Physical Development in Early Childhood ages 2-6


Physical Development in Early Childhood ages 2-6

Early childhood is a critical time for children to develop motor skills. wikipedia.physical development in early childhood ages 2-6

Recent advances in brain research clearly illustrate the importance of these years, as we are able to see the connection between movement and cognitive development.

The early years are a critical period as neural pathways develop through the process of myelinization.

Physical Development in Early Childhood

Myelin- a fatty, insulating substance, covers axons and speeds the transmission of neural pathways.

Without opportunities during infancy and early childhood to interact in a rich sensory environment, sensory pathways in the brain may not develop properly and the capacity to use motor skills may remain undeveloped.

It is through moving, playing, and interacting with the environment that growth of dendrites and synapses is maximized.

We will be demonstrating the stages of motor development and describing how educators and parents can enhance motor development at each stage.


At birth, children have a large number of reflexive behaviors. Reflexes are automatic (baby sneezing) built-in responses to stimuli.

Doctors and nurses assess a newborn by testing some of these reflexes. Often, reflexes are categorized in the following ways:

1. Behaviors to help the infant respond to the environment.

  • For example, when you stroke a newborn’s cheek, the infant will turn to the side. Enabling the infant to find a nipple. Sucking and swallowing reflexes enable an infant to take in nutrients.

2. Behaviors that contain elements of later voluntary behaviors.

  • These include the stepping, standing, crawling, and swimmers reflexes.
  • If an object is placed in the palm of an infant’s hand, the grasping reflex will be triggered.

Some reflexes persist throughout life, such as coughing, yawning, and blinking reflexes.

Other reflexes disappear, typically between three and six months.

It is believed that as the development of the brain progresses, voluntary movements take over and the reflexes are suppressed.

Doctors continue to assess these reflexes during routine well-baby check-ups to make sure that particular reflexes disappear as scheduled.

This tells us that the infant’s nervous system is developing normally.

Fundamental movement skills

Preschool and early elementary children are involved in developing fundamental movement skills, such as running, jumping, hopping, pedaling, climbing, catching, and throwing.

Children progress through stages as they develop each of these skills. For example, at two to three years, the child runs stiffly, has difficulty turning corners, and stopping quickly.

At (2- 3 years):

1. The child jumps off the bottom step with both feet.

2. The child tries climbing to the top of equipment.

3. They often have trouble going over and climbing down.

4. The child throws the ball by facing the target and using both forearms to push, uses little or no footwork or body rotation.

5. The child uses hands and

arms as a single unit in an attempt to trap the ball against the body.

At (3- 4 years):

1. The child runs more smoothly,

has more control over starting and stopping.

2. The child springs off the floor with both feet and is beginning to jump over objects, leading with one foot.

3. The child climbs up and down ladders, jungle gyms, slides, and trees.

4. The child throws overhand with one arm, uses body rotation, does not lose balance.

5. The child bends their arms at the elbows to trap the ball against the body.

At (4-5 years):

1. Displays strong, speedy running, turns corners, stops and starts easily.

2. The child jumps up, down, and forward.

3. The child climbs up and down ladders, jungle gyms, slides, and trees with increased proficiency, greater speed, and agility.

4. The child uses more mature overhand motions and control, but throws from the elbow.

5. The child uses their hands to catch the ball.

At (5-6 years):

1. The child shows mature running, seldom falls, displays increased speed and control.

2. The child jumps long, high, and far.

3. They also jump rope.

4. The child displays mature climbing, in an adult manner.

5. The child steps forward on the throwing arm side as the throw is made.

6. The child places their feet wide apart, in anticipation of needing to move to catch the ball.

7. The child will also close its hands around the ball.

Motor fitness

Components include:

1. Agility

This is the ability to change the movement direction of the entire body in space, both rapidly and accurately.

This is essential in simple games, such as tag, and in sports, such

as soccer or tennis.

2. Balance

This involves maintaining equilibrium, both while standing still or moving.

This is important for standing on one foot, hopping, jumping, and running.

It is an essential skill in sports, such as gymnastics and dance.

3. Coordination

This is the ability to perform motor skills smoothly and accurately.

Coordination is demonstrated when a child uses more than one

part of the body at a time, such as when throwing

or catching a ball.

This is a skill used in many sports later on.

4. Power.

This is the ability to transfer energy into force at a fast rate.

This allows children to kick and strike objects faster, farther, and with greater accuracy.

Power is apparent, as you observe skills in sports such as baseball, golf, and volleyball.

5. Reaction time

This is the time elapsed between stimulation and the beginning of a reaction to that stimulation.

With practice, children learn to anticipate where the ball will

land and react quickly.

6. Speed

This is the ability to perform a movement in a short period of time.

Children are fascinated with speed and often experiment to see how fast they can move.

Speed is a factor in sports, such as track and swimming.

Specific skills stage

By age seven, most children have mastered the fundamental movement behaviors.

Next, they move into specific skills stage, where all of the fundamental movement behaviors are combined and used in sports, such as basketball, softball, soccer, and swimming.

The differences between these stages are apparent when you compare younger and older children engaging in the same tasks.

These beginning swimmers are working on each individual part of learning to swim.

They practice kicking, arm strokes, and breathing separately, and have trouble putting each of these components together.

A teenager is able to smoothly coordinate each part of the stroke and master the skill components, such as speed and coordination.

Obviously, with swimming, as with other activities, children need opportunities to practice these skills.

Mastering fundamental movement skills during early childhood is critical, both for moving into the specific skills stage and for developing social skills in middle childhood and adolescence.

Observing at an upper elementary playground, it become apparent that much of the children’s social interactions take place as they engage in the sport of the season, kickball, football, soccer, baseball.

Children who have not mastered the fundamental movement skills and moved into specific skills are often reluctant to participate, and may feel inferior to more skilled classmates.

This may eventually discourage them from participating in physical activities that are essential for lifelong health and well-being.

Environmental Factors that Affect Child Development

The following are barriers, both at home and at school, that may impede children’s motor development.

Children– preschoolers and elementary school-age are spending increasing amounts of time engaging in sedentary screen activities, like television, video games, and computers.

More elementary school-age children are left home alone after school and instructed to stay inside for safety reasons.

Preschools often have limited space indoors and outdoors for children to engage in large motor activities.

Elementary schools are shortening recesses and eliminating time spent in physical education classes, in response to demands that children spend more time focusing on academic skills. And, of course, there is obesity.

Recent research indicates that approximately 10% of children in the United States are at least 20 pounds above the average weight for their age.

This may impede motor development.

Physical, as well as psychological, problems may ensue.

Best Ways to Boost Physical Development in Early Childhood ages 2-6

Parents and teachers need to do their best to address each of these issues by:

1.¬† Limiting children’s screen time.

2. Providing opportunities for physical activities.

3. Making sure children eat nutritiously at home.

4. Developing curriculum in preschools and elementary schools that devotes time and resources to the development of motor skills.

This type of programming recognizes the importance of motor skills in influencing physical development, as well as social, emotional, and cognitive skills.

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