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Back to basics
Physical development


All children need a safe, healthy environment for investigation and discovery, nutritious meals to sustain optimal growth and strength, opportunities to learn good health and safety practices, and attentive adults for support and guidance. Consider these ideas and activities that support children’s physical development. Remember to make adjustments to the activities to reflect the specific developmental skills and needs of the children in your care.


Respond promptly and reassuringly to signals of hunger, pain, or other need.
Provide flat woven rugs that pad the floor and invite safe rolling, reaching, and kicking.
Place objects just out of an infant’s reach to encourage stretching and grasping.
Offer babies unrestricted space to wiggle, squirm, and gain control over their muscles. Avoid placing infants in chairs and swings for long periods; a sleeping baby should always be in a crib.
Encourage self-feeding with appropriate finger foods. Provide wide-handled spoons that help babies practice (and approximate) the motions of moving food from a bowl to the mouth.
Provide low, sturdy furnishings that can be safely used for pulling up and balancing.
Include a variety of textures in toys and surfaces.
Plan activities that stimulate all a baby’s senses, offering opportunities that stimulate smell, taste, touch, sound, and sight.


Offer opportunities for safe crawling, walking, and climbing.
Play games that encourage children to be animals—snakes, fish, birds, turtles, cats, kangaroos, or bears—to slither, glide, crawl, roll, hop, and pounce across the floor.
Provide textured surfaces to vary crawling and walking experiences.
Put a large cardboard box on the floor to move over, into, through, and around.
Play walking games that help develop leg muscles, agility, and coordination—stomp, tiptoe, slow and quick steps, walk backward, and sideways.
Offer a ramp attached to a low step to encourage balanced walks and a short jump at the end.
Plan routine cooking and tasting experiences with familiar and new foods.
Encourage beginning bladder and bowel control by recognizing children’s signals, providing respectful reminders, and offering easy access to child-sized toilets.
Help build muscle control and basic hygiene practices by encouraging (and helping) children to wash hands and brush teeth independently.


Provide opportunities to build muscle control and strength through safe climbing—slide ladders, jungle gyms, cargo nets, and A-frames.
Explore games that involve jumping, hopping, sliding, slithering, and running.
Place a ladder on the floor and practice walking between the rungs and along the rails.
Place large hollow blocks on a carpeted (non-slip) floor to use as stepping stones.
Jump over puddles after a rain shower.
Toss beanbags and balls.
Practice self-help skills like fastening buttons and snaps, fitting zipper parts together, tying shoe laces, and turning faucets that build fine motor skills.
Build math charting activities by periodically measuring children’s foot length or height. Track measurements over several months.
Have routine meal-time conversations about nutrition and food likes and dislikes. Talk about quantity regulation and help children identify the sense of satiation—feeling full. Practice utensil use (including table knives, napkins, and pitchers).
Offer tools that develop small muscles—scissors, pencils, crayons, eggbeaters, tweezers, weaving looms, and sewing and knitting needles.


Play games that encourage balance—standing on one foot, standing on one foot with eyes closed, changing feet with eyes closed, for example.
Offer safe opportunities for large muscle use—climbing trees, jumping rope, running on hills, rolling tires, flying kites, and line dancing.
Encourage children to walk on balance beams, logs, PVC pipes, the edge of a wall, or a curb.
Build muscle control through tossing balls or beanbags through hoops or at a target, and batting or kicking a ball.
Include a cooking center in the classroom stocked with provisions for basic sandwich making and other healthful snacks.