One of the first things that parents may notice during the toddler years is that the rapid physical development that occurred during infancy has started to slow. While children are still growing and meeting a number of physical developmental milestones, this growth occurs at a slower and steadier pace.
Some of the major physical advances that occur during the preschool years include:
- Kids continue to gain weight an height, but much more slowly than they did during the first two years of life.
- The end of the preschool period marks the loss of baby teeth and the emergence of permanent teeth in most children.
- Brain development is also in high gear. By the time a child reaches the age of three, the brain will have have already reached approximately 75 percent of the weight it will be in adulthood.
Physical Advances and Increased Motor Skills
As kids hit the preschool years, their physical skills become more and more advanced. During the ages of three and four, kids learn how to catch a ball, ride a tricycle, stand on one foot, and jump up and down. In addition to these advancements in gross-motor skills, they also become far more adept at activities that require fine-motor skills such as putting together a puzzle, playing with small objects, drawing, and painting.
Gross-motor skills involve large body movements such as running, kicking, jumping, climbing, and throwing. Fine-motor skills involve small body movements that require precision such as writing, drawing and using utensils. Fine-motor skills are much more difficult to master than gross-motor skills, but both types of motor skills improve significantly during the preschool years.
Caregivers can help foster motor skills by selecting toys and activities that are suited to a child's skill level. Giving kids the chance to engage in physical activity helps promote the development of such abilities. Mealtimes can also be an excellent opportunity for kids develop motor skills. While allowing kids to feed themselves is bound to result in spills and messes, it is also a great way for kids to build their manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Gaining independence and a sense initiative is also important during this age, and self-feeding can help foster these qualities.
Drawing and other creative arts projects also encourage the development of fine motor skills. Not only are kids learning and practicing the use of tools, they must also think about what they are going to draw or paint. Mastering these skills helps kids advance physically and ensures that they are better prepared for school.
By the time they reach age four, children have become quite capable of performing a wide range of physical actions. Skipping, ball games, and playing tag are fun and exciting for preschool aged children. Plus, they have the added bonus of helping kids to practice important developmental skills. It is essential for parents and other adults to give kids ample time and space to engage in physical play. While it's easy to dismiss it as "just kids playing," it's important to remember that such fun and games are actually helping children learn and develop.
The events that happen in the preschool period can also help determine how well-prepared a child is for school. Kids who have the freedom to explore, gain independence and confidence, and practice skills are more likely to be ready for their first year of school. Children need to be encouraged to play in order to learn how to perform different actions on their own.
The Importance of Nutrition in Physical Development
While physical development generally proceeds in a very predictable manner, there are things that can have a major influence on how and when kids achieve these physical milestones. Nutrition is one important factor that can impact a child's physical growth.
As kids enter the preschool years, their diets become much more similar to that of adults. Eating a variety of foods is also important to ensure that kids get the nutrients that they need for healthy physical development. Rather than allowing children to fill up on juice and milk, experts recommend limiting the intake of such drinks. If a child is filling up on juice and milk, then he is probably missing out on eating other foods. By providing children with a variety of food options, parents can help encourage kids to form healthy habits and make good food choices throughout life.
At this age, kids can also start to become quite picky about what they like to eat. While caregivers often worry that kids are not eating enough, this can be offset by giving kids nutritious snacks and smaller meals throughout the day is one way to ensure that they are receiving the nutrition that they need to grow and thrive.
Adults should avoid giving kids too many processed foods and snacks including soda and candy. Not only do these foods lack nutrients and contain excessive amounts of sugar, they also contribute to tooth decay. While kids may seem to eat less and not necessarily follow a perfectly balanced diet every day, experts suggest that there is little to worry about unless a child seems to not be growing or developing properly.
Refusing to eat specific foods at meals can be very frustrating, especially for parents who were raised in families that expected kids to "eat every bite" on their plates. However, being able to pick and choose foods is actually an important part of the developmental process. At this age, children are working on establishing a sense of independence, so giving them the freedom to express food preferences can be important for psychological development.
Parents can prevent nutrition problems and still allow their kids to make food choices by making mealtimes pleasant, offering a variety of foods, limiting fatty or sugary snacks, and ensuring that kids engage in lots of physical activity.
The best way to ensure that kids develop good eating habits is to set a good example. This works best of all when everyone in the house follows the same healthy habits and eating patterns. Keeping the kitchen with nutritious foods and snacks, preparing healthy meals using a variety of ingredients, and staying physically active helps instill children with good habits that can last a lifetime.
Check out the About.com Nutrition website for more helpful tips and resources on children and nutrition:
Berger, K. S. (2000). The Developing Person: Through Childhood and Adolescence. New York: Worth Publishers.