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Understanding the EYFS: Physical Development explained

Throughout January and February, we are taking a deep dive into each of the areas of learning within the Early Years Foundation Stage or EYFS.

In short, the EYFS is how the government and early years practitioners describe the time in your little one’s life between birth and age 5.

It’s a legal framework to ensure a high quality of care and safeguarding for your child. You can click here to find out more.

There are 7 areas of learning to explore in total, and we are continuing today with Physical Development – let’s dive straight in!

What does the EYFS mean by physical development?

In the content of the EYFS physical development is divided into two main categories and means:

  • Gross motor skills (big movements like jumping and running).

  • Fine motor skills (small movements like gripping and grabbing).

Sensory development is also important in this area – sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell as well as our ability to deal with the sensory stimulation around us. Click here for our guide about the importance of sensory play.

The EYFS also includes self-care and healthy eating within this category. Click here for our guide to promoting healthy eating.

Repetitive movements such as crawling and creeping and sensory experiences such as listening to music and playing in mud are essential for our brain development.

These also have a big impact on our ability to learn, our well-being and emotional development as well as speech.

The following takes place as physical skills are developed:

  • Mastering movements helps build confidence which in turn helps your little one become more independent.

  • Playing with friends and joining in with games helps a child to develop social skills and build a sense of identity.

  • Fine motor skills link with hand-eye coordination and dexterity – these are important for activities like writing and drawing.

  • With gross motor skills come coordination, stamina and spatial awareness.

Things to keep in mind

Remember that…

  • Muscles develop from top to bottom (a child’s back muscles strengthen before those in their legs).

  • Muscles develop from large to small (a child needs to learn to run and jump before they can learn to hold a pencil).

  • Muscles develop from the inside out (in a baby’s earliest days, it’s the diaphragm which helps them to breathe).

Repetition is key

It’s important that your child repeats movements again and again. This will help them build important nerve networks in the brain that enable them to learn.

Be patient

As a parent, you will be watching your little one develop, excitedly looking for signs of progress.

What we sometimes forget is that each stage is there for a reason, and we shouldn’t rush through it.

Ways to support your little one at home

· Babies need lots of opportunities to move from the start. Spending time playing on their tummies or backs is ideal for their development.

Start just with a few minutes (always supervised) but if they don’t like it you can rest them on your chest or on your tummy.

· Parents sometimes feel that they have to help their baby to walk as soon as possible, but babies do this when they’re ready.

Crawling is an important stage of their development.

Crawling helps strengthen the body, arms, and legs – increasing their stability and coordination.

· Ever wondered why children like to hang upside down or spin madly around? It’s all to do with their vestibular system.

This system needs stimulating if it is to develop properly and children instinctively seek these activities out.

Experiences like this are building and shaping your little one’s brain, creating nerve networks essential for learning.

· You may not welcome the extra washing, but there are so many important reasons for children to get messy!

Sensory experiences are part of physical development and positive experiences with sight, smell, sound, taste and touch help better develop and integrate the senses.

· Physical activity of all kinds is great for building kinaesthesia (the sense that lets us perceive the location, movement, and action of parts of the body).

Climbing, wrestling and rolling around are good for this, as well as little chores around the house like lifting, carrying and sweeping.

All these activities move muscles and joints in ways that send messages to the brain that help build body maps.

· Ball games can help children develop greater coordination, social skills as well as perseverance and confidence. These are difficult to master (children under 2 lack hand-eye coordination) so build these skills slowly.

· As your little one develops, be sure to give them the opportunity to build a range of movements outdoors.

Give them the freedom to explore their movements but remember to encourage varied movement including skipping, jumping, bending, stretching and more.

· Finally, it’s important that children slowly learn to take care of themselves. When they show interest, allow them to be independent (and allow plenty of time) to get dressed by themselves, use the toilet, brush their teeth etc.

Additional resources


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