5 Stages of Physical Development in Early Childhood

Father playing game with his son

Some of the most important times for any person are the years she spends growing up. They can determine who she is, how well she performs, and the foundation of her personality for the rest of her life. That’s why parents want their children to meet developmental milestones. 

When you know the stages of physical development in early childhood, you can see where your child is and if there’s anything that needs to be worked on. When you know average height, weight, and head size at different ages, you know if your child is above or below average in each category.

An important part of childhood development and education that can’t be overlooked is cognitive, emotional, and social development. It’s great if your son is able to get to a sitting position without help before he’s twelve months old, but what about his speech development or logic and reasoning? Parents need a fuller picture.

As a parent, you want your kids to be the best, but you often don’t know what’s normal or what to expect. Use this quick guide to educate yourself.

The Five Categories of Child Development

Looking at only one category of development is like trying to decide if your daughter is doing well at school and only looking at her math scores. These five categories show a fuller developmental picture. 

For many children, these areas often develop at the same time. Helping your child grow in one area can facilitate his development in other areas. 

1. Cognitive

This is your child’s ability to use logic and problem-solving skills, including the skill of thinking about thinking. Cognitive development can include areas like information processing, reasoning, memory, and language development.

It is theorized there are four major stages of cognitive development, each with its own milestones. But these stages aren’t about the amount of knowledge a kid knows.  Rather, they’re about how children process and think about that information. A child in an earlier stage might have more information and knowledge than one in a later stage but lack the skills to process that information. 

2. Social and Emotional

Your child needs to know how to interact with himself and others in a healthy and manageable way. You need to make sure that he is able to be socially aware and an active member of society. 

For an infant, a social and emotional milestone can be as simple as a sociable smile. But you should watch an older child to see the more complex ways she interacts with other kids, adults, and people of authority like teachers and coaches. 

3. Speech and Language

Being able to communicate is a major developmental skill for every child. This can include an infant babbling and practicing basic vowel noises or a grade-schooler using basic vocabulary to create a fictional story. 

Language development can start as soon as a 12-month-old starts to say his first words and should continue into adulthood. The goal is to empower your child to have the words she needs to understand the world and express herself in that world. 

4.  Fine Motor Skills

Physical development in early childhood is the groundwork to important lifelong skills like writing and self-care. These movements use the small muscles in the hand, fingers, and thumb and are involved in tasks like getting dressed, eating, and writing. 

If your child is struggling to develop fine motor skills, play can help, which might include drawing with chalk, building with legos, or putting together puzzles.

5. Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills aren’t “gross.” Actually, this stage refers to milestones involving whole-body movements and core muscles. Children develop skills using large muscles in the arms, legs, and torso. Movements include walking, running, throwing, kicking, and lifting, and they’re closely related to balance and strength. 

What Happens in Early Childhood Development?

When a child is under the age of one, the biggest focus should be on the basics. Skills that you take for granted, like lifting and moving your head or saying meaningless gibberish, are major milestones for early childhood education and development. 

By one year of age, a child should cry when his parents leave the room, have a favorite thing, play some games like “peek-a-boo,” find hidden objects, say “mama” and “dada,” and be able to get into a sitting position without help. 

Which Developmental Milestone Is Most Important?

No developmental milestones are more important than others, and often they help each other. For example, a child can only reach higher levels in cognitive development if she has the language and communication skills needed. 

If you notice that your child is not hitting developmental milestones, consult your pediatrician immediately. Before you stress out too much, remember that childhood development is complicated. Every child grows and develops at her own rate. 

Although some of these stages have suggested age ranges when they should happen, it’s okay for a child to be a few weeks or months earlier or later than expected. For example, just because it’s suggested that by two months your kid should be able to hold up his head when lying on his tummy, you shouldn’t worry if it’s day 62 and your son is still struggling to hold up his head. 

Physical and Mental Development

There is also a connection between body and mind. Working out, swimming, or dancing can help a child improve both her gross motor skills and her social and emotional development. Contact SwimJim to learn more about how swimming can help your child reach developmental milestones.