Touchy Feely: The Early Stages of Physical Development

Have you ever looked at a child when he/she touches something for the first time? The way their little faces scrunch up in confusion.  Or if the feeling is something that tickles or bring them joy the way a huge Colgate smile appears on their faces out of nowhere.  These are only a few signs that the child you are observing has yet again hit a milestone in the process of Physical Development.   Physical Development (PD) provides children with the abilities needed to explore and interact with the world around them (Sean Brotherson 2010).  PD has three major domains: balance/coordination skills, fine-motor skills, and gross-motor skills.

Through balance/coordination skills children develop a sense of balance and the ability to coordinate movements with progression into more complex physical experiences (North Dakota State University (NDSU) 2006).  While balance and coordination work together for the common good of the child, the two elements can come into play at different times both developing from birth.  Balance in infants and toddlers is the skill needed for them to properly to sit-up or stand on their own. Coordination skills plays a role in children’s ability to focus eyes on and reach for an object.  As coordination progresses children are better able to play, eat, and left-to-right track with their eyes and head -a skill needed for reading.  An important component to effectively develop balance/coordination skills is repetition.  As with adults, repeating the same experience will engrain it into a child’s synapses during pruning.

Another form of Physical Development is Fine-motor skills (FMS).  Fine-motor skills involve the use of smaller muscles in the hands, feet, and other parts of the body.  Through FMS a child develops the ability to grasp, cut, throw, and draw.  With FMS developing at a slower rate than Gross-motor skills (GMS) cutting may not be a strong point for the child.  However, to train the small muscles of the fingers, pre-cutting skills can be crumbling paper and then tearing the paper. “Parents and other adults should provide materials that children can shape, move, and manipulate; allow children to make a mess; and assist them if they need help.” says NDSU’s article “Supporting Physical Growth and Development in Young Children.

Contrary to FMS, Gross-motor skills (GMS) emphasize the importance of the development of children’s larger muscles and the ability to move from place to place or do physical activities using large muscles of the body, arms and legs (NDSU 2006).  Without proper development of GMS children will battle with crawling, walking, running, and other physical experiences.  As children evolve into pre-schoolers, lack of development can result in childhood obesity, feelings of lack of support, and for the parent guilt.  We as the adults and caregivers must be attentive with our little ones, paying special attention to those who are not participating in activities or struggling where others are excelling.

The importance within each individual domain of Physical Development add value to a child’s life in their respective ways as well as overall.  Balance/coordination skills give the child the ability to maneuver through life’s daily tasks.  Fine-motor skills are in many ways the stepping stones to developing the muscles that aid children in becoming well versed human beings.  Gross-motor skills help in the development of the larger muscles needed to embark in the more extensive physical experiences.

Physical development in my opinion is one the top ways in which children and adult alike can build bonds with others.  Allowing messy play, giving children free reign over their creativity, and keeping your child physically active are ways of preparing them for society’s structured standard of living.

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