The Whole Child
By Leaps and Bounds:
Physical Development
abc's of child development
For parents
for early care providers

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A child's physical challenges begin at birth and they keep changing as the child does. We can learn so much about children's abilities and needs simply by observing them. Only then can we arrange our space and activities so they provide experiences that satisfy and entice them to achieve further physical skills.

Creating the Physical Environment
Creating a physical environment that encourages exploration and physical development is important for children of all ages. It's important to allow infants plenty of space for rolling, scooting and, eventually, crawling. Because babies love to look at moving objects and try to reach for them, think about hanging mobiles, streamers and scarves in their space. Babies also like to experiment with objects, so be sure there are plenty of rattles and small toys that are easy for them to reach for and pick up. Rather than try to stop babies from mouthing objects, it's more realistic to make it a policy to disinfect infant equipment on a daily basis.
        Throughout the early years, a child's physical skills are developing at an astonishing rate. Preschoolers need many opportunities to practice their new skills and this means providing a variety of interesting equipment and activities to challenge them. Equipment for physical activity should be sturdy and well-maintained. In addition to well-anchored climbing equipment, there should be an array of "loose parts," things that children can move around and arrange to suit their play like ladders, sawhorses and empty boxes. But there's more to play than providing equipment and toys. Children also need enough time and space for vigorous, noisy, physical play.

Safety Guidelines
Our goal is to provide experiences for children that enhance the development of a wide range of large and small muscle skills. We are also there to keep children healthy and safe without being overprotective. By learning how to become creative within the environment using equipment and activities, we can do much to challenge and enhance children's physical abilities.
        Here are some basic safety guidelines to follow:

  • Continually check the school surroundings and equipment for such things as exposed nails and broken parts.
  • Avoid lifting a child onto play equipment that he cannot climb onto by himself. Swings are an exception to this general rule.
  • Watch out for high places such as slides and monkey bars that can be dangerous to young children. Falling from high places is the most frequent cause of serious injuries in preschools.
  • Preserve soft, deep surfaces such as sand or bark mulch beneath high equipment. Grass is not soft enough to adequately cushion a fall.
Encourage children to explore new challenges. Children must be protected, but they also need the chance to venture out and try out new things. Allow children to experiment with mild risks that build feelings of competence as they are met and mastered.

Illness and Infection
We owe it to our children, their families and ourselves to make sure that we've done everything possible to reduce opportunities for illness and infection. Insist on updated immunizations for all children and require that contagious children stay home. Handwashing is the single most effective way to avoid spreading disease. Children and teachers should wash hands after nose-blowing, before handling food, and after toileting or diapering.

Fostering Muscle Development and Large Motor Skills
Play is the means children use to try out and practice new skills. Be sure to plan different large motor activities so that children can practice them all. Children need opportunities to develop upper body strength and expertise by pulling themselves up and hanging from apparatus, swinging, rolling balls at targets and throwing bean bags. They need opportunities to strengthen their lower bodies by jumping up and down, balancing on one foot and teetering along the edge of a low wall.
        It's important to remember not to pressure or demand children to excel at every physical task. The goal is to encourage youngsters to want to become more skillful. Most children are so delighted when they learn something new, they do it over and over without adult urging.

Children with Disabilities
Our goal is to support each child in her development according to her own abilities. Always try to include and encourage children with disabilities to participate in appropriate physical activities. Make sure there are plenty of opportunities to challenge and develop their physical abilities. The use of physical experiences is an excellent way to help children with disabilities to play with others. Our challenge is to look for ways to maximize these children's abilities while reinforcing their development.

Fine Motor Development
There's more to physical development than just the large muscle tasks of walking, running, jumping and climbing. It's important to pay attention to the whole range of development, including coordination of eyes and hands or "fine motor development." Using crayons, scissors, stringing beads and doing puzzles are all examples of fine muscle work. These kinds of activities are very taxing for young children, so teachers should not expect children to work at such skills for too long without relief.

Developing All Five Senses
It is so important that we encourage children to develop all their senses - sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste - because the more they use them, the more they can learn. Children love to explore and investigate new sensations. We can help by encouraging them to make comparisons by feeling and smelling things as well as by looking at them. Children can explore materials by handling and manipulation. Snack time can be an opportunity for children to explore their senses of touch, smell and taste by allowing them to cut and pick up their own fruit, for example. Teachers can encourage children to tell sounds apart by listening closely to rhymes or nature sounds.

Another important part of the preschool day is relaxation and nap time. Young children are often under greater stress than we realize. The hurried pace of families' lives and the necessity of conforming to school routines can increase children's stress. We can relieve that tension by helping children learn techniques for relaxation. During nap time, for example, reduce outside stimulation by turning off the lights and drawing the shades. We can also help children release their tension through dance and movement activities which alternate intense physical activity with stretching, yawning, and "letting go."

Physical Attention and Affection
Like adults, children need to be held, cuddled and encouraged to express their affection for others. At the same time, we must protect ourselves and our children from any hint or accusation of sexual abuse or inappropriate touching. Regular communication with families and open drop-in policies can help build confidence. This type of climate builds trust so that physical affection and tenderness can be expressed without fear. Maintaining the policy of always having two adults present is one way to reassure parents that their children are being well supervised.

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