Supporting Physical Growth and Development in Young Children
Parents and caregivers have many ways to enrich a child's world and facilitate healthy physical development.
Young children appreciate growth in their physical abilities. An infant smiles at being able to crawl across the room; a toddler enjoys rolling a ball back and forth with a parent; a kindergarten child loves to skip and dance when music is playing. For children to realize their physical abilities, parents and other adults also must appreciate the importance of steps in physical growth and do all they can to enhance a child's development.
The term motor development refers to growth in the ability of children to use their bodies and physical skills. The different domains of physical development generally fall into gross-motor skills, fine-motor skills and balance/coordination skills. This publication will discuss general patterns of physical development, which may vary based on a child's age, physical maturity and developmental context (presence of developmental delays, etc.).
Gross-motor Skills in Early Childhood
Gross-motor skills in early childhood relate to a child's development of large muscles and the ability to move from place to place or do physical activities that involve the large muscles of the body, arms and legs. Large-muscle development in young children is necessary for crawling, walking, lifting and other types of physical activities. Some things to remember about gross-motor skills in early childhood include:
- Different parts of a child's body grow at different rates. Large-muscle development occurs earliest, so gross-motor skills, such as reaching, waving arms and legs, crawling or walking, tend to appear first.
- Throughout the first year of life, most of the physical growth occurs in a child's torso (trunk of the body).
- Toddlers and preschoolers have a higher center of gravity. This means they are more prone to falls because the legs and body are not yet developed in proportion to the upper body region. Give young children support as their large muscles in the lower body develop and eventually support them to sit or stand.
- By age 6, the child's body proportions are more like an adult's, with the center of gravity more centrally located to help them achieve a greater sense of physical balance.
- Most 3- and 4-year-old children are actively using their large muscles in running, wiggling and jumping. Their fine-motor skills, such as cutting, are not as developed. Since the large muscles develop first, providing opportunities for outdoor play and exercise or indoor running around is important.
- A variety of large-muscle activities is very important to parents, child-care programs and schools to give children a chance to develop and exercise large-muscle skills.
To get a sense of children's physical abilities related to gross-motor skills at different stages of early childhood, see Checklist A - Gross-motor Skills in Early Childhood (page 4).
Reprinted with the permission of North Dakota State University.
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