently. Or a child first learns to write starting with random marks on a paper and eventually develops the eye-hand coordination to hold a pencil and write the letters of their name.

By creating intentional time for physical activities throughout your daily schedule, you enhance children’s physical development and their chances to practice new skills. For optimal growth and development, children need physical activity every day. Later in this course, you will read about the physical activity guidelines for infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. For all children, physical activity helps:

  • Improve cognition
  • Improve bone health
  • Improve fitness and reduces the risk of excessive weight gain
  • Improve heart health
  • Reduce the risk of depression
  • Better manage other health conditions, such as improved cognition and attention span for those with ADHD, etc.
  • Prevent chronic health conditions


Watch to learn more about the importance of movement and physical activity on children’s learning and development.

Physical Development Introduction

Introduction to movement and physical activity for children.


As you get to know the children in your care, think carefully about ways to support their physical development throughout the day. You can build upon their particular interests through materials and games that bring about active learning. Thinking back to games and activities you enjoyed from your childhood, and introducing or modifying them to fit the physical development of the children in your classroom is an excellent way to promote learning (e.g., Simon Says, Twister, freeze tag, etc.).

Physical development is strongly linked to overall learning and well-being. As children’s brains develop, so do their motor skills. This begins with sensory experiences in infancy like gentle touching, rocking, cuddling, and warm, and nurturing responses to infant’s cries and attempts at communication. These early brain-building experiences set the stage for children’s continuous advancements of physical development. 

As a role model for the children, your own efforts to engage in physical activity can encourage the children in your care to move and be active. As you share your own interests in physical activity and engage in active play, you promote children to explore new activities. Perhaps you enjoy yoga or a particular type of dancing. You don’t have to be a seasoned coach in a sport or a certified dance instructor to show how much you enjoy physical activity. Share your own enthusiasm with others and remember to have fun with the children in your care as you engage in movement!

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course, the Physical Development Competency Reflection, and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Family Child Care Physical Development Course Guide

Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.


There are many resources available for providers (and parents) to assist in helping build children’s brains and enhance their overall development (including gross and fine motor development). Take time to explore the following websites. You may find new activities to enjoy with the children in your care. 


Adding more movement to your daily schedule is one way to support children’s gross and fine motor development. Use the attachment as a guide to help you think about ways to add more physical movement to children’s day. Share your ideas with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator. 


Physical development:
The advancements and refinements in children’s motor skills
Fine motor development:
This refers to the development of skills that involve the use of smaller muscles in the arms, hands, and fingers that allows a child to perform tasks such as drawing, cutting with scissors, stringing beads, tying, zipping, or molding clay.
Gross motor development:
This refers to the development of skills that involve the use of large muscles in the legs or arms, as well as general strength and stamina. Examples of such skills include jumping, throwing, climbing, running, skipping, or kicking.


True or false? Physical development and activity do not influence children’s learning.
Which of the following is an example of a fine motor skill?
A parent new to your program asks how you support gross motor development. What is an appropriate response?
References & Resources

Berk, L.E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Copple, C.,& Bredekamp, S. (Eds.) (2022). Developmentally appropriate practice for programs serving children ages birth through 8 (4th ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Playworks. (2018). Game Library. Oakland, CA: Sports4Kids. Retrieved from

Turque, B. (2008). The Recess Regimen. Washington: The Washington Post. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from and

Vroom brain building moments (2017). Retrieved from