Spheres of Development: The Body

Published on March 7, 2012 by in Physical Development


Ah yes, the body. Endlessly fascinating. Constantly changing. Often a source of wonder, pride, shame, excitement, curiosity, strength and so much more. It’s the container that makes our experience of the world possible, and it should not be taken for granted.

Throughout early childhood there are a number of ways to optimize the body’s growth. The first step is understanding different types of physical development.

During our first years of existence, the primary focus is on strengthening large muscle groups such as the torso, arms and legs. (The more technical term for this is gross-motor development). Learning to crawl, walk, run, jump, kick, climb, etc. are major achievements. The more activities that include these movements, the better!

The next phase of physical development primarily involves strengthening the small muscles of the hands and feet, also known as fine-motor control. (By the way, these phases overlap – it’s not a completely linear process). This is tough stuff for young children, and sometimes develops faster in girls. Fine-motor skills include grasping, cutting, controlling writing utensils, buttoning and more. There are many ways to nurture these skills, such as:

  • Providing toys children can squeeze, twist, grasp and build (ie, balls, building blocks, stuffed animals etc.)
  • Paper to draw on, rip apart, or crumple into little balls
  • Anything kids can shape, move and manipulate (Play-Doh, Lego sets etc.)

It’s also important to know that balance and coordination begin developing from the moment of birth. To help children make the necessary neural connections that link their vision, muscles and intention, any type of play that encourages controlled and purposeful movement is great. We want them engaged in activities such as:

  • Catching, throwing, hopping on one leg, balance beams, obstacle courses, painting, drawing, building, sculpture, dancing, writing, yoga, tip-toeing, simple gymnastics, etc.

As you can probably tell, balance and coordination come from nurturing a combination of gross & fine-motor skills. Just as different parts of children’s bodies grow at different rates, these skills will develop at different rates.

Parents can optimize the physical growth of their children by stimulating them with appropriate games and toys. The secret key to it all, however, is you.

When you bring joy and enthusiasm into play with your child, your encouragement and attention give them the motivation to persevere and improve. Keep all this information in the back of your mind, and it will integrate naturally into how you and your child play together. Above all, the focus is to have fun!

To learn more about the physical development and general milestones of young children, check this out: Supporting Physical Growth & Development in Young Children.

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