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    • Understand the importance of providing age-appropriate materials and activities that promote children’s physical development.
    • Examine the indoor and outdoor environment and daily schedule to promote physical development across a range of children’s motor skills and abilities.
    • Develop a policy that explains to families your beliefs about children’s physical development and outdoor play.




    In your family child care home, you provide a safe, nurturing setting for children to learn and explore. In prior lessons, you learned about the typical stages of physical development that most children follow as they move from infancy to school age. Children attain physical skills in a predictable pattern, but may not always follow the exact timelines described in developmental milestones. Culture and family experiences always impact children in all areas of development. Your home is where you support each individual child’s physical development.

    Infants and Toddlers

    A safe, clean area for infants and toddlers to explore is important for their physical development. They need space to have tummy time, to crawl, pull up, walk, climb, jump, and run. To develop fine-motor and sensory abilities, they need interesting items they can shake, hold, drop, grasp, and mouth. They need areas that are free of dangerous items that they could chew or swallow (for details, see the Safe Environments and Learning Environments courses). It may be that an area of your family child care home is designated for infant and toddler exploration. Laying down a soft mat or blanket may section off a part of the play space and serve as a signal to preschool and school-age children that this area and the toys in it are just for the babies. Infants need supervised tummy time every day when they are awake. Toddlers should be allowed 60 to 90 minutes per eight-hour day for moderate to vigorous physical activity.


    Most preschool age children love active play. They can use many fine-motor tools (e.g., pencils, crayons, paints, etc.) and complete puzzles. Preschoolers enjoy music and movement both indoors and outdoors. Dancing, jumping, climbing, swinging, skipping, and throwing balls are all fun activities that preschoolers enjoy. Including music, movement, and outdoor play in the daily schedule is critical for preschoolers’ motor development. Preschoolers should be allowed 90 to 120 minutes per eight-hour day for moderate physical activities.


    School-age children enjoy many of the same activities as preschoolers, but at an advanced level. They also enjoy games with rules (basketball, tag, charades, etc.). Their motor skills continue to become more fluid and effortless (skipping, running, climbing, drawing, writing, etc.). They love using different types of balls (e.g., kickball, basketball, soccer ball, etc.), tennis rackets, jump ropes, swings, slides, climbing toys, and other active equipment.

    As a family child care provider, you are responsible for making sure all children have opportunities for active physical play. If you have favorite physical activities that you enjoy, then it can be fun to help the children participate with you (e.g., kicking a soccer ball, imitating simple yoga poses, digging in the yard to plant a vegetable garden, etc.). When planning your indoor and outdoor environments and your daily schedule, it is important to include adequate time for physical play for each child.

    Creating an Environment and Schedule that Promotes Active Learning

    The authors of the Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale-Revised describe ways to create a responsive setting for children’s active play in the family child care home. You will want to be familiar with the list of indicators for active physical play. Family child care providers should limit time infants and toddlers spend in restrictive devices, such as swings, bouncers, stationary play centers, infant seats, and high chairs, to 15 minutes or less. Infants and toddlers need to be free to learn by moving their bodies in safe spaces.

    The Learn section attachment, Best Practices for Physical Activity in Early Care and Education Settings (developed by staff at Child Care Aware) describes best practices that facilitate children’s physical development. Supporting children’s physical development includes limiting the use of screen and media time (e.g., TV, DVDs, iPads, computers, etc.). Many young children spend a great deal of time watching media, and there is a concern that a lack of time devoted to daily active play has led to an increase in the national rate of childhood obesity. As a family child care provider, you serve as a role model when you actively engage with the children in your care during planned indoor and outdoor physical play.

    As you examine your environment and daily schedule for opportunities to plan active physical play, review the materials you have on hand that promote physical play. The following are just a few examples of materials that facilitate physical play:

    • Infants: small push toys, infant gyms, playmats, blankets, balls, ramps for crawling
    • Toddlers: ride-on toys without pedals, large push-pull wheel toys, balls, age-appropriate climbing equipment, tunnels
    • Preschool: climbing equipment, riding toys, wagons, balls, basketball hoops
    • School-age: sports equipment (balls, rackets, badminton game, etc.), jump ropes, hopscotch supplies, dance music, yoga mats


    The following video clips provide examples of how family child care environments can support children’s gross- and fine-motor development.

    Physical Development: Environments

    Family child care environments support children’s physical development.

    Children with Special Needs

    When caring for children with special needs, discuss with the child’s family any plans for adaptations to physical equipment or materials. Most of the equipment and materials you provide will be fine for all the children to use; however, in some situations, you may need advice about adapting gross- or fine-motor activities to meet a child’s individual needs. The child’s parents may provide you with ideas for simple adaptations. If the child receives special services, a therapist also may have ideas, assuming the parent has given written permission for the child’s therapist to speak with you. In some cases, you may have inclusion documentation .


    The families of the children you care for will want to know about your plans for outdoor physical play. As a family child care provider, you can share your beliefs about the importance of physical activity for young children. Provide families with information about plans for how you ensure their children’s physical development. The exercise in the Apply Section of this lesson will help you write a paragraph to include in your parent handbook about the importance of children’s physical development.



    There are many resources that provide ideas for active play that enhances children’s motor development. You can create a file on your computer that lists activities to support physical development for different ages. Explore the articles listed below to add activities to your daily plans.



    Reflect about the knowledge and skills you currently have that help you plan for children’s physical development. Develop a paragraph explaining to parents your beliefs about how children develop gross- and fine-motor skills. Describe your family child care’s policies about supporting children’s physical development through active play. Explain your policy about limiting children’s use of media devices in your family child care home. Discuss your plans for what to do when the weather affects outdoor time (e.g., extreme hot or cold temperatures). Include information about clothing children need to bring (e.g., mittens, boots, snow pants, extra socks, etc.) to explore outdoors in cold weather. Share what you create with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.

    Invite families to join in the children’s active play when they come for drop off or pick up (e.g., participate in yoga, dance to music, shoot baskets, etc.). With feedback from your trainer, coach or family child care administrator, include this paragraph in your family handbook.




    True or false? Since infants mouth many items, it is best not to plan many sensory experiences indoors or outdoors.


    A new school-age child to your program has a physical special need that impairs her motor development. You will need to...


    Which of the following materials are age-appropriate for toddlers?

    References & Resources

    Child Care Aware of North Dakota (2015). Best Practices for Physical Activity in Early Care and Education Settings. Retrieved from:

    Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.) (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice for programs serving children ages birth through 8 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    Flanigan, C. (2017). Bundle Up and Get Outside: Why Kids Should Play Outdoors in Winter.  Retrieved from:

    Playworks. (2020). Game Library. Oakland, CA: Sports4Kids. Retrieved from

    Spencer, K.H., & Knight, P.M. (2014). Quality outdoor play spaces for young children. Young Children, 69(5), 28-34.

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control (2015). BAM! Body and Mind Activity Cards. Retrieved from: