Developmental Trends: Physical Development at Different Ages

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Mar 10, 2011

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


  • 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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