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Physical Development in Childhood

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Physical Development in Childhood

"Wait, how did you get so big? Where did the time go?"

So many things happen in young bodies when they grow from babies to toddlers to kids!

  • What is physical development in childhood?
  • What are the stages of physical development in childhood?
  • What are some characteristics of physical development in childhood?
  • What are some examples of physical development in childhood?

Importance of Physical Development in Childhood

Physical development in childhood encompasses all of the body's changes from the time of birth to around 11 years. The beginning of puberty in adolescence generally marks the end of childhood. Children grow in height and weight, of course, but they also develop motor skills, their muscles and other organs get stronger, and they achieve developmental milestones.

The brain is the driving force behind all physical development in childhood. The parts of the brain that develop during the prenatal period burst with growth and change throughout early childhood!

The forebrain or the top and front parts of the brain control things like body temperature, eating, sleeping, and emotional expression. The midbrain (the middle part of the brain) contains the motor system pathways. The midbrain is in charge of movement, motivation, and habits. The hindbrain, or the lowest part of the brain, supports automatic vital body processes like breathing.

Motor system pathways contain all of the neurons from the spinal cord to the limbs, which control motor skills like posture, reflexes, and muscle movements.

By the time you are two, your brain is about 75 percent of its adult weight! By six, it is at 95 percent of its adult weight! Despite increasing in weight, newborn babies possess almost all the neurons they will ever develop. This means that the connections that exist at birth grow as they are used.

Stages of Physical Development in Childhood

Childhood spans from birth to around 11 - 12 years. There is so much happening in physical development during this time! Breaking childhood up into stages will help us take a closer look at everything happening in a child's body and brain.

Infancy (Birth - 18 months)

The main type of physical development in infancy is putting on weight and growing in size. At birth, babies typically weigh between six to nine pounds. A year and a half later, the average weight of a child is around 24 pounds! Babies are around 18-22 inches long (height) at birth, and the average height of an 18-month-old is around 31 inches.

Other than growing in height and weight, infants learn to use their bodies in new ways. Infants learn to hold up their heads, reach for objects, and grasp toys. They develop hand-eye coordination. They develop enough muscle strength to support their body on their arms and legs to crawl around. At about 1 year old, babies usually possess enough strength and balance to start walking.

Toddlers (18 months - 3 years)

The toddler years are some of the most active times in a child's development! Toddlers are practically always in motion; jumping, throwing, running, and climbing on everything. The basic motor skills in infancy form the foundation for physical activities during the toddler years. Walking turns into running, standing turns into climbing, and swaying turns into dancing!

Preschoolers (3 - 5 years)

During the preschool years, children develop fine motor skills. Everything from using zippers, writing on paper, cutting with scissors, and molding playdough happens in this stage. Preschoolers learn to draw basic shapes and letters. This is also the time when kids develop a hand preference, figuring out if they are right-handed, left-handed, or ambidextrous. Preschoolers grow in confidence and competence in their motor skills.

Many gross motor skills are developed before this time, but these skills are improved and refined during these years. A toddler still struggles with balance and coordination at times, but preschoolers are able to begin playing sports. Preschoolers love to show you what they can do with their bodies!

Physical Development in Childhood a small child's hand resting on a ball of dough sitting next to many different colorful balls of dough StudySmarterMolding dough, pexels.com

School Age (6 - 12 years)

The rapid growth in the previous stages begins to slow down after the preschool years, and children in elementary school need more rest. Their bones are larger and harder than before, and they continue improving their fine motor skills (writing and drawing). During these years, children usually try out lots of different sports and activities to figure out their interests and learn new information.

According to Erikson, school-age children want to excel in their activities. They want to do their best! Similar to the way preschoolers like to show off their motor skills, older children want to tell you about their interests and abilities. They thrive on praise, affirmation, and educational stimulation. Now that the growth of their bodies has slowed down, school-age children are able to focus on cognitive development.

Characteristics of Physical Development in Early Childhood

As children get older, their motor skills development is fueled by the new connections forming in their brain. Maturation includes everything to do with growing and changing as we get older.

Physical maturation means our physical body's growth and changes (height, weight, abilities, balance, etc.).

Every child develops or matures at their own pace. No two children are exactly the same. Doctors have figured out average weights and heights for children of different ages, but many children fall on the extreme low or high end of these averages. Professionals use average percentiles to compare the development of children with each other.

Lily is two years old. She falls in the 18th percentile in height and the 67th percentile in weight. Compared to other children of the same age, Lily is much shorter in stature but slightly heavier in weight. Neither of these percentiles means that Lily is not developing normally. Both of Lily's parents are shorter in height, so it makes sense that Lily would be too.

It is crucial throughout childhood that the child eats enough food and gets sufficient nutrients. Along with nutrition, a safe, low-stress environment will help the child develop physically. Experiences matter in the development of young children. Playing at the park, flipping the pages of a book, molding craft dough, coloring with crayons, and running outside give a child's physical skills the chance to develop.

The Brain's Role in Physical Development

Remember how we said that the brain forms new connections as children grow? It also gets rid of unused connections to make room for more growth. This is called synaptic pruning. Getting rid of unused connections begins during childhood. Neural networks that are frequently used are strengthened, and those that are rarely ever used are shut down over time.

All of this adding and removing connections in the brain is called brain plasticity, or the ability of the brain to change over time. During the first year of life, the brain doubles in size! All these new connections are formed to get the brain ready for everything it needs to learn throughout life. The number of connections in the brain peaks around ages 2 - 3.

How does the brain decide what connections to keep and which ones to remove? Well, in the very early stages, genetic factors mostly decide which connections are pruned. Later on, the experiences of a developing child tell the brain which connections it needs to keep. This is why stimulation, playtime, and environmental experiences are so important for young children!

Examples of Physical Development in Childhood

We already mentioned that every child develops at their own pace, but there are still developmental milestones that are important for all children to achieve. Milestones are measurable increases in physical and cognitive development associated with certain ages. Many milestones build on one another; if one is not reached, it can impact others later on.

AgeDevelopmental Milestones
2 MonthsHolds head up with supportSmoother movements with limbs (less jerking or flailing)
4 MonthsRolls over from stomach to backBrings hands to mouthHolds and shakes items
6 MonthsRolls over from back to stomachSits with supportSupports weight on legs when standing
9 MonthsCrawlsSits without supportMoves to sitting position with supportStands with support
1 YearMoves into sitting position without supportTakes a few steps with supportStands without support
2 YearsKicks objectsRuns on even surfacesWalks upstairs (with or without support)Uses a spoon to eat
3 YearsThreads items with a stringCan put on some clothing items without helpUses a fork to eat
4 YearsCatches objectsDishes food onto a plate (with or without help)Pours liquids without spillingGrasps a pencil or crayon the right way
5 YearsButtons clothing itemsBalances on one footClimbs, swings, and somersaultsHops and skips
6-8 YearsPuts on clothingTies shoelacesConfidently catches and throws
9-12 YearsPhysical development slows downPuberty may begin earlyGrowth spurt in weight and heightMay experience growing pains (achy joints or muscles)

Physical Development in Childhood - Key takeaways

  • Physical development in childhood encompasses all of the body's changes from the time of birth to around 11 years.
  • Motor system pathways contain all of the neurons from the spinal cord to the limbs, which control motor skills like posture, reflexes, and muscle movements.
  • During the preschool years, children develop fine motor skills and refine gross motor skills.
  • Every child develops or matures at their own pace. No two children are exactly the same.
  • The experiences of a developing child tell the brain which connections it needs to keep and which to remove.

Frequently Asked Questions about Physical Development in Childhood

Nature and nurture affect physical development in childhood through genetics, good nutrition, sleep, and environmental factors.

Physical developments in childhood include fine and gross motor skill improvement.

Physical development is important in early childhood as it impacts physical ability and performance later on in life.

To support physical development in early childhood, provide healthy food, adequate exercise, and healthy social opportunities.

Some of the factors that affect physical development in early childhood are genetics, the environment, and nutrition. 

Final Physical Development in Childhood Quiz

Question

Why is physical development important for communication?

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Answer

When babies develop physically, they are able to communicate more, leading to a stronger connection between the baby and its adults. 

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Question

What is pruning?

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Answer

When your brain gets rid of connections that it's not using

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Question

Does pruning happen to everyone?

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Answer

Yes! When we are first born, there are so many connections being made in our brains that not all of them can stick around. 

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Question

What is cephalocaudal development?

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Answer

When babies develop control of their head, then neck, then torso, then all the way down to their feet 

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What is proximodistal development?

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Answer

When babies develop control from their torso out to their fingertips  

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Can proximodistal development and cephalocaudal development happen at the same time?

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Yes! 

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Question

What is not an example of a gross motor skill?

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Answer

Walking

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Question

What is a gross motor skill?

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Answer

The big movements that use large muscles in our bodies

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What is not a fine motor skill?

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Throwing a ball

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What is a fine motor skill?

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Answer

Smaller movements that use smaller muscles

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Question

What is the palmer grasp?

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Answer

When a baby instinctively latches on to someone's finger. It is a complete reflex. 

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What is the ulnar grasp?

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When a baby grabs something by putting their fingers on the palm of their hand

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What is the pincer grasp?

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Answer

When a child grabs something by putting their thumb to their fingertips 

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Question

Fill in the blank: Physical development in childhood encompasses all of the body's changes from the time of birth to around _____ years. 

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Answer

11

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Question

True or False: The beginning of puberty in adolescence generally marks the end of childhood.  

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Answer

True 

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Question

Fill in the blank: The ________ controls things like body temperature, eating, sleeping, and emotional expression.  

Show answer

Answer

forebrain

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Fill in the blank: The _________ contains the motor system pathways. 

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Answer

midbrain

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Question

Fill in the blank: The __________ is in charge of movement, motivation, and habits. 

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Answer

midbrain

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Fill in the blank: The __________ supports automatic vital body processes like breathing. 

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Answer

hindbrain

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Question

Fill in the blank: By the time you are ______your brain is about 75 percent of its adult weight!  

Show answer

Answer

two

Show question

Question

True or False: Despite increasing in weight, newborn babies possess almost all the neurons they will ever develop. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Childhood spans from birth to around 11 - 12 years. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

What is the age range for infancy? 

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Answer

Birth - 18 months 

Show question

Question

True or False: At birth, babies typically weigh between six to nine pounds. 

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Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Brain plasticity is best defined as the ability of the brain to change over time. 

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Answer

True 

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Question

At what age ranges does the number of connections in the brain peak? 

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Answer

2 to 3 years old 

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Question

Select ALL the developmental milestones usually exhibited at 5 years old. 

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Answer

Buttons clothing items

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Question

True or False: During the preschool years, children develop fine motor skills and refine gross motor skills.

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Milestones are measurable increases in physical and cognitive development associated with certain ages. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: According to _________, school-age children want to excel in their activities.  

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Answer

Erikson

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