Physical Development of Children Through Play

Written by dawn marcotte
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Play is vital to the overall development of children. Cognitive, emotional and social development are all linked to the physical games children play. The interaction between child and adult through play promotes an emotional bond that lasts a lifetime.Infants, and toddlers learn about themselves and the world around them through play. Children and teens build lifelong habits of physical activity. The skills they learn build on each other to enable them to become the athletes of tomorrow.

Infant: 0 to 18 months

From birth to 18 months, cognitive development is linked to physical activity. Young infants find their feet and hands fascinating. Playing games that involve grabbing items or kicking objects is the first step. Cause and Effect reactions--as well as object permanence--are just a few of the skills to be learnt. Other games for young infants include peek-a-boo and holding an object while you pull on it.

Physical activities at this age should focus on large motor skills. Rolling over, sitting up, crawling and pulling up to stand are important milestones. Games to promote these activities should not restrict movement and should be practised daily. Each skill builds on the one previous. Repeated delays in milestones should be discussed with a medical profession. Children develop at different rates, but consistent difficulties can indicate a problem.

Toddler: 18 to 36 months

Toddlers from 18 to 36 months are constantly in motion. Developing large motor skills is still important at this age. Walking, jumping, hopping, standing on one foot and running are all skills to be promoted. Walking to an adult is an easy game and promotes social interaction. Moving to music promotes balance and creativity. Hand eye coordination is gained by playing with a ball.

Small motor skills are also emerging at this stage. Holding a crayon to colour helps build the small muscles in the hand. Water play improves hand eye coordination and small motor skills. Blowing bubbles and popping them integrates both types of motor skills.

Young Child – 36 months to 5 years

Young children 36 months to 5 years refine their large motor skills and improve their small motor skills. Playing with balls of all sizes, swimming, building blocks and running races all contribute to the physical growth of a child. Organised sports can be introduced at this age as well. T-ball, soccer and swimming are common sports available for children 36 months to 5 years. Free play continues to be important, and it should not be replaced by organised sports. Trying different sports allows children this age to develop a variety of physical skills.

Children 5 years to 12 years

Playing organised sports continues physical development in children 5 to 12 years old. Large motor skills are improved through repeated practice. Running and kicking in soccer, swinging a bat in baseball and increased motor coordination in gymnastics are examples of organised sports in this age group. Regular participation in sports can also foster a lifelong habit of physical activity. Obesity has been cited as a continued problem, and physical activities should be encouraged.

Small motor skills continue to develop with learning to write. Improving the strength and coordination of the muscles in the hand is important to improve handwriting skills. Playing with clay, painting on an easel and drawing with chalk can all improve the small motor skills.


The physical development of an individual can vary widely. Personal preference for large motor skills can impact the development of writing skills. Colouring and playing with clay rather than large motor activities can effect those large motor skills. Balance is key to maintain a steady, natural development. Delays in any milestone should be discussed with a medical professional. Repeated delays could indicate a problem.

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