The Health and Physical Development domain focuses on physical growth and motor development, nutrition, self-care, and health/safety practices. It lays a foundation for children’s future health and well-being. Teachers and caregivers should keep in mind that the developmental trajectory of children with identified disabilities may differ from the descriptions of typical development described in this domain’s Developmental Indicators.
During the time from birth to age five, children grow rapidly. Their bodies more than double in size, and their brains develop more rapidly than during any other period in their lives. Children grow and develop best when they are provided, and enjoy, a healthy and balanced diet that promotes their physical growth and health, as well as their cognitive development, including their memory, problem solving, and decision-making skills.
In addition to healthy eating habits, children need sufficient rest and need to be physically active to develop strength and stamina. They benefit from a variety of activities that promote physical fitness and give them opportunities to practice both large and small motor skills. Although developmental milestones don't occur at the same time for all children, growth and motor development do follow a predictable sequence as children’s skills build upon each other. Teachers and caregivers see children’s large muscle development progress as they turn over and then sit up; as they creep or crawl and then walk; and then as they learn to run, climb, and play organized games. They develop fine motor skills when they use their hands to play with materials such as blocks, puzzles, and crayons, and when they learn to put on and button their clothes and become able to care for themselves. Early childhood programs can promote children’s motor development by providing them with a safe, well-supervised environment where they have many opportunities to play with a wide variety of materials that involve both their large and small muscles.
The health and physical development domain also addresses children's increasing ability to care for themselves as well as their developing awareness of how they can keep themselves healthy and safe. When children are very young, they need constant adult supervision and guidance. As they grow older, they show greater independence and can be helped to begin to recognize dangerous situations. Health and safety habits are nurtured when children are carefully supervised and when they have opportunities to participate in individual and group routines such as cooperating when their diapers are being changed, becoming adept at washing their hands, and using toys and materials in safe and appropriate ways.
It is particularly important for teachers to pay attention to families’ approaches to self-care, care-giving routines, and to encouraging children’s independence. They should make every effort to create classrooms that incorporate the cultural practices of the families they serve including helping children develop a sense of independence in ways that reflect their families’ cultural values.
It is important to remember that each child develops at his or her own pace. Often teachers and caregivers are the first to notice that a child is not reaching expected developmental milestones. If a child’s family, teacher, or caregiver is concerned that a child is not meeting many or all the Goals and Developmental Indicators described in this document, it may be appropriate to work with the child’s family to arrange for an evaluation by a specialist who can determine if specialized intervention services may be needed. If an evaluation reveals that a child has a developmental delay or disability, the teacher or caregiver should work with the family and any specialists to accommodate the child’s physical, emotional, or cognitive needs.