Introduction to the Physical & Sensory Section

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Introduction to Physical Development

The physical development of a child can be both very obvious as in their first steps at walking and also very subtle as in when they begin to walk using heel to toe. These developmental milestones are very important and reaching them at the correct age can be very reassuring for parents. However, development rates naturally vary and parents shouldn't be concerned if their child is a few months behind peers. Being early to reach milestones may often be a source of pride for parents but equally can fuel expectations that may be unrealistic for the child and lead to emotional and mental stress. For example, undue pressure during toilet training can lead to anxieties that can take years to resolve.

Environmental Factors

Physical development is also influenced by environmental factors. Babies and children need opportunities to develop and practice balance and co-ordination skills. In the last few decades there has been a huge growth in the range of play, sport and recreational activities available for children of all ages. For the very young soft play centres have become ubiquitous providing safe environments for babies and toddlers.

At the same time, society has become very safety conscious and risk adverse with the result that babies and toddlers are routinely restrained or imprisoned. Restrained in high chairs, car seats, baby bouncers, push chairs etc. Imprisoned in play pens, cots, indoors etc. The use of language like restrained and imprisoned may seem overly dramatic but it is useful to consider how often a child's movements are limited and how this might impact on physical development. For example, use of baby bouncers and baby walkers has a positive effect on leg development which can lead to earlier walking. However, early walking reduces the crawling period which is now believed by neuroscientists to be crucial to brain development. In particular the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, is strengthened by movements involving both sides of the body. Crawling coordinates the movement of a leg with the opposite sided arm and thus gets both hemispheres communicating effectively. This is essential for learning and children who miss out crawling altogether have increased chance of having learning difficulties later on.

You may also be interested in the following pages:

Fine Motor Skill Development and Milestones

Introduction to Sensory Needs

Physical and Sensory Resources