Developmental Trends: Physical Development at Different Ages
What You Might Observe:
- Emergence of reflexes
- Initial increase followed by decline in crying
- Rapid growth and change in proportions of body parts
- Increasing ability to move around, first by squirming; then rolling, crawling, creeping, or scooting; finally by walking
- Increasing ability to coordinate small muscles of hands and eyes
- Increasing self-help skills in such areas as feeding, dressing, washing, toileting, and grooming
- Children vary in timing and quality of gross motor skills (e.g., rolling over, crawling, and sitting up) depending on genetic and cultural factors.
- Children vary in timing of mobility as well as in methods they use to get around (some children never crawl or creep).
- Fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination may appear earlier or later depending on genetic makeup and encouragement from caregivers.
- Self-help skills appear earlier when encouraged, but virtually all children learn them eventually, and sooner is not necessarily better.
- Celebrate each child’s unique growth patterns, but watch for unusual patterns or differences that may require accommodation or intervention.
- Provide a choice of appropriate indoor and outdoor experiences to help children practice their developing fine and gross motor skills.
- Don’t push infants to reach milestones. Allow them to experience each phase of physical development thoroughly.
- Be aware of serious developmental delays that call for professional intervention.
Early Childhood (2–6)
What You Might Observe:
- Loss of rounded, babyish appearance, with arms and legs lengthening and taking on more mature proportions
- Boundless physical energy for new gross motor skills, such as running, hopping, tumbling, climbing, and swinging
- Acquisition of fine motor skills, such as functional pencil grip and use of scissors
- Transition away from afternoon nap, which may initially be marked by periods of fussiness in the afternoon
- Children differ considerably in the ages at which they master various motor skills.
- Boys are more physically active than girls, but girls are healthier overall; these differences continue throughout childhood and adolescence.
- Some home environments (e.g., small apartments, as well as larger houses in which parents restrict movement) limit the degree to which children can engage in vigorous physical activity; others may present hazardous environmental conditions (e.g., lead paint, toxic fumes).
- Children with mental retardation may have delayed motor skills.
- Provide frequent opportunities to play outside or (in inclement weather) in a gymnasium or other large indoor space.
- Intersperse vigorous physical exercise with rest and quiet time.
- Encourage fine motor skills through puzzles, blocks, doll houses, and arts and crafts.
- Choose activities that accommodate diversity in gross and fine motor skills.
Middle Childhood (6–10)
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