Physical health is more than just staying free from sickness. It also means having a body that is strong and able to do a wide range of tasks—physical skills that range from walking and jumping to grasping and lifting objects. These physical skills develop through regular physical activity, which will not only help your child develop healthy habits that will keep him fit and healthy as he grows older; it will also help him develop his fine and gross motor skills.
Gross motor skills are defined as actions that use the large muscles of the body and encourage independent movement. These include crawling, running, jumping, and lifting. Fine motor skills, on the other hand, are movements that involve the smaller muscles of the body such as the hands. In the article Developmental Milestones: Motor Development, authors R. Jason Gerber, MD, Timothy Wilks, MD, and Christine Erdie-Lalena, MD say, “[Fine motor skills] are necessary for a person to perform self-help tasks, to play, and to accomplish work.” Picking up objects using the fingers, writing and drawing, and touching and tasting food are examples of fine motor skills.
One way to help a child develop his gross and fine motor skills is through play. Many adults think that playtime does not really do much to help a child’s growth, but play is one of the most important aspects of a child’s development. According to The Mister Rogers Parenting Resource Book, “When children play, they’re working.” Play helps a child learn about and make sense of the world, develop a sense of creativity, and become sociable. Most importantly, play helps with a child’s physical development.
A child’s physical development can be measured in milestones. Here are some of the milestones to watch out for by age:
Babies and toddlers (age 1-3)
By the time an infant reaches one year old, he is already able to sit up, crawl, reach for objects, and pull himself up and take his tentative first steps. When a baby reaches toddler age, he learns to walk farther, faster, and longer. He is also able to run, jump, and kick, and may also be able to catch and toss objects, pull toys behind him when walking, and stand on tiptoe. Free play, especially outdoors, helps in developing a toddler’s gross motor skills.
Babies and toddlers at this time also learn to grasp objects on their own and pick up small items using their fingers. Playing matching games such as shape sorting and simple puzzles, and activities such as opening and closing containers and turning knobs and pegs can help babies and toddlers strengthen the smaller muscles in their hands and fingers.
Preschoolers (age 4-5)
Upon starting pre-school, a child becomes even more curious and active. At this age, he should have developed enough strength in his limbs to be able to run, jump, kick, and climb on his own with relative ease. During this time, he is also starting to develop a better sense of balance and coordination. Starting age four, a child can already climb up and down the stairs without support, follow simple choreography and dance to music, and walk backwards and forwards easily. Simple games that require the use of big muscles to run, jump, and squat can help in improving a preschooler’s gross motor skills. Examples of these games include hide-and-seek, stop-and-go dance, and musical chairs.
A child at this age will also have developed enough dexterity in his fingers to properly hold and use utensils, brush his teeth, dress himself, stack items, copy letters, and draw simple figures. Building blocks, toy cooking sets, and puzzles—all of which can be played with using the hands and fingers—can further develop a preschooler’s fine motor skills.
Early school-age children (age 6-7)
Older children have by now developed a better sense of balance, coordination, speed, and strength. At this age, an older child also already has an improved hand-to-eye coordination and a good grip. Activities such as relay games and even sports can further enhance the gross and fine motor skills he has learned up to this point, in addition to helping him gain more confidence and encouraging him to keep up an active lifestyle.
According to the parenting manual Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, “Exposure to a variety of different physical activities—swimming, running, gymnastics, and other sports—helps children discover the activities that most appeal to them. With increasing coordination and endurance, they enjoy the activities even more and are more likely to continue them.”
Other activities that early school-age children can do to improve their gross motor skills include learning how to ride a bicycle, skipping rope, and playing kick ball.
At this age, a child will also have even better control of their fingers to be able to write legibly, draw more complicated figures, make crafts, and cut and paste items. Better control of the smaller muscles in his fingers will also enable an older child to button and unbutton clothes, and tie laces. The Mister Rogers Parenting Resource Book also suggests activities like creating and playing with puppets, putting together more intricate puzzles, and building bigger figures out of blocks, which will help older children improve their fine motor skills, as these require using hands and fingers more.
These years can be considered the golden years of child development. It is during these critical years that a child learns how to make use of his body to move purposefully, to play, to do things, and to become independent. Help your child as he grows and learns how to better use his body through movement and physical interaction. Give your child an edge with his physical development by providing him with a healthy diet. Make Promil your partner in giving your child the proper nutrition he needs to bring out the greatness in him.