Supporting Physical Growth and Development in Young Children (page 2)

By — North Dakota State University Extension Service
Updated on Mar 10, 2011

Balance and Coordination Skills in Early Childhood

Balance and coordination skills in early childhood relate to children's development of a sense of balance and the ability to coordinate movements so they can perform more complex physical activities. The development of balance and coordination skills in early childhood involves movement of the body in activities such as twisting, turning, pulling or maintaining stability. Balance and coordination skills are necessary for catching, clapping, eating, playing and other types of physical activities. Some things to remember about balance and coordination skills in early childhood include:

  • Balance and coordination skills develop through time from a child's birth. Infants and toddlers still are developing these skills, and this is partly why they cannot stop themselves from being unbalanced or falling when they first sit or stand. Adults need to provide support and safety for young children as they develop these skills through time. Different parts of a child's body grow at different rates.
  • Coordination skills are important to a child's ability to interact and explore the environment. A child's ability to focus eyes on and reach for an object, which involves coordination, is important to playing, eating and other activities.
  • Balance and coordination often involve using the hands and eyes at the same time. Activities such as painting, pasting, clay modeling, sorting small objects (such as buttons), building block towers, copying designs and drawing help a child learn to use (coordinate) the hands and eyes.
  • Side-to-side or lateral movements used in painting, drawing or reading help a child develop left-to-right tracking (with the eyes and head). This ultimately will help develop hand-eye coordination and left-to-right tracking, which will help in learning to read.
  • Repetition of physical activities, such as rolling a ball with a toddler or drawing pictures, helps a child develop balance and coordination skills. Parents and other adults should work actively with children to practice such repetition, which will strengthen their balance and coordination skills.

All of these physical skills, once developed, help individuals interact with the world around them and accomplish many daily tasks. Without these skills, such interaction would be impossible. To get a sense of children's physical abilities related to balance and coordination skills at different stages of early childhood, see Checklist C - Balance and Coordination Skills in Early Childhood (page 5).

Activity No. 1 - The Handwriting Puzzle

Consider the skill of writing by hand. What physical skills must someone develop before mastering handwriting? Take out a pen or pencil and write your name and favorite place to visit below. Reflect on this skill. Select the six key physical and mental skills from the list below that are necessary for someone to have before he or she can master handwriting. Then check your choices against the answer key.

  • Name
  • What is your favorite place to visit?

Key Skills Need for Handwriting

  • Large-muscle development
  • Small-muscle development
  • Eye tracking
  • Rolling from front to back
  • Pulling oneself to a standing position
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Balance
  • Hand preference
  • Awareness of sensory stimulation
  • Letter perception
  • Ability to determine size of materials
  • Spoken use of language
  • Ability to hold a writing tool
  • Ability to push and pull objects
  • Ability to cut paper with scissors
  • Copying shapes with a writing tool
  • Ability to make basic strokes
  • Pouring liquid from one container to another
  • Ability to use spoon and fork
  • Understanding of printed language
Answer Key

1. Small-muscle development;
2. Eye-hand coordination;
3. Ability to hold writing tool;
4. Ability to make basic strokes;
5. Letter perception; and
6. Understanding of printed language

Checklist A

Gross-motor Skills in Early Childhood

0 to 3 Months

[ ] Pushes up with arms while on tummy

[ ] Kicks legs and waves arms

[ ] Raises head while on tummy

[ ] Rolls from side or tummy to back

[ ] Holds head steady when supported in a sitting position

3 to 6 Months

[ ] Rolls from back to side or tummy

[ ] Sits alone

[ ] Reaches for a parent with arms

[ ] Tries to move toward a toy or object that is out of reach

[ ] Scoots about on the floor

6 to 12 Months

[ ] Crawls about on the floor

[ ] Pulls self to a sitting position

[ ] Pulls self up to stand next to a support (couch)

[ ] Stands alone with support

[ ] Takes steps alone with support, then without support

12 to 18 Months

[ ] Walks alone without support

[ ] Walks backward

[ ] Crawls up stairs with support

[ ] Throws a ball with overhand motion

[ ] Kicks a ball with support

[ ] Rolls a ball back to a person

[ ] Imitates more complex motor skills, such as lifting objects, changing clothes, etc.

18 to 24 Months

[ ] Runs fairly well

[ ] Walks up stairs with support

[ ] Kicks a ball

[ ] Jumps in place

[ ] Goes up and down a slide with help

2 to 3 Years

[ ] Sits on or peddles a tricycle with support

[ ] Runs with few falls or trips

[ ] Walks up stairs while holding onto something

[ ] Jumps over small obstacles

[ ] Assists with household tasks or activities

3 to 5 Years

[ ] Runs with energy and coordination

[ ] Catches a ball with some practice

[ ] Throws a ball 5 to 15 feet with overhand motion

[ ] Walks up and down stairs alone

[ ] Hops on one foot

[ ] Rides a tricycle and steers well

5 to 7 Years

[ ] Changes clothes without help

[ ] Catches a ball bounced to them

[ ] Runs easily and participates in games of tag, etc.

[ ] Rides a bicycle with ability

[ ] Kicks a ball with ability

[ ] Carries out household tasks (cleaning room, making bed, etc.)

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