While physical growth is extremely rapid during infancy, it is comparatively slower in childhood. As the child’s body size, height and weight increase, there are also changes in muscular and skeletal structure. This leads to development of several motor skills in childhood. The studies have shown certain universal trends in both physical and motor development.

The sequence of physical and motor development is fairly uniform across different cultures. Yet there are large individual differences. One child may walk at 10 months, while another may walk only at 24 months. The major milestones of physical and motor development in infancy and childhood are:

  • Lifting chin up while lying on stomach - 1 month
  • Lifting head and chest - 2 months
  • Rolling over - 4 months
  • Picking up objects with palm without sitting with support - 5 months
  • Finer use of thumb and fingers - 7 months
  • Sitting alone (without support) - 8 months
  • Standing with support (holding on to furniture) - 8-9 months
  • Crawling - 9 months
  • Standing independently - 9-10 months
  • Taking few steps without holding on and walking holding on - 12-13 months
  • Grasping objects with thumb and forefingers - 13-14 months
  • Walking alone - 15 months
  • Running and climbing stairs - 2 years
  • Walking on tip toe - 2½ years
  • Riding a tricycle - 3 years
  • Throwing ball over head, walking down stairs with one foot to a step - 4 years
  • Copying a complex figures - 6 years

Understanding of physical and motor development is extremely important as it provides the basis for the development of child’s personality, social and emotional development. It helps establish emotional bonding between the child and the mother figure. It also helps mastery over the child’s own body and movements.

Gross and Fine Motor Development

Motor development is usually classified into ‘gross motor’ and ‘fine motor’ categories. Gross motor development refers to control over large muscle groups that enable the child to get around, e.g. crawling, standing and walking. They usually involve the limbs or the whole body.

Fine motor development refers to control over smaller muscle movements e.g. grasping, pinching, etc. Fine motor skills are necessary to engage in smaller, more precise movements, generally using the hands and fingers. Fine motor skills are different than gross motor skills which require less precision to perform the daily tasks.

  • 0 and 3 months - Holding an object
  • 3 and 6 months - Trying to reach out for objects, putting things in mouth
  • 6 months and 1 year - Trying to hold food, using hand and fingers to play games
  • 1 year and 1-1/2 years - Scribble on paper, trying to play throw and catch with the ball
  • 1-1/2 and 2 years - Drawing lines with pencil, using a spoon to eat food with little help
  • 2 and 3 years - Brushing teeth and buttons cloths with help
  • 3 and 5 years - Builds using building blocks, uses a pencil to draw, turn pages of a book
  • 5 and 7 years - Draws various shapes very easily, brushes and combs without support, cuts shapes very clearly

Early Childhood (2-6 years)

Early childhood covers the period from 2 to 6 years. It is also known as the preschool stage. The child who has become mobile is now able to widen the sphere of activities beyond the immediate family. Through interaction with the wider society and the environment the child learns the rules of appropriate social behavior of and develops mental abilities which prepare him or her for formal education and schooling.

Most infants appear to be quite clumsy in their physical and motor activities. But gradually their locomotion skills become refined and graceful. Body balance while walking and running improves noticeably. A 3-year-old can run in a straight line and jump smoothly without falling down. A 4-year-old can skip, jump on one foot and catch a large ball thrown from a distance.

Development of Fine Motor Skills during Childhood

2-3 years: Undresses self and assists with dressing, Copies a circle and a cross, Strings four large beads, Turns a single page, Snips with scissors on a line, Buttons/unbuttons large buttons.

3-5 years: Copies a square, Prints own name - tripod pencil grasp, Ties shoelaces, Cuts on line continuously, Prints some capital letters.

5-7 years: Copies a triangle, Cuts our simple shapes, Copies first name, Prints numerals 1 to 5, Color within lines, Pastes and glues appropriately Between 2 and 3 years, young children stop “toddling,” and develop a smoother gait. They also develop the ability to run, jump, and hop. They can participate in throwing and catching games with larger balls.

Children who are 3 to 4 years old can climb up stairs using a method of bringing both feet together on each step before proceeding to the next step. However, they may still need some assistance to prevent fall as they are likely to be unsteady in this new skill. Children of this age can jump and hop higher as their leg muscles grow stronger.

During this period, children become better at catching and throwing, can hit a stationary ball with a bat, learn to ride a tricycle, and can kick a ball placed directly in front of their bodies. They can create things with their hands, such as building towers out of blocks, molding clay into rough shapes, and scribbling with a crayon.

Children of this age often begin showing a preference for using one hand more often than the other, which is the beginning of becoming left or right-handed.

Between 3 and 4 years, children improve in eating food themselves and can use utensils like forks and spoons. They can now hold a crayon or pencil by the writing hand rather than just grasping it with the fist. They can also make twisting motion with their hands, useful for opening door knobs or twisting lids to open jars. Most children are toilet trained by 4 years of age.

As children reach the age of schooling, the rate of physical growth becomes slower until puberty when there is a rapid ‘growth spurt’. 

By the age of six, the child is physically capable of coordinated actions which require body balance. Small muscle coordination required for fine motor activities, such as putting on shirt buttons or copying a simple figure, improves quite dramatically during the early childhood years. Children can also complete other self-care tasks beyond dressing and undressing, such as brushing their teeth and combing their hair. Children of this age can also independently feed themselves without an adult’s immediate supervision or help.

During 5 to 6 years of age, young children continue to refine the earlier skills. They can run faster and can start to ride bicycle with training wheels for added stability. In addition, they can step sideways. Children of this age begin mastering new forms of physical play such as the jungle gym, and begin to use the see-saw, slide, and swing on their own.

Development in Middle Childhood (6-11 years)

During this period physical growth becomes more gradual and rate of overt change becomes slower until puberty at about 11-13 years when there is again a rapid ‘growth spurt’. There are changes in height, weight and muscular strength and swiftness. During this period, there are large gender differences. Girls are slightly shorter than boys during 6 to 8 years but then the trend reverses. Girls start putting on weight. A 10 year old girl may look taller and heavier than a boy of the same age. The growth spurt for boys comes later than for girls.

During this period, children achieve greater control over large and small muscle groups. They keep getting stronger, faster and attain better motor co-ordination. School children are energetic and enjoy all types of outdoor games. Increase in cognitive capacity also helps them learn the rules of new games.

The 6-7 year-old children can copy complex figures such as a diamond, color patterns and figures and assemble tools and model toys. They also become more skillful in games requiring skillful eye-hand coordination such as throwing, catching and hitting targets. They continue to refine fine motor skills and build upon earlier skills.