What Is Physical Development?

Early childhood is an exciting time for parents and children, as a child develops and refines physical skills from running to drawing 1. Your child's physical development can be encouraged by providing the right environment, once the skills involved are understood 1.


The two basic types of physical development in early childhood that allow the development of physical skills are gross motor development, or the development of skills using large movements that involve the whole body, and fine motor development, or the development of skills involving the hands and fingers and using smaller, more precise movements, explains Angela Oswalt, MSW, in an article for Mental Health.net 1.

Gross Motor Skills

Children stop “toddling,” or using an awkward, wide-gaited stance, between two and three years of age, instead adopting a smoother gait, according to Oswalt. Other physical skills acquired at these ages include running, jumping, hopping, and catching and throwing with larger balls. Three- and four-year-olds learn to climb stairs by bringing both feet together on each step, although the child may still be unsteady and need assistance. At this age as well, children gain better upper body mobility, improving the speed and accuracy of their catching and throwing. By four or five, the child can climb and descend stairs using the adult method of placing one foot after another on each stair, and by five and six children begin to master the jungle gym, start jumping rope and skating, and start learning to play organized sports.

Fine Motor Skills

Two- and three-year-old children start creating things with their hands, such as towers built out of blocks and shapes molded out of clay, and can scribble with pen or crayon. This is also the period when the child starts to become right- or left-handed by showing a preference for one hand. Three- and four-year-old children gain independence in dressing themselves as they start to manipulate zippers and snaps, and refine their eating skills by using forks and spoons. By four or five, the child can use buttons by himself and can draw stick figures and copy shapes like circles, squares and large letters. Five- to seven-year-olds have the ability to print letters and numbers, necessary for school, and can complete self-care tasks such as brushing their teeth and combing their hair.


Help your child develop her physical skills by providing an environment that encourages exploration and physical development, suggests PBS.org 1. Develop your child's upper body strength for gross motor skills by rolling balls and throwing bean bags, and later by helping her pull herself up, hang and swing from bars. Drawing with crayons, stringing beads and putting together puzzles are great ways to help a child develop fine motor skills.


It is normal for children to master these and other physical skills at different ages or in a different sequences, according to Oswalt. Let your child's doctor know if you have any concerns about his development, advises the University of Michigan Health System 2.