Infancy (Birth–2)

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

Diversity:

  • 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.

Implications:

  • 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

Diversity:

  • 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.

Implications:

  • 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)

What You Might Observe:

  • Steady gains in height and weight
  • Loss and replacement of primary teeth
  • Refinement and consolidation of gross motor skills and integration of such skills into structured play activities
  • Participation in organized sports
  • Increasing fluency in fine motor skills, such as handwriting and drawing

Diversity:

  • Variations in weight and height are prominent at any single grade level.
  • Children begin to show specific athletic talents and interests.
  • Gender differences appear in children’s preferences for various sports and physical activities.
  • Some neighborhoods do not have playgrounds or other safe play areas that foster gross motor skills.
  • Some children have delays in fine motor skills (e.g., their handwriting may be unusually uneven and irregular) as a result of neurological conditions or lack of opportunity to practice fine motor tasks.
  • Some children spend much of their nonschool time in sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing video games.

Implications:

  • Integrate physical movement into academic activities.
  • Provide daily opportunities for children to engage in self-organized play activities.
  • Teach children the basics of various sports and physical games, and encourage them to participate in organized sports programs.
  • Encourage practice of fine motor skills, but don’t penalize children whose fine motor precision is delayed.

Early Adolescence (10–14)

What You Might Observe:

  • Periods of rapid growth
  • Beginnings of puberty
  • Self-consciousness about physical changes
  • Some risk-taking behavior

Diversity:

  • Onset of puberty may vary over a span of several years; puberty occurs earlier for girls than for boys.
  • Leisure activities may or may not include regular exercise.
  • Young teens differ considerably in strength and physical endurance, as well as in their specific talents for sports. Noticeable gender differences occur, with boys being faster, stronger, and more confident about their physical abilities than girls.
  • Peer groups may or may not encourage risky behavior.

Implications:

  • Be a role model by showing a commitment to physical fitness and good eating habits.
  • Provide privacy for changing clothes and showering during physical education classes.
  • Explain what sexual harassment is, and do not tolerate it, whether it appears in the form of jokes, teasing, or physical contact.
  • Encourage after-school clubs and sponsored leisure activities that help teenagers spend their time constructively.
  • Explain to adolescents that risky behaviors can cause them real harm.

Late Adolescence (14–18)

What You Might Observe:

  • In girls, completion of growth spurt and attainment of mature height
  • In boys, ongoing increases in stature
  • Ravenous appetites
  • Increasing sexual activity
  • Some serious risky behaviors (e.g., drinking alcohol, taking illegal drugs, engaging in unprotected sexual contact, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol), due in part to greater independence and acquisition of drivers’ licenses

Diversity:

  • Gender differences in physical abilities increase; boys are more active in organized sports programs.
  • Boys more actively seek sexual intimacy than girls do.
  • Some teens struggle with issues related to sexual orientation.
  • Some teens begin to taper off their earlier risky behaviors and make better decisions.
  • Eating disorders may appear, especially in girls.
  • Adolescents are less likely than younger children to get regular medical care.

Implications:

  • Make sure that adolescents know “the facts of life” about sexual intercourse and conception.
  • Encourage abstinence when adolescents are not sexually active.
  • When adolescents are sexually active and committed to remaining so, encourage them to use protective measures and to restrict the number of partners.
  • Encourage young people to form goals for the future (e.g., going to college, developing athletic skills) that motivate productive actions and discourage incompatible risky behaviors.
  • Develop and enforce policies related to sexual harassment.