Children’s development is is broken down into four components: fine motor, gross motor, perception, and health, safety, and nutrition.
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Perception refers to “children’s use of their senses to gather and understand information and respond to the world around them” (School Readiness Program). The use of perceptual information is key to infants’ and toddlers’ exploration, interactions, and understanding of their experiences. This information also helps direct their everyday experiences, like pressing harder on clay than on play dough in an art project, or walking carefully on a slippery surface. Preschoolers rely on this information to develop greater awareness of their bodies in space and to move effectively to perform tasks, like kicking a ball to a friend.
Motor skills help children in fully exploring their environment and interacting with people and things. As such, they support development in all domains.
Gross Motor Skills
‘Gross motor skills’ refers to “moving the whole body and using larger muscles of the body, such as those in the arms and legs.” In infancy, gross motor skills include gaining control of the head, neck, and torso to achieve a standing or sitting position. They also include locomotor skills that emerge in the toddler years, such as walking, throwing, and stretching. Preschoolers gain even greater control over their body, which improves their confidence and ability to engage in social play. For example, as children gain coordination, they become ready to learn how to pedal a tricycle and play tag.
Fine Motor Skills
‘Fine motor skills’ refers to “using the small muscles found in individual body parts, especially those in the hands and feet.” Children use fine motor skills to grasp, hold, and manipulate small objects like drinking cups, or to use tools like scissors and paint brushes.
As preschoolers gain hand-eye coordination, they learn to direct the movements of their fingers, hands, and wrists to perform more complex tasks like drawing fine details or stringing small beads.
Children can practice and refine both types of motor skills during a variety of learning experiences and while performing self-help routines, such as eating with a fork or putting on clothes.
Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development is foundational to children’s learning in all areas because it permits children to fully explore and function in their environment.
Health, Safety, and Nutrition
The fourth component of children’s development is health, safety, and nutrition. Children’s physical well-being depends on a number of factors, including their knowledge and use of safe, healthy behaviors and routines. For example, toddlers learn to use a toothbrush with adult guidance.
As preschoolers become more coordinated, they can add toothpaste to their own toothbrush. Children’s ability to keep themselves safe and healthy, such as communicating to adults when they are hungry or sick, is extremely important in its own right and contributes to learning and development in all areas.
Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development Varies among Young Children
For many reasons, the rate and the path of perceptual, motor, and physical development vary in young children. Cultural and individual differences must be taken into account. In some cultures, children use brushes to write their names, or eating utensils that require a great deal of hand-eye coordination. Their fine motor development may differ from other children because of their life experiences.
Children’s food preferences are culturally-based, and they may reject foods that are usually considered healthy in other cultures. Children with disabilities may require more individualized instruction or accommodations. For example, children with physical disabilities may need adaptations, modifications, or assistive technology to help them move or hold implements. Children with sensory-motor integration challenges also may need accommodations. With appropriate support, all children can achieve strong outcomes in perceptual, motor, and physical development.
Developing gross motor skills enables children to explore their environment and experiment with different ways of moving their bodies. As children develop more coordinated and complex large muscle movements, they can participate in a variety of physical activities.
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