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Back to basics
Physical development


All children need stimulating, safe, and healthy environments, nutritious meals, routine medical care, and adults to guide, support, and maximize the potential of a child’s physical development. Consider these ideas and activities, adjusting the age ranges according to the specific needs of the children in your care.


bullet Maintain daily records of feedings, diaper changes, and behaviors—and share these with parents.
bullet Observe and record significant milestones like tooth eruptions, rolling over, social interactions, interests, and discoveries. Use these to plan the environment and appropriate developmental activities.
bullet Provide flat woven rugs that pad the floor but allow for vigorous physical movement like rolling, reaching, and kicking.
bullet Encourage self-feeding with appropriate finger foods.
bullet Place objects just out of an infant’s reach to encourage creeping, reaching, and grasping.
bullet Provide low, sturdy furnishings that can be used for pulling up and balancing.
bullet Develop a routine for washing, cleaning, and sanitizing materials, equipment, and surfaces.


bullet Make a daily safety check of indoor and outdoor activity areas.
bullet Offer activities that stimulate all the senses. Have conversations that help toddlers describe and understand their experiences.
bullet Encourage tooth brushing after snacks and meals. Help children use their own soft brushes and water (no toothpaste).
bullet Offer opportunities for safe crawling, walking, and climbing.
bullet Work with families to introduce and refine toilet learning.
bullet Set up a doctor’s office in the dramatic play area to help children become more comfortable with routine medical interactions. Include a scale and height chart so children can measure their own physical changes.
bullet Provide textured surfaces to vary walking experiences.
bullet Introduce the names of body parts and encourage investigations of strength, control, coordination, and balance.
bullet Play walking games and stomp, hop, tiptoe, quick step, and move in slow motion.
bullet Use a long piece of lumber as a balance beam. Encourage children to walk and jump.


bullet Provide daily opportunities for physical play outdoors—slides, ladders, cargo nets, A-frames, balance beams, wheel toys, and balls.
bullet Explore games that involve jumping, hopping, skipping, running, and climbing.
bullet Use large hollow blocks as stepping stones to the playground.
bullet Place a ladder on the floor and practice walking between and on the rungs.
bullet Jump over puddles after a rain shower.
bullet Dance to different styles and tempos of music.
bullet Provide opportunities and materials to refine fine motor skills—markers, paintbrushes, scissors, keyboards, and pegboards.
bullet Practice self-help skills like hand washing, tooth brushing, buttoning, zipping up a zipper, tying shoes, and turning faucet levers.
bullet Have routine conversations at meals about nutrition, food types and cooking techniques, textures, and tastes.
bullet Send class notes and cards to children who are sick. Have conversations with children about ways to stay healthy.


bullet Play games that encourage balance—standing on one foot, balancing on one foot with eyes closed, changing feet with eyes closed.
bullet Offer safe opportunities to use large muscles like climbing trees, jumping rope, running on hills, rolling tires, riding bikes, and flying kites.
bullet Practice walking on balance beams, logs, pipes, the edges of a low wall, or a curb.
bullet Introduce and support investigations of musical instruments—violin, piano, or cello—that demand fine motor precision.
bullet Anticipate independence in most self-help skills, but be prepared to assist when children are frustrated by a stuck zipper, for example.
bullet Offer routine tools that refine small muscle skills like scissors, pencils, tweezers, weaving looms, and sewing or knitting needles.
bullet Plan games and activities that focus on pedestrian and bicycling safety.
bullet Cheer the loss of baby teeth and the eruption of permanent ones. Use the opportunity to reinforce good dental habits including flossing.