Physical development is rapid in children during the first few years. During this stage, they achieve several milestones, which help them grow into independent toddlers. Dr Kavita Gohil, a paediatrician at Zen Hospital, Mumbai answers questions on the milestones a parent needs to look out for during this stage and how to deal with delayed milestones.
1. What does physical development mean?
Development is a continuous process that starts at conception. Early childhood is a period in development where the environment has an important impact on determining how the brain and the central nervous system develop. The sequence of development is same in all children but the rate of development varies from child to child.
2. What important physical milestones must a child achieve during ages 2 to 5 years?
Growth patterns in 2 to 5-year-olds mainly reflect an increase in height and weight, but less rapidly than in infancy. As middle childhood is reached, rate of growth slows until adolescence. Development patterns include gross and fine motor skills.
Gross motor movements involve the larger muscles. As children learn to balance, their bodies become more streamlined and less top heavy. By age 2, their gait becomes smooth and rhythmic enabling them to run, jump, hop and skip. Children become more steady on their feet, and their arms and torsos are free to experiment with larger movements like throwing and catching a ball, swinging and riding a tricycle.
Children enjoy learning new skills through increased control of hands and fingers. Fine motor skills require greater precision and control. 2- to 3-year-olds begin stacking blocks, moulding clay and scribbling. 3- to 5-year-olds begin tasks such as writing alphabets with an adult-like grip. They like to test their physical skills while playing with friends. Play also helps them learn to cooperate with others, to converse and sing.
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3. How can a child be helped to develop physical skills?
At this stage, a child needs his parents to encourage his growing independence and their patience as he tries his new skills. He child can be helped by providing exposure and opportunity.
4. What kinds of movement are good for a pre-schooler?
Preschools and day care centres need to accommodate a wide range of physical activities. Criticism of a child’s motor performance, pushing specific motor skills and promoting a competitive attitude may undermine a young child’s motor progress.
5. What kind of an environment is best for physical development?
Unstructured physical activity is important for a child's development. Optimise indoor space for playing safely. Provide safe boundaries to playground areas, safe play equipment. Sufficient space to explore and freedom to play optimises physical development.
Children aged 1–5 years should get anything between one and several hours of daily physical activity.
6. What causes delays in physical development? What should a parent do if a milestone is delayed?
Most young kids today are not getting adequate physical activity. Parents can limit screen time first by setting an example and then by providing alternatives, such as playing in the park, swimming, playing ball or dancing. A delayed milestone may be caused by a lack of opportunity to play or by a medical condition. When parents are concerned about their child’s progress, they must consult a paediatrician who will evaluate and provide professional guidance to deal with possible delays.