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Supporting Physical Development: Environments and Experiences

In this lesson, you will learn methods of supporting the physical development of school-age children. This lesson will define motor and sensory development and include appropriate activities to support each type of development in a school-age environment. This lesson will also describe "right fit" activity choices and developmentally appropriate activities for school-age children in both indoor and outdoor environments.

  • Identify physical activities that are appropriate for school-age children and their physical development. 
  • Plan developmentally appropriate physical activities for both indoors and outdoors.
  • Discuss sensory development in school-age children.



Part of your role as a school-age staff member will be to support the physical development of the children in your care. In order to do this properly, it is important that you understand what types of physical activities are appropriate and necessary for school-age children.

Motor Development

Motor development, or the growth of muscular coordination, occurs rapidly during the first five years of a child’s life. School-age children continue to develop and strengthen their motor skills in a more slow and detailed way. Motor development involves two separate components: gross-motor skills and fine-motor skills. Gross-motor skills are actions that use the large muscles in our bodies, such as those in our arms and legs for walking, running and jumping. Fine-motor skills are actions that use smaller muscles, such as those in our fingers and toes for writing or balancing.

Gross-Motor Development

Most school-age children will have developed their basic gross-motor skills, but as school-age children grow and develop physically, they continue to develop their larger muscles. School-age children can continue developing their large-muscle skills through practice and repetition. For example, if an 8-year-old wants to learn how to throw a baseball, he or she should practice the action repetitively over a period of time in order to develop the skill.

Children who are experiencing growth spurts often lack coordination and seem clumsy. They may have had a growth spurt in their torso and arms but not in their legs, or their feet might finish growing fully before the rest of their body. Children going through these phases will have to work especially hard to excel at certain athletic skills. Later in this course, you will learn how you can support the emotional needs of school-age children who are experiencing this type of development.

You can help support the physical development of larger muscles by including certain activities into your plans. The table below contains examples of activities that support large-muscle development and ideas on how to incorporate them into your plans.


Planning Idea

Jumping rope

Have a jump-rope contest or practice specific skills. You will find a link to jump-rope activities on the resource list attached to this lesson.

Balance activities

Make your own balance beam with lumber and concrete blocks. Children can practice balancing, while remaining a safe distance from the ground to avoid injuries.


Let school-age children create their own hopscotch boards and have a contest. This can also be played indoors by using masking tape on the floor. For hopscotch rules, check the resource list attached to this lesson.

Organized sports

Skills associated with sports such as baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse, etc. will help with motor development. Depending on the size and age of your group, you can have formal games, or just break out into groups and practice the specific skill. Consider having high school or college athletes in your area come demonstrate the proper way to execute specific skills.

Obstacle courses

Obstacle courses can be a great way to incorporate many different skills and actions. You can include running, jumping, balancing, throwing, catching and other fun actions like jump roping or hula hooping.


Yoga helps strengthen muscles and develop coordination and balance. There are many books and DVDs available to help teach yoga to children. The reference list attached to this lesson has some examples.

Movement games

Games like Simon Says and Twister are a fun ways to practice large-muscle skills.

Dance and aerobics

Plan dance parties or contests to allow children to show off their dance moves. If possible, have an instructor visit to teach steps or skills. If instructors are not available, consider using DVDs to help with instruction.

Fine-Motor Development

Fine-motor skills are the actions that involve using our small muscles found in our fingers, hands, toes, and feet. School-age children will already have a firm grasp on most fine motor skills. They will be able to use utensils, draw, tie their shoelaces, and use clasps and buttons. The development of these skills and muscles will differ in each child. Sometimes, if a child’s eye-hand coordination skills are not as developed, it will be difficult for them to strengthen their fine-motor skills. Like all developmental milestones, these tend to even out over time, and by age 12, most children will have mastered eye-hand coordination. Examples of activities that can help strengthen fine-motor skills are:

Writing, drawing, and painting

Write a letter or draw a picture to send to a family member or friend who lives somewhere else.

Playing musical instruments

Allow children to create their own song with musical instruments and encourage other children to make up words or dance along.

Using a computer and mouse

Utilize the computer making lists, typing biographies to attach to artwork, finding recipes, and playing educational games.


Provide opportunities to use scissors, sew, crochet, and string beads together.


When outdoors, children can pick up and examine objects just as leaves, twigs, and rocks that they find in the environment.

Right Fit Activities

When planning physical activities for school-age children, it is important to choose activities that are the “right fit.” This means that they are not too easy or meant for younger children while ensuring that they are not too difficult with unachievable expectations. You want to set children up for success by giving them the opportunity to reach a goal, win a game, or achieve their personal best. Planning activities that are fun, developmentally appropriate, and designed to keep school-age children physically active will be part of your role as a school-age staff member.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that school-age children be physically active for a minimum of 60 minutes each day. They also recommend a combination of aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening exercises or activities. The table below is from the CDC and lists details of activities that fall into these three categories. Because school-age children range from young children to early adolescents, the information should be used accordingly, depending on the ages of children in your care.

Physical Activities




  • Active recreation such as hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading
  • Bicycle riding
  • Walking to school
  • Active recreation, such as canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, skateboarding, rollerblading
  • Brisk walking
  • Bicycle riding (stationary or road bike)
  • House and yard work, such as sweeping or pushing a lawn mower
  • Playing games that require catching and throwing, such as baseball, softball, basketball and volleyball



  • Active games involving running and chasing, such as tag
  • Bicycle riding
  • Jumping rope
  • Martial arts, such as karate
  • Running
  • Sports such as ice or field hockey, basketball, swimming, tennis or gymnastics
  • Active games involving running and chasing, such as flag football and soccer
  • Bicycle riding
  • Jumping rope
  • Martial arts such as karate
  • Running
  • Sports such as tennis, ice or field hockey, basketball, swimming
  • Vigorous dancing
  • Aerobics
  • Cheerleading or gymnastics



  • Strength games, such as tug of war
  • Modified push-ups (with knees on the floor)
  • Resistance exercises using body weight or resistance bands
  • Rope or tree climbing
  • Sit-ups
  • Swinging on playground equipment, bars
  • Gymnastics
  • Strength games, such as tug of war
  • Push-ups
  • Resistance exercises with exercise bands, weight machines, hand-held weights
  • Rock climbing
  • Sit-ups
  • Cheerleading or gymnastics



  • Games such as hopscotch
  • Hopping, skipping, jumping
  • Jumping rope
  • Running
  • Sports, such as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, tennis
  • Hopping, skipping, jumping
  • Jumping rope
  • Running
  • Sports, such as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, tennis

Not only is it important for children to participate in the correct amount of physical activity each day, they also need to participate in the correct types of physical activity. When planning physical activities for school-age children, you should choose fun, interactive activities that children will enjoy doing. The chart above is a great place to start for a variety of activities. Keep activities developmentally appropriate for school-age children by avoiding certain activities that are unsafe or too difficult, such as weight training or activities that are overly vigorous.

It is also important to determine level of difficulty for your particular group of school-age children, which is based on their abilities. After becoming familiar with the variety of physical fitness levels of the children in your care, you can begin to plan activities with their particular abilities in mind. It is important to find a balance between activities that are easy and activities that will be challenging. It is OK to plan activities that children will find challenging as long as they are safe. You can allow them to test the limits of their physical abilities and try to achieve a personal best.

Being Active: Indoor

Giving school-age children active choices while indoors will help to support their active lifestyles. Physical activities that are planned for indoor spaces typically fall into two categories. The first are activities that are purposefully planned for physical activity, usually in a large room or gym type of environment. The other indoor activities are often called “action games.” These are activities that can be done in smaller classroom-size spaces and are often used to reinforce a lesson or concept.

Indoor Activities: Large Spaces

Many activities that are planned for outdoor spaces can be adapted to play indoors. Depending on the space available in your program, group games such as tag, soccer, flag football, dodge ball or basketball can also be played indoors as long as there is enough space to do so safely. Other ideas for indoor spaces are:

  • Group exercise class: Invite a professional trainer or use a DVD to teach school-age children specific exercise moves and routines.
  • Dance: Dancing is a fun way for children to burn some energy. Have free-form dancing or instructor-led dancing for school-age children. You can also have dance offs or competitions or choreograph a dance for families to watch.
  • Yoga: Yoga is a great way to relax and wind down with school-age children. It also teaches them important coordination, balance and stretching techniques. If an instructor is not available, consider using books and DVDs as a guide.
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Relay races
  • Simon Says
  • Jump rope

It is important to note that the use of commercial DVDs for physical fitness activities may require written consent for public viewing and use. If you are interested in utilizing DVDs in your classroom, consult with your administrator, trainer, or coach.

Indoor Activities: Action Games

Action games are a great way to incorporate movement into school-age children’s daily routines. You can use action games as a tool for concept reinforcement or transitions. Action games are also a great option to have on hand when you need to fill a few minutes before pick-up time or if an activity doesn’t go exactly as you planned it. Examples of action games are Simon Says or Charades. Attached to this lesson, you will find a resource list of web and print materials with more examples of these types of games. One of the great things about this type of activity is that such games often require no supplies.

Being Active: Outdoor

In the Learning Environments course, you learned what an outdoor space will be like, including the safety requirements. Not all outdoor spaces will be the same. Some programs have large open spaces, playground equipment, grassy areas, or paved areas. Others may utilize a shared space at a school or park. Having physical activities in an outdoor space is a great way to motivate children to be active. Sometimes, games and other activities will be considered free play. This will be when school-age children might play a game of basketball or tag or use their imaginations to create their own game. Whenever possible, join in during these types of games. This will demonstrate that you are also committed to being active and will set a good example.

Other outdoor activities will be planned. Some examples are:

  • Athletic games: Most types of athletic games can be adapted to play with school-age children. You should spend time going over the rules of the game. If you have an expert in your group, let her or him be the leader and share the rules of the game.
  • Field-day activities: Sack races, scavenger hunts, balloon tosses and other fun field day activities are a great way to add planned time to your outside schedule.
  • Mock tournaments: Hold tournaments for athletic games or Olympic style competitions.
  • Tag: School-age children enjoy playing a variety of “tag, you’re it” games, such as freeze tag or color tag. They will also enjoy creating their own variations.
  • Fitness tests: You can contact local agencies to find information about what physical fitness tests are used for other sports training.
  • Cheerleading: Cheerleading involves coordination, balance and strength. Some children enjoy writing and developing their own cheers.

When planning physical activities for school-age children, it is important to remember that not all children will have the same abilities. Don’t let a child who is not athletic feel left out of the game. Promote a team atmosphere by providing encouragement for all players. When playing team sports, it is a good idea to promote playing for fun and experience rather than winning. This will help alleviate stress for less-athletic children. If you have a few children that have well-developed skills, allow them to take the lead and be a captain or share their skills by being a trainer. This will help all children feel that they have an important part to play.

Sensory Development: What is it?

The development of our senses is an important part of physical development. In very young children, sensory development is what helps infants and toddlers gain an understanding of the world around them. As children grow, their sensory development becomes more refined and detailed. Our senses are what allow us to process the environment.

All children (and adults) process their surroundings differently. This is why all children do not like the same foods or listen to the same music. Each person interprets the world around them in a different way by processing it through their senses. Then, based on that process, the brain makes a decision on how to proceed. If the tongue detects an extremely bitter taste, the brain will say, “let’s not try that again!” If the hands touch something extremely hot, the brain learns not to touch that spot again.

All children will benefit from having planned sensory activities in their environment. Any activity that activates the senses can be considered a sensory activity. The chart below provides some examples of sensory activities that are appropriate for school-age children.


Planning Idea

The way we process the sounds around us

  • Musical guessing games
  • Pitch matching
  • Echo games (Marco Polo)
  • Sound sequencing games

The way we process the images around us

  • Memory recall games
  • Story telling with photographs

The way we process objects that make contact with our bodies

  • Discovering objects in nature
  • Sensory substances (molding dough, slime, etc.)
  • Art activities

The way we process the scents around us

  • Blind smell tests
  • Fruit smell guessing games

The way our taste buds process sweet, sour, bitter and salty properties

  • Blind taste tests
  • Food comparisons

Supporting All Learners

You may find that some school-age children in your program have trouble with handwriting or perhaps organizing their school work. Others may struggle with figuring out the steps in games or with spontaneous play interaction. If you have children who have these experiences, you may have to adapt your environment as well as your activities to help them to succeed. If you are working with children with special learning needs, think about how your existing practices are enabling them to succeed.

Some children in your care may have conditions that affect their motor development, including physical and cognitive disabilities, neurological and perceptual disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Children with individualized education programs (IEPs) have a specific plan that helps them meet their personal goals and objectives. In general, these children will already have changes and adaptations to their school curriculum and classroom environment. Children with physical and other developmental disabilities may need related services to ensure they fully access their classroom and school curriculum, activities, environments, extracurricular activities, and events. You will have to make sure that your activities in the school-age program also have been adapted and changed. Even something as simple as providing a left-handed mouse for left-handed children may enhance their abilities to learn and develop.

Children with physical disabilities may have difficulties with motor coordination and muscle strength. While some children may be able to engage in play and self-help activities with minimal or no help at all, other children may need significant support and may require the use of assistive technology, including equipment such as wheelchairs or braces, or communication devices that enable them to explore their surroundings and interact with others. Other children with physical disabilities may also have visual, hearing, or intellectual impairments that require the use of significant supports and accommodations when it comes to daily classroom activities. You may be working with children who have low muscle tone, leading to poor balance, and you will have to support their access and participation in motor activities. You may also encounter children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder who may sometimes be extremely active, impulsive, or more easily distracted, and you will have to support their successful participation in your program activities.

Connecting with Nature

The busy lifestyles of a military family can result in a lot of indoor time for school-age children. They might spend the majority of their day in a school setting, only going outside for their designated 60 minutes a day. Having a love and respect for the outdoors will increase the chances of children learning to make physical activity a part of their lives. Encourage as much outdoor time as possible, plan activities that include their natural surroundings, and bring the outside indoors to learn and discover.


As you will see in this video, there are a wide variety of activities that support a school-age child’s physical development.

Types of Activities

A variety of physical activities for school-age children.

Connecting with nature is important for school-age children because being outdoors encourages healthy habits and behaviors. In this video, you will hear a program director discuss how they encourage a love for nature at their program.

Connecting with Nature

Program director explains importance of connecting with nature.


1. Learn. Take time to learn the differences between the main types of exercise: moderate, vigorous, bone strengthening and muscle strengthening. Also, learn what types of activities aren’t appropriate for school-age children.

2. Plan. Plan fun and engaging indoor and outdoor physical activities for school-age children. Take time to learn their preferences and understand their skill levels.

3. Be a role model. One of the best ways you can promote an active lifestyle is to live one yourself. Join in games, learn new skills and let children see you having fun while being active.


Answer the questions in the Right Fit Activities. When you are finished, discuss with your coach, trainer, or administrator.


Use the attached Motor Skills Observation activity. When you are finished, share your work with your coach, trainer, or administrator.


Action games:
A game that is typically used indoors that involves physical movement. An example would be Simon Says
Motor skills:
The growth of muscular coordination. Gross-motor skills are actions that use the large muscles in our bodies, like our arms and legs for skills such as walking, running or jumping. Fine-motor skills are actions that use the smaller muscles in our bodies, like our fingers and toes, for skills such as writing or using tools
Right fit activity:
An activity that is attainable yet challenging and developmentally appropriate
Sensory development:
The development of our five senses, which allows us to process the world around us


Which of the following are good examples of gross-motor activities for school-age children?
True or False. The challenge of planning physical activities for school-age children is planning activities that are easy for all ages.
A new child in your program has a physical disability that impairs her motor development. You will need to. . .
References & Resources

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Aerobic, Muscle- and Bone-Strengthening: What Counts? Retrieved from

The American Academy of Pediatrics. (2004). Caring for Your School-Age Child. New York: Bantam Books.

Angermeier, P. (2009) Learning in Motion: 101+ sensory activities for the classroom. Arlington, Texas: Future Horizons Inc.

Steinberg, D. (n.d.). Developing and Cultivating Skills Through Sensory Play. PBS Parents.