Physical Development
In The Early Years

I love watching the physical development of the twin baby girls I know. They are now about a month old. Each time I visit I notice that Bree loves to stretch and wiggle. She kicks her feet and stretches her arms. Only occasionally does she curl up in a ball and snuggle. She likes to lay on her tummy on my lap and lift her head up or lay on my shoulder and pull her head away from my body. (As much as she can with me supporting her fragile neck.) 

Hallie curls up in a little ball and snuggles. She occasionally stretches and kicks and moves her arms. She doesn't make much attempt to lift her head yet but is content to lay on her back in my arms swaddled all comfy cozy.

Both babies are developing normally. They both are developing in their own way and in their own time. Some day they will both sit and crawl and walk and later run. Maybe they will even ski or play soccer like their brothers. 

All childrens' physical development grows in their own time and in their own way. Children need a safe and stimulating environment and opportunities to move to the next level of physical skill with encouragement from a supportive adult. 

The doctor said, "Be sure and put the babies on their backs to sleep." We already knew this. He also said, " Make sure you give them tummy time everyday so they can practice lifting their heads up." The doctor knew that babies learn to lift their heads and then their chests and then roll over and later will crawl and creep and pull themselves up and even walk. All of this happens within a relatively short time. Wow!

But as is true of all areas of physical development: first things are first. We certainly wouldn't expect a baby to get up and walk before she was able to lift her body and chest off the ground.   

As babies learn to walk, we hold them up until they are steady and stand close by to catch them if they fall. We make sure they are not learning to walk on cement or some other inappropriate surface. We are patient because we know they will walk when they are ready. 

Physical Development in Preschoolers

We encourage physical development in toddlers and preschoolers the same way. We provide them with safe places to play. We provide them with a stimulating environment in which to test their wings. And we stay close by and support their efforts. 

I always enjoyed watching the children in my preschool classroom as they became more proficient and confident climbing up the half arch climber to the slide or  moving hand over hand across the bars to reach the walkway on the other side. 

Many of the children were reluctant to take risks and stretch their physical development. Some would sit on the edge of the equipment waiting for a turn on the hand-over-hand bars but would change their minds when their turn came. My co-teacher and I would encourage them to try new things. We stood by and offered a little assistance to help them build confidence. 

Every day children were trying new things. Some would eventually get up the nerve to hang from the first bar and drop to the ground (a foot and a half below) with the assistance of a teacher. Once they became more confident they would work every day to swing their little bodies back and forth trying to get to the other side. They would move one or two more rungs each day. When the day came that they were successful in their enterprise it was reason to celebrate. Nothing is more precious than the look of pride on the face of a small child. 

One day when we were on the playground with another preschool class there was a little girl halfway up the arch climber. She was crying and afraid to go up or come down. Her teacher picked her up and took her off the climber. She told the child, "If you can't do it don't get up there." My guess is she won't try that again, and won't learn how to do it either. 

I have also seen people hold onto children as they go hand over hand across the bars. They totally support the child's body as the child pretends he is crossing over. I wonder how that helps a child's physical development in that case?  Although, I am pretty sure that any adult who constantly lifts four-year-olds as they cross on the bars will develop some pretty good muscles herself! 

What do teachers do when it rains or hits temperatures below zero? Well, some teachers get out the DVDs and entertain the children in the most convenient way possible. If you do this you will certainly have plenty of time to catch up on your paperwork. Especially if you have a new release movie.... 

We, however are interested in physical development. So, keeping that in mind  we think about our options. We can't  get into the gym. Everyone wants it today. The space in our preschool room isn't big enough for a rousing game of kickball. We can, however,  push back some of the furniture or work around it. We can march, hop, skip, jump, roll balls, throw bean bags in the trash can, or make an obstacle course out of whatever we can find. 

Physical development calls for some intentional teaching just like the other areas of development. We don't take a group of preschoolers out and work them like a drill sergeant. But, we are tuned into the children in our classroom. We notice what each child needs. We play with them and encourage them and offer just the right amount of assistance. 

Hopefully our children will enjoy physical activity so much that they will want to play outside at home. They will join the track team or bowling team or tennis team or go skiing or swimming. They will find physical activity attractive and choose it over constant eating, television, and video games. Our goal should be to raise a generation of healthy happy people.

No discussion about physical development would be complete without some conversation about fine motor development. Children develop strength and coordination in their hands and fingers in steps just as the baby learns to hold up it's head before it can crawl or walk. 

Often teachers get so excited about teaching children to write that they get the cart before the horse (so to speak). If you visit preschool classrooms the first day of school you will often see teachers encouraging each and every child to write his/her name. What faith! What excitement! We can really make a difference here. Children who have never held a pencil before will write their names. Aren't we proud of ourselves? 

Just like the baby who carefully pulls himself up to standing before he walks there are many things a child needs to be able to do before he can write the alphabet. There are even things he needs to be able to do before he can draw shapes. 

A child needs to be able to strengthen the muscles in his her hands and fingers just like the child on the hand over hand bars strengthened the muscles in his arms. A child needs to develop eye-hand coordination before he can control the pencil. A child can't write various letters when he can't tell one letter from the other.

Providing children with an opportunity to write every day is not a bad thing as long as they are allowed to do what they do best. Some may scribble while others may make letter-like symbols while others will actually write words or letters.

You can promote fine motor physical development in all areas of your classroom. Nearly all manipulatives are great for fine motor development. Small sized snack like cherrios and gold fish crackers are good for helping children develop a pincer grasp. 

Children love to write on chalkboards and white boards. They also like to write with their fingers in shaving cream and sand or salt or finger paint. If you put writing materials in all of the centers children will write, each at his own level of development. 

One of my favorite activities is letting the children string beads, macaroni or buttons (good for developing the ability to move hands in opposing  directions). Small legos are usually a high interest toy. Play dough is great for developing fine motor skills. Add plastic scissors to the play dough in order to add another level of fine motor development. A kindergarten teacher told me once that good old fashiolned clay is even better for developing hand muscles than play dough. 

Before expecting children to cut out intricate shapes or even circles let them clip paper, cut strips etc. Some teachers like to put paper and scissors in the discovery table (sand table) and let children clip and cut as much as they like. 

When "teaching" physical development skills (fine or gross motor) be aware of the child's level of development. Provide materials and opportunities for children that will take them where they need to go. Provide them with lots of encouragement! You will be their best cheerleader as they discover they can do things they never imagined they could. 

Hip, Hip, Hooray

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