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An Overview of Early Childhood Development

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Physical Development in Early Childhood
Physical Development in Early Childhood

As a child matures, parents eagerly await important milestones such as learning how to roll over and crawl.

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As a child matures, parents eagerly await important milestones such as learning how to roll over and crawl. Each of these represents a part of physical development. The maturation process happens in an orderly manner; that is, certain skills and abilities generally occur before other milestones are reached. For example, most infants learn to crawl before they learn to walk. However, it is also important to realize that the rate at which these milestones are reached can vary. Some children learn to walk earlier than their same-age peers, while others may take a bit longer.

Motor Skill Development

As a child grows, his or her nervous system becomes more mature. As this happens, the child becomes more and more capable of performing increasingly complex actions. The rate at which these motor skills emerge is sometimes a worry for parents. Caregivers frequently fret about whether or not their children are developing these skills at a normal rate. As mentioned above, rates may vary somewhat. However, nearly all children begin to exhibit these motor skills at a fairly consistent rate unless some type of disability is present.

There are two types of motor skills:

  • Gross (or large) motor skills involve the larger muscles including the arms and legs. Actions requiring gross motor skills include walking, running, balance and coordination. When evaluating gross motor skills, the factors that experts look at include strength, muscle tone, movement quality and the range of movement.

  • Fine (or small) motor skills involve the smaller muscles in the fingers, toes, eyes and other areas. The actions that require fine motor skills tend to be more intricate, such as drawing, writing, grasping objects, throwing, waving and catching.

Physical Growth

Physical development in children follows a directional pattern:
  • Large muscles develop before small muscles. Muscles in the body's core, legs and arms develop before those in the fingers and hands. Children learn how to perform gross (or large) motor skills such as walking before they learn to perform fine (or small) motor skills such as drawing.

  • The center of the body develops before the outer regions. Muscles located at the core of the body become stronger and develop sooner than those in the feet and hands.

  • Development goes from the top down, from the head to the toes. This is why babies learn to hold their heads up before they learn how to crawl.


Bayley, N. (1993). Bayley Scales of Infant Development (2nd ed.). New York: Psychological Corp.

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Kendra Cherry

Kendra Cherry
Psychology Guide

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