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Physical Development in Preschool Children

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Three-year-old Felicia runs to the jungle gym and tries to get up the first rung of the ladder. After several attempts, she ducks underneath the play set, swings on a low rung, and finally runs around in the sand. Following Felicia, four-year-old Sam runs onto the playground and climbs steadily up the jungle gym. Once at the top, he jumps down and dashes toward the slide. Holding on, he climbs the ladder using alternating feet on each step. Sliding down, he yells with delight. Immediately, he is on to the swing, where he jumps on, belly first, and yells for someone to push him. Next to Sam is five-year-old Jason, coordinating his leg movement so that he can pump the swing to go back and forth. Both boys jump off and chase each other around the playground.

Three-, four-, and five-year-olds are filled with energy and are constantly moving. As they grow, they are developing and refining their gross and fine motor skills. Three-year-olds experience considerable growth in the area of physical development as they acquire the coordination of everyday movement. Running, jumping, and climbing becomes more automatic and less a conscious, purposeful act. Three-year-olds are still a bit unsteady on their feet and will often fall and get back up and try again. Three-year-olds are learning to run with more dexterity and coordination, as they transition from slow, stiff running to a more playful pace. Three-year-olds mount small tricycles, but are learning how to coordinate pedaling and will often use their feet to move. As three-year-olds grow, they progress from climbing steps with two feet on a step to using alternating feet. Throwing a ball often requires the use of two hands and uses both forearms to push.

The four- and five-year’s body movements are becoming more coordinated. Four- and five-year-olds can run more smoothly and stop easily. They also love to hop and skip. They are beginning to throw a ball with some ease and use two hands to catch, missing frequently. Four- and five-year-olds are developing their balance and sense of equilibrium. They enjoy riding tricycles, pushing and pulling wagons, and scurrying around in little push cars.

Three-year-olds are acquiring strength in and more control over the way they use their hands and fingers. Three-year-olds play better with large blocks than with small Lego pieces. Their fingers do not have the dexterity to manipulate small objects. Peter knows where the pieces to the farm puzzle go but he is having some trouble moving them around to fit into the tight-fitting space. Three-year-olds can put their clothes on all by themselves but can have some difficulty in putting buttons through holes, zippering, and tying, which require fine motor coordination. Lehman loves to color and draw but he is less frustrated when he uses oversized pencils and crayons. Scissors are challenging and it is easier to rip something than to have Lehman use the scissors to successfully cut paper. Lehman reads what he has “written” but it is indecipherable to others. There are no distinguishable letters or words. Hand-dominance has yet to be established and he keeps switching the hand holding the crayon.

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