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When we talk about physical development in young children, we usually mean two things: the process by which children grow physically, and their increasing skill at performing a range of various motor tasks, using their large and small muscles. As their large muscles develop, children go from rolling over to riding a tricycle. As their small muscles develop, children go from grasping a rattle to stringing beads or writing.

This section will give you some information about what children are typically doing at various ages and stages in their physical development.

Birth to 12 Months
The first year of life is a time of rapid growth and development in the physical area. During this time children are developing the physical skills they need in order to explore and learn from their environment. Physical development centers on large and small muscle development. Developmental milestones to watch for during this time include:

By 4 months:
  • Lifts head and chest when lying on stomach
  • Sits with support
  • Rolls over
  • Grasps rattle or finger
By 8 months:
  • Drinks from cup with help
  • Rolls from back to stomach and stomach to back
  • Sits without support for a short time
  • Gets on hands and knees in a crawling position
  • Uses finger and thumb to pick up objects
By 12 months:
  • sits independently
  • crawls
  • pulls to stand
  • begins to take some steps
  • reaches for and grasps objects
  • feeds themselves a cracker
  • rolls a ball
  • removes puzzle pieces
  • turns multiple pages in a book
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12 to 18 Months
This stage is an exciting time for parents and children. Most children have mastered basic movement skills and are working on refinement of those. During this period most children will be able to:

  • stand alone, sit down, walk independently
  • creep up and down stairs
  • throw a ball
  • pull off hat, socks
  • scribble with crayon
  • point to what they want
  • wave bye-bye and clap hands
  • use a spoon, with spilling
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18 to 24 Months
Most physical milestones have been achieved at this time and physical growth is centered on further refinement of these skills. By the end of this time period the child may be able to:

  • walk well; even or uneven ground
  • run with some falling
  • jump
  • kick a ball a short distance
  • walk up steps with help
  • ride a tricycle by pushing with their feet
  • drink from a cup
  • open cabinets and boxes
  • scribble with more control
  • stack a few blocks
  • manipulate buttons to make toys work
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24 to 36 Months (2-3 Years)
This is a time of great independence and growth. Physical skills are constantly being refined as the child explores his environment and expands his world. Most children of this age will be able to:

  • walk up and down stairs by holding the rail
  • run with little falling
  • put on shoes
  • dress themselves with assistance
  • feed themselves using a spoon and fingers
  • attempt to catch a large ball
  • pedal a tricycle
  • climb a ladder onto a low slide
  • copy a circle using a crayon
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36 to 48 Months (3-4 Years)
Children this age are constantly on the move! Most of them can maneuver through their environment independently and are constantly on! Skills at this time may include:

  • dressing themselves without much help
  • feeding themselves independently using a spoon, fork and dinner knife
  • pedaling and steering a tricycle skillfully
  • running, jumping, hopping and skipping around obstacles with ease
  • climbing on outdoor play equipment easily
  • catching a six inch ball
  • cut along a line with scissors
  • grasp a pencil to copy lines or circles
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