Physical Development: An Introduction
This lesson provides an introduction to the physical development of preschool children. A key point is the significance of physical development and physical activity for children’s overall health and learning.
- Discuss the importance of physical development and physical activity in young children’s lives.
- Identify examples of gross-motor and fine-motor skills in preschool 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 a newborn baby and a young adult. Recall the different things you or children you know were able to do at different stages while growing up. Physical activity is very important for our overall development and growth. Moving the different parts of our bodies, sitting up, rolling, crawling, walking, running, jumping, holding, and manipulating different materials or objects are examples of ways in which we use our bodies to explore our environment and learn about the world. These are also ways to keep our bodies healthy, fit, and well-functioning.
Physical development refers to the advancements and refinements of motor skills, or, in other words, children’s abilities to use and control their bodies. These advancements are evident in gross- and fine-motor skills, and they are essential to children’s overall health and wellness. Gross- motor skills 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, and kicking. Fine-motor skills involve the use of small muscles in the arms, hands, and fingers. They are supported by advancements in perception, or the ways in which children use their senses to experience the world around them. Examples of such skills include stringing beads, scribbling, cutting, and drawing. Fine-motor skills enable children to perform a variety of self-help tasks, such as using utensils and dressing themselves. There is a great deal of variation in the development of fine-motor skills (Trawick-Smith, 2014).
Children’s motor abilities in preschool develop as a result of physical development. As their bodies mature, children progressively strengthen their muscles and are able to better control their bodies. Skill mastery and development, however, are also the result of brain growth and development. For example, consider a preschooler kicking a ball back and forth with a peer or caregiver. This child must have acquired control over muscles and their movement in order to be able to kick the ball. The child also depends upon vision to determine the location and direction in which to kick the ball and on hearing for instructions from a peer or caregiver. We will explore the body-brain connection and its impact on children’s overall learning and growth in more detail in Lesson Two (Developmental Milestones) when we examine influences on physical growth and factors that affect children’s physical development.
Physical Activity and Children’s Development
Physical activity is critical for young children’s development. Considering that preschool children learn best when they are actively engaged in their environments, it is essential that we provide them with ample opportunities to explore the environments by moving, touching, experimenting, and manipulating different toys, objects, and materials. Studies indicate that physical activity in young children is linked to brain growth and development. One study that explored body and brain connections found that preschoolers’ motor-play activities activate visual brain centers (James, 2010). Findings like this suggest that motor activity contributes to the general organization of the brain, ultimately supporting the notion that young children need time to be active.
Moreover, physical well-being is also linked to mental health. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This suggests that physical health is fundamentally linked to mental health, as well as other aspects of life. We must keep that in mind as we think about young children’s physical development and as we engage with them and their families.
Understanding physical development in the preschool years creates opportunities for you to enhance the care you offer preschoolers and their families.
What to Expect in this Course
Upcoming lessons will cover such topics as:
- Developmental milestones and influences on physical growth and development
- Indoor environments and experiences that support the physical development of all children
- Outdoor environments and experiences that support the physical development of all children
- Promoting active lifestyles for preschoolers, their families, and yourself
As you work through the content in this course, your trainer, coach or supervisor will use the attached competency checklist to assess and provide feedback about your practices. This competency checklist outlines the essential practices for creating environments and experiences to support physical development in your work with children, families, and coworkers; it offers a guide about what you should be able to do after completing this course.
Lastly, the References & Resources section at the conclusion of each lesson is available for reference only. As you review each lesson, you are not expected to review in its entirety any online reference that may be available here. You are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.
Fostering young children’s physical development helps build lifelong skills necessary for wellness, and a love for physical activity. The U.S. Government has developed a tool to guide us toward healthier and more active lifestyles called Let’s Move! You can watch an introductory film about this initiative by clicking on the link below:
As a preschool teacher, it is your responsibility to help children learn and develop, and to provide developmentally appropriate experiences and activities that meet each child’s needs. As you meaningfully plan and implement your work in preschool, you are setting the foundation for children’s school readiness and success. You have an important role in promoting preschoolers’ gross-and fine-motor skills that will help them reach their full overall potential. This means that:
- You give all children access to opportunities that promote physical development.
- You are responsive to children’s individual differences.
- You establish appropriate expectations about what children should be able to do in terms of physical development and growth.
Promoting children’s physical development builds a foundation for long-term health and well-being. Learning occurs best when children are actively engaged in meaningful environments and when they use their bodies to explore their surroundings and practice new skills. By encouraging the children in your care to be physically active, you are able to foster in them an enjoyment of physical activity and the skills necessary for wellness.
You can learn more about the Let’s Move! initiative at https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/.
How does your program support young children’s physical development? Does it encourage and provide opportunities for physical activity for all children? Are there provisions in place to promote active play time? How are staff members supported in promoting children’s physical development? Download and print the Let’s Move! Child Care Physical Activity Checklist Quiz. Take a few minutes to read the statements on this checklist and think about how your program measures up to these recommendations. Then, share and discuss your responses with a supervisor, trainer, or coach.
These documents from Let’s Move! provide information about the importance of establishing and promoting healthy and active lifestyles for children from a young age. As you read, think about what you can do to promote the physical development and wellness of children in your care. You may also consider sharing these documents with families or posting them in your room.
|Fine-motor development||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||The development of skills that involve the use of large muscles in 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|
|Physical development||The advancements and refinements in children’s motor skills, or, in other words, children’s abilities to use and control their bodies|
Berk, L. E. (2013). Child Development (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/pa-pe_paper.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and SHAPE America—Society of Health and Physical Educators (2017). Strategies for Recess in Schools. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://portal.shapeamerica.org/uploads/pdfs/recess/SchoolRecessStrategies.pdf
James, K. (2010). Sensori-motor experience leads to changes in visual processing in the developing brain. Developmental Science, 13, 279-288.
Schickeadanz, J. A., Hansen, K., & Forsyth, P. D. (2000). Understanding Children. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective, (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
World Health Organization.(1948). Official records of the World Health Organization (no. 2). Retrieved from http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hist/official_records/2e.pdf