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Physical Development Guidelines for Early Childhood

written by: Michelle Blessing • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

As an early childhood teacher, you might wonder how you can enhance student physical development. Learning about guidelines at each age and stage is a first step. This can help you develop activities geared towards helping children reach their potential and finding success in the physical realm.

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    Assessing the Physical Development of Children

    Teachers are an important part of an infant and child's life, especially where physical development is concerned. Teachers see many children for up to 8 hours out of the day, giving them ample opportunity to assess a child's progress in physical growth and development. Developmental growth charts and actual observation are the two best tools a teacher can use to assess a child. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has published several growth charts to help teachers determine if a child is growing accordingly, and many online parenting sites offer charts of developmental milestones to help teachers know if their students are on track physically.

    After making the assessment on where the child is functioning physically, a teacher can develop a variety of activities to assist any child in meeting his potential. Simple games, such as hopscotch or tag, or even more complex things like an obstacle course, are all ways that teachers can enhance the physical development of the children they work with.

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    The First Year

    Babies develop quickly in the first year. The first year is a time of rapid growth and development for children. Within the first year of life, infants will learn to sit up, crawl and (most likely) walk. This is an amazing time for teachers to help infants grow and thrive. Some things to look for when assessing physical development from birth to age one are:

    • By 3-4 months babies begin to develop head control and can lift their chests when placed on their stomachs.
    • By 4-5 months babies can roll from side to back and/or from back to side.
    • By 6-7 months babies can roll completely over (front to back and/or back to front).
    • By 7 months babies can pull themselves up to stand but have trouble sitting down again.
    • By 7-8 months babies can sit up steadily with support.
    • By 8-10 months babies can creep on their stomachs or begin to crawl on their hands and knees.
    • By 9-11 months babies can walk when led by the hands or "cruise" holding onto furniture.
    • By 12-15 months babies can stand without holding on to anything and begin walking.

    So, what can you do to help an infant thrive and develop? There are several things you as a teacher can do to help infants' physical development during the first year. Some examples include:

    • Allow babies plenty of supervised tummy time to strengthen neck and back muscles. This will help babies to hold their heads up and prepare them to sit up.
    • Hold a toy above the baby's head while he or she lays on a blanket. Move the toy out of the baby's reach to help assist the baby with learning to reach out and roll over.
    • Hold the baby's hands and gently pull the baby to a sitting position. This will help to strengthen back muscles and help the baby learn to sit up with support.
    • Place toys just out of reach once a baby begins to creep and otherwise indicate signs of motion. This will encourage the baby to begin crawling.
    • Purchase standing toys or toys that will help support a baby's weight once he or she begins to cruise around. In addition, spend time each day holding the baby's hands and helping her to walk around the room.
    • Create opportunities for the baby to walk by placing small amounts of distance between yourself and another person, such as a parent. The baby will try to walk between the two of you and you can increase your distance as she becomes more adept at walking.
    • Educate parents on all of the above so these activities can be continued when you are not there.
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    The Second Year

    Toddlers start to learn more physical skills the second year. During the second year, growth slows but children generally improve upon skills they have already developed, such as walking. Other things to watch for during the second year include:

    • Walking up and down steps, with assistance.
    • Running
    • Climbing
    • Jumping
    • Holding a pencil or crayon and making marks on paper
    • Throwing things, such as a ball or their toys

    Teachers play an important role in not just physical but social development during the second year of life. Children are starting to learn about limits and need to begin learning how to share and play with others. However, teachers focused on physcial growth and development can:

    • Provide plenty of opportunities for play and recreation time. Play is how children learn and grow.
    • Give the child large crayons and paper to help him refine fine motor skills, like writing and drawing.
    • Play games, such as Mother, May I? or Simon Says to assess what skills the child excels at and what skills need work. For example, if a child repeatedly falls when you instruct them to jump, you can help him work on jumping skills.
    • Set up simple obstacle courses to help the child climb, jump and run (with supervision).
    • Play catch with large, soft balls to help the child with hand-eye coordination.
    • Provide toys with knobs, latches and other fasteners to help the child work on fine motor skill development.
    • Provide sticks and toys with holes, such as a shape stacker or sorter, to help children with further hand-eye coordination.
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    The Third Year

    Growth continues at a slower pace now, but skills contine to be refined in the third year of life for children. By age 3, most children can:

    • Balance on one foot for a short period of time
    • Jump with skill and dexterity
    • Alternate feet while climbing up or down the stairs
    • Ride a tricycle with some assistance
    • Put on and take off a shirt, pants and shoes

    Teachers will continue to be pivotal in helping children to refine and enhance physical development skills. This is especially true during the third year of life, as many children start preschool programs during this time. Ways to help a 3-year-old with physical development include:

    • Obstacle courses with tunnels, hills and other objects to climb or jump over will help the child refine those skills.
    • Assist the child on a tricycle by pushing him and instructing him on how to move his feet on the pedals.
    • Provide smaller balls to play catch with. Smaller balls will help further develop and strengthen hand-eye coordination.
    • Help the child walk up and down the stairs while instructing him or her to alternate legs. You can role model this behavior as well.
    • Let the child jump off the last step to help with balance and coordination.
    • Give children a large piece of string and wooden beads to string together for hand-eye coordination and fine motor skill work
    • Allow children to manipulate clay to create and strengthen hand and wrist muscles.
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    The Fourth Year

    The fourth year sees more and more physical growth. During the fourth year of life, children become more adept at the skills they have learned over the last three years. They are able to jump with dexterity, hop, skip and run with the best of them and can climb steps without assistance. Many 4-year-olds can ride a tricycle with skill and some may even be able to ride a bike with training wheels. Hand-eye coordination is continuing to improve as children learn to catch and throw with more skill. Some things teachers can do during this developmental phase include:

    • Continue to provide opportunities to play, climb, jump and run everyday. The more a child is allowed to practice these skills, the better she will become at them.
    • Set up cones for the child to ride his tricycle between as a way to improve bike riding skills.
    • Allow the child to jump off the second to last step to further develop balance and coordination.
    • Draw a line on the floor and have the child practice walking straight for balance control.
    • Use play mats and assist the child in rolling or doing somersaults.
    • Give a child safety scissors and let her cut a drinking straw into several pieces for hand-eye coordination and small muscle control.

    Hopefully some of these suggestions will aid you in the teaching process and your students will be physically ready for the next stage in their development.

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      Developmental Growth Chart For Teachers

      Growth Chart For BoysGrowth Chart For Girls
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      References

      Murkoff, Heidi, Arlene Einsenberg and Sandee Hathaway, BSN. What To Expect The First Year. What to Expect LCC, 2003.

      Murkoff, Heidi, Arlene Einsenberg and Sandee Hathaway, BSN. What To Expect The Toddler Years. What To Expect LCC, 2006.

      Author's Own Experience

      Growth Charts - Center for Disease Control and Prevention

      Image Credits - Owned by Author