Monday, June 20, 2011

Physical Development

The physical development of children consists of systematic changes which take place in physical size, bodily proportions, and neurological structures.  It is important to understand that children grow and mature at different rates; even though there are certain milestones that are used as a guide to indicate healthy and timely growth, each child may reach these milestones at different times.  All children follow their own unique growth curve.   It is also important to keep in mind that children’s physical development can be positively or negatively impacted by their environment.  Keeping this in mind, it is important to provide children with plenty of opportunities and resources to aid in their discovering of the world around them and to keep them developing physically.
Following we will take a look at some important areas in the physical development of children.

The Brain
The brain is an extremely important organ which regulates many systems of the body as well as guiding a child’s movement.  A child’s brain is continuously growing from about 25 days after conception and by the 7th month of prenatal development the vast majority of neurons that will ever be used by a person are formed (McDevitt and Ormond, 2010).  Following are the major roles of the brain during infancy, childhood and adolescence.
Infancy:  The brain activates circuits for reflexes, other basic physiological processes, and learning about the world.   
Childhood:  The brain strengthens frequently used neurological circuits and allows underutilized connections to shrivel.
Adolescence:  The brain ignites new interests and passions, expands intellectual abilities, and fortifies emotional skills and long-term planning.

Physical Development
In the next section, physical development is explained in segments:  Infancy (Birth – Age 2), early childhood (Ages 2-6), Middle Childhood (Ages 6-10), and Early Adolescence (Ages 10-14).

Infancy:  Babies go through a rapid spurt of growth from the time they are born until they are 2 years old.  The first reflex an infant exhibits is breathing.  Reflexes are referred to as involuntary movements that are usually triggered by an external stimulus.   Normal physical growth can be indicated as an infant outgrows reflexes and in turn starts to produce controlled voluntary movements.   An infant’s motor skills develop following cephalocaudal and proximidistal trends.  Cephalocaudal refers to the vertical ordering of motor skills and physical development; in other words, infants first learn to control their heads and move downward to their feet.  Proximidistal refers to the inside-out ordering of motor skills and physical development; in other words, infants will first learn to control their arms, then their hands, and finally their fingers.

The video provided below was put together by a student and it is a great tool to help us understand this very important period in a child’s life:

Early Childhood:  Children in this stage develop and show dramatic changes in gross motor skills and fine motor skills.  Gross motor skills refer to large movements of the body that permit movement through and within the environment (McDevitt and Ormond, 2010).  Some examples of gross motor skills include running, hopping, tumbling, climbing, and swinging.  As children develop and master these skills they are better capable to explore and learn about their surroundings.  On the other hand, fine motor skills refer to small, precise movements of particular parts of the body, especially the hands (McDevitt and Ormond, 2010).  Some examples of fine motor skills include drawing, writing, cutting with scissors, and manipulating small objects.

Chart courtesy of:

Middle Childhood:  During the years of middle childhood, children will experience steady but slow gains in height and weight.  One of the major milestones at this age is the loss of the child’s baby teeth.  Fine motor skills are also refined during this time and many children will exhibit a desire to participate in organized sports.  In order to successfully aid children during this time, parents and educators should provide plenty of opportunities for children to engage in self-organized activities, teach them about the basics of sports, and integrate physical movement into academic activities.

Early Adolescence:  Puberty is the most dramatic and obvious part during this part of a child’s physical development.  Children will also exhibit a rapid growth spurt in which their height and weight will increase.  Additionally, they will also experience sex-specific characteristics which might seem frightening if they are not properly prepared for them, especially young girls.  At around this time, girls will experience menarche, the term used for their first menstrual period.  If a young girl is not exposed to knowledge about menarche, they might feel scared when they first experience it.  In boys, puberty takes place by the enlargement of their testes and the changes in their scrotum.  At about 13-14, boys will experience spermarche, the term used for a boy's first ejaculation experience.  It has been noted that boys receive less information about spermarche than girls do about menarche; therefore, parents should be aware that talking to their children about these significant milestones is very important.  Talking with children will help them express their ideas about their changing bodies and parents can take the opportunity to clarify any misconceptions they might have.

To conclude this section of children's physical development, we would like to share a chart with the milestones for normal physical development.  Again, it is important to keep in mind that these are only approximations and that each child will reach the milestone at their own pace.

Physical Development Milestones

Birth to 3 months
Most infants begin to:
·  Raise head slightly when lying on stomach
·  Hold head up for a few seconds, when supported
·  Hold hand in a fist
·  Lift head and chest, while lying on stomach
·  Use sucking, grasping, and rooting (holding tongue to the roof of the mouth) reflexes
·  Touch, pull, and tug own hands with fascination
·  Repeat body movements, and enjoy doing so
3 to 6 months
Babies are quickly becoming stronger and more agile. Most begin to:
·  Roll over
·  Push body forward and pull body up by grabbing the edge of a crib
·  Reach for and touch objects
·  Reach, grasp, and put objects in mouth
·  Make discoveries with objects (for example, a rattle makes noise when it is moved)
6 to 9 months
"Child-proofing" becomes important as babies get more mobile. During this time most begin to:
·  Crawl
·  Grasp and pull things toward self
·  Transfer objects between hands
9 to 12 months
By this time, most babies can:
·  Sit without support
·  Stand unaided
·  Walk with aid
·  Roll a ball
·  Throw objects
·  Pick things up with thumb and one finger
·  Drop and pick up toys
1 year to 2 years
Walking and self-initiated movement become easier. Most children can:
·  Walk alone
·  Walk backwards
·  Pick up toys from a standing position
·  Push and pull objects
·  Seat self in a child's chair
·  Walk up and down stairs with aid
·  Move to music
·  Paint with whole arm movement

Balance improves and eye-hand coordination becomes more precise. Most children can:
·  Put rings on a peg
·  Turn two or three pages at a time
·  Scribble
·  Turn knobs
·  Grasp and hold a small ball; can use in combination with large motor skills to throw the ball
·  Shift marker or any drawing or painting tool from hand to hand and draw strokes
2 to 3 years
Children become more comfortable with motion, increasing speed, and coordination. Most begin to:
·  Run forward
·  Jump in place with both feet together
·  Stand on one foot, with aid
·  Walk on tiptoe
·  Kick ball forward

Children are able to manipulate small objects with increased control. Most can:
·  String large beads
·  Turn pages one by one
·  Hold crayon with thumb and fingers instead of fist
·  Draw a circle
·  Paint with wrist action, making dots and lines
·  Roll, pound, squeeze, and pull clay
3 to 4 years
Movement and balance improve. Most children can:
·  Run around obstacles
·  Walk on a line           
·  Balance on one foot
·  Push, pull, and steer toys
·  Ride a tricycle
·  Use a slide without help
·  Throw and catch a ball

Children's precision of motion improves significantly. Most are able to:
·  Build a tall tower of blocks
·  Drive pegs into holes
·  Draw crosses and circles
·  Manipulate clay by making balls, snakes, etc.
4 to 5 years
Children are now more confident, and most are able to:
·  Walk backwards
·  Jump forward many times without falling
·  Jump on one foot
·  Walk up and down stairs without assistance, alternating feet
·  Turn somersaults

Children develop skills that will help them as they enter school and begin writing. Most can:
·  Use safety scissors
·  Cut on a line continuously
·  Copy squares and crosses
·  Print a few capital letters

Note to Parents/Educators:  The following websites are wonderful additional sources to assist you with any questions you might have regarding how children develop physically and the things that can be done to enhance their growth.

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