Physical development, also called gross-- and fine-motor development, proceeds from head to foot, near to far, and simple to complex. When you compare the motor skills of children at birth and at the end of the preschool years, these patterns are easy to see. Hand skills are a good example. At 13 months, most children stack only two blocks. By their fourth birthday, many children use quite a few blocks to create high towers, houses, and roads.
Large-motor skills, such as walking, running, and throwing balls, depend on the use and control of the large muscles of the back, legs, shoulders, and arms. Small-motor skills, such as completing single-knob puzzles, grasping crayons and paintbrushes, turning pages of a book, and stringing beads, depend on the use and control of the hand, wrist, and fingers.
Children master physical skills through practice and repetition. Even with the same activities, children accomplish skills at different times and in different ways. Variations can be caused by differences in children's physical size, health and diet, interests, temperament, choice and frequency of physical play, as well as many other factors. To help children master motor skills:
Observe children individually. if a child seems to be doing the same activity over and over, suggest new games and activities that will help the child develop new skills.
Rotate activities and equipment as children mature. By now your children have mastered some of the skills they couldn't do at the beginning of the year. Certain toys, manipulatives, and games probably aren't being used as often-or at all. Replace these little-used items with new ones that are more challenging, leaving just a few favorites for children to return to.
Encourage children's attempts. Learning new skills is hard work. If children get too frustrated, they will stop trying. Lead them back to an activity that uses a skill they have mastered; then, try the new one again in a few days.
Physical activity and repeated practice are necessary for the development of motor skills. In most cases, improvement in any one skill is typically slow but steady and follows a predictable pattern As you learn more about average development for a particular age, remember that it is normal for children to develop both large- and small-motor skills at differing times. The chart on page 42 will serve as a general guide to the ages at which most children develop certain skills.