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Supporting Physical Development: Environments and Experiences

 It is important to provide a variety of opportunities to support the physical development of the children in your care. This lesson will define motor and sensory development and offer examples of developmentally appropriate activities and environments to support children’s physical development.

  • Understand the importance of providing age-appropriate materials and activities that promote the progression of children’s physical development.
  • Examine the indoor and outdoor environments and daily schedule to promote physical development across a range of children’s motor skills and abilities.
  • Develop a policy that explains to families the importance of 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 grow and develop; from infancy to school age. Children achieve new physical developmental milestones in a predictable pattern but may not always follow the exact timelines as their peers. Culture, genetics, and family experiences impact children in all areas of development. In your home you will support each individual child’s physical development.

Infants and Toddlers

A safe, clean, and open area for infants and toddlers to explore is important for their physical development. They need space to have tummy time, crawl, sit, pull up, walk, climb, jump, and run. To develop their fine motor skills expose them to a variety of sensory experiences. They need interesting items they can shake, hold, drop, grasp, and mouth. The area needs to be free of dangerous items that they could chew or swallow (for details, see the Safe Environments and the Learning Environments courses). Depending on your family child care home, it may be beneficial to have a designated area 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. The CDC recommends approximately 10 minutes for every hour infants are awake. Toddlers should be allowed 60 to 90 minutes per eight-hour day of moderate to vigorous physical activity.


Most preschool age children love active play. At this stage, their motor skills have matured enough to allow them to use a variety of tools to make playtime fun. They enjoy using pencils, crayons, and paints to draw and create pictures, completing a variety of puzzles, and also enjoy building make-believe structures out of blocks and Legos. Preschoolers enjoy music and movement both indoors and outdoors. Dancing, jumping, climbing, swinging, skipping, and throwing balls are all fun and enjoyable gross motor activities for preschoolers. Preschoolers should be allowed 90 to 120 minutes per eight hour day of moderate physical activity.


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 coordinated (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 during play. The CDC recommends that children be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day. They also recommend a combination of aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening exercises and activities.

As a family child care provider, you are responsible for making sure all children have opportunities for active physical play. It is important to provide motivation and encouragement for children to participate and to live an active lifestyle. If you have a favorite physical activity 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.). You are also a great role model for the children in your care and their families. Try to lead by example, by taking care of your own physical health and leading a healthy lifestyle.

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 recommended time for active physical play for the children in your care. 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 and exploring their environment.

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 encourage children’s physical development. Supporting children’s physical development includes limiting the use of screen and media time (e.g., TV, DVDs, tablets, computers, etc.). Less than one-quarter (24%) of children 6 to 17 years of age participate in the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This is largely due to the fact that many young children spend a great deal of time watching media. This has contributed to the increasing amount of inactivity and the obesity rates of children and adolescents tripling since the 1970’s. Data from 2015–2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people aged 6 to 19 years in the United States suffers from obesity. As a family child care provider, you serve as a role model when you actively engage with the children in your care and lead an active lifestyle.

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 activity. The following are just a few examples of materials that can help facilitate active play:

  • Infants: push toys, infant gyms, playmats, blankets, balls, ramps/cushions 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 Disabilities

When caring for children with disabilities, it is important to collaborate with the child’s family and therapists regarding 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 guidance on 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 may also 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 on how you will incorporate physical activity into a typical day to 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. With feedback from your trainer, coach or family child care administrator, include this paragraph in your family handbook.

It is important to offer learning experiences and activities that are appropriate, engaging and supportive of children’s learning and development across various developmental domains including cognitive, social-emotional, physical, language and literacy, and creative development. Providers working toward their CDA credential should use the CDA Fine Motor Activity Plan and CDA Gross Motor Activity handouts to develop an indoor fine motor and an outdoor gross motor learning experience from your curriculum (or new activities you plan on implementing).  


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 in your program has a physical disability that impairs her motor development. You will need to...
Which of the following are good examples of gross motor activities for children?
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:

Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and severe obesity among children and adolescents aged 2-19 years: United States, 1963-1965 through 2015-2016. Health E-Stats. September 2018.

Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity among adults and youth: United States, 2015–2016. NCHS Data Brief. 2017;288:1–8.

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: