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Understanding Physical Development inChildren

Physical Development:

At Fullers Hall Nursery we believe physical development of young children should be

encouraged through opportunities for them to be active and interactive and to improve their skills of coordination, control, manipulation and movement. Children will be supported in using all of their senses to learn about the world around them and to make connections between new information and what they already know. Children we be supported in developing an understanding of the importance of physical activity and making healthy choices in relation to food.

This area of children’s development covers:

  •     Gaining control over the large movements that they can make with their arms, legs and bodies, so that they can run, jump, hop, skip, roll, climb, balance and lift;
  •     Gaining control over the small movements they can make with their arms, wrist and hands, so that they can pick up and use objects, tools and materials.
  •     Learning about the importance of – and how to look after – their bodies.
  •     Learning about the benefits of being healthy and active.
  •     Develop healthy habits when they first learn about food and activity.

How to Nurture Children’s Physical Development:

As children grow, they are continuously developing emotionally, mentally and physically. It is important for adults to nurture children’s physical development to ensure they grow up to be healthy, happy, physically capable adults. Different activities are required to hone and develop different physical skills. As children go through the various stages of physical development, they acquire increasing levels of strength and skill and require more adult supervision and support. Younger children need help developing fine motor skills, while older children are developing gross motor skills.

How does our body develop?

Our bodies develop over time because our genes instruct different cells gradually over time informing them to undergo change after change. Since everyone is different, everyone’s bodies mature at their own rate and often develop unevenly. Even though everyone develops differently, multiple studies indicate that most people undergo rapid growth during the first two years of living. These studies also indicate that after approximately 2 years old, children grow steadily until they reach their adolescence years of which they experience an explosive growth spurt.  Other studies show growth patterns between boys and girls. Girls typically undergo growth changes a year and a half earlier than boys; however, boys typically grow taller and heavier than girls. Quantitative changes are most obvious amongst children’s development. Children gain weight rapidly,  grow taller, and develop multiple motor skills such as tying shoes. It is evident that qualitative changes affect motor skills greatly. Children are able to walk, throw, and balance better.

During infancy (from birth to age 2), the child undergoes rapid growth and development. The child is born with limited reflexes such as breathing, grasping small objects, and responding to loud noises. After birth, the child’s motor skills develop slowly. Between 12-18 months after birth, the child learns to hold up heads, roll over, reach, sit, crawl, and walk. Around the 2nd year of living, the child learns to walk with balance, coordination, and manipulation of objects in hands. To further explain how children’s motor skills develop, two terms should be looked at: cephalocaudal trends and proximodistal trends. Cephalocaudal trends mean that limbs and ability to perform motor skills develop from the head downward and proximodistal trends mean the same thing as cephalocaudal trends except from the inside, out (in other words, outward from spine). Examples: Children can hold up head before walk and children use arms more efficiently before they can use their fingers.

During early childhood (age 2-6), children develop gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are large movements of the body that permit locomotion through and within the environment. Fine motor skills are small, precise movements of particular parts of the body. Also at this time, children learn to dress, undress, and eat by themselves.

During middle childhood (age 6-10), children grow exponentially in height and weight. Children at this point also lose their original 20 baby teeth, experience menarche (onset of menstrual cycle), and spermarche (first ejaculation).  Children also start to write smaller, smoother, and more consistent, become self conscious with puberty and mature (girls maturing faster than boys).

Which limbs develop first and which limbs undergo most change?

As mentioned earlier, cephalocaudal trends and proximodistal trends plays a major role in children’s lives. Earlier in development, heads are more proportional to adult size than the torso. The torso is more proportional to adult size than the legs and arms. As children grow, their hands approach adult size quicker than that of their forearms. Their forearms grow quicker than their upper arms. Children’s feet grow faster than their calves and their calves grow quicker than their thighs.

Internal organs grow at different rates. The lymphoid system (tonsils, adenoids, lymph nodes, and lining in the small intestines) grow rapidly through childhood.  Having the lymphoid system grow rapidly during childhood is good because it helps children resist infections.  On the contrary, reproductive organs grow slowly up until the adolescence years.

Illnesses and poor nutrition may tamper with growth both physically and mentally.

How do limbs develop different functions?

Amongst every person, every cell in the body (except sperm and ova) contains the same genetic instructions. Another similarity amongst cells in people is that as cells grow they take on their own unique functions (Ex: digestion, transporting oxygen, and transmitting info).  This is called Differentiation: a gradual transition from general to more specific functioning over the course of development (Ex: arms start out as simple buds from the torso that eventually become longer and sprout hands and ultimately grow fingers.) Children’s motor skills transition from unsteady actions to precisely controlled actions (Ex: children 4 months old reach for stuff shakily and unsteadily; however, by 12 months they are able to grab items swiftly and easily).

As children develop, integration takes place. Integration is the increasingly coordination of body parts over the course of development (Ex: eyes coordinate mechanical movements, separate areas of the brain exchange thoughts and feelings, and fingers become longer and is able to handle smaller objects with better precision).

What is the brain, characteristics of the brain, and how does it work?

The brain is an organ that regulates activities of other systems in the body, senses information in the environment, forms associations between environmental stimuli and mental concepts, creates emotions, translates thoughts and feelings into words and behaviors,  and guides the person’s movement.

The brain is organized into 3 main parts: the hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain.  The hindbrain controls basic physiological processes that sustain survival (Ex: breathing, blood pressure, sleep, arousal, balance, and movement). The midbrain connects the hindbrain to the forebrain and serves as a “relay station” between the two because it sends messages back and forth regarding priorities (Ex: waking up due to the alarm going off). Finally, the forebrain produces complex thinking, emotional responses, and driving forces of motivation. The forebrain has a cortex; or a wrinkled cap that rests on the midbrain and hindbrain. The cortex consists of regions that specialize in particular functions; which are called lobes. The cortex is also divided into two halves (or hemispheres) that are in constant communication and work together. The left hemisphere is known to have fewer connections with the brain than the right side. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body as well as is used for analysis and breaking up information into different components and ultimately extracting it (Ex: talking, understanding speech, reading, writing, math problem solving, and computer programming). On the contrary, the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body as well as recognizes faces, detects geometrical patterns, reads body languages, interprets humor and emotions as well as analyzing musical melodies.  Ultimately, the cortex interprets, allows reasoning, communicates, plans, makes decisions, and allows other thinking processes.  The cortex also has a huge capacity for storing information, transmitting information, and developing personality traits.

The brain consists about 100 billion neurons; or cells that transmit information to other cells, throughout the 3 sections of the brain. Some groups of neurons grow and work together as communities called “circuits” that specialize in certain functions.  These circuits are laid in side-by-side wires that reach out to other groups of neurons. Neurons are assisted by other kinds of brain cells called “glial cells.” Glial cells outnumber neurons 10 to 1 and give structural support and protection. These glial cells produce chemicals that neurons need to function properly, repair injured neurons, and dispose seriously damaged  neurons. Each neuron has numerous amounts of dendrites; or branchlike part of a neuron that receives information from other neurons, that react to chemicals released by other neurons. Each neuron also has a long, arm like axon that sends information to other neurons. Both the dendrites and axons come very close to one another at intersections called synapses. Synaptogenesis, or development of new synapses, occurs during the first few years of life. The brain’s 100 billion neurons have thousands of synapses. When any particular neuron receives a sufficient amount of chemicals from one or more of its neighbors, it either “fires” a generated electrical impulse that triggers the release of its own chemicals, or it is inhibited from firing and causes a continual reaction. Depending on the amount and type of chemicals that the neighbor sends a way, certain neurons either fire or are fired. As time passes, synaptic pruning occurs, or withering away of unused synapses.  Also as time passes myelination occurs, or a fatty substances is created around the neurons allowing them to transmit messages more quickly

How does the brain develop?

Both nature and nurture play a big role in developing the brain throughout the child’s prenatal development, infancy, childhood years, and adolescence.  During prenatal development, the most basic parts of the brain are formed. Approximately 25 days after conception, the brain begins to develop as a tiny tube. This tube then beings to grow longer in certain places and folds inward to form different pockets. After the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain begin to develop, the forebrain develops down the middle and starts to develop the left and right hemispheres. Then around the 5th week up until the end of the first 7 months, neurons are created and start performing their individual tasks after they migrate to their different locations. During the child’s infancy and early childhood, the brain has two important tasks: ensuring survival outside the womb and learning about people, things, language, sensations, emotions, and events. During middle childhood, the two hemispheres become increasingly distinct and the brain nurtures the groups of neurons that are frequently used. During this period the child gains interests in hobbies, can speak fluently in native tongue, and can handle multiple tasks. During adolescence, the cortex continues to develop and allows the child to plan ahead, control impulses, imagine the future, and work at long term goals more efficiently

Could there be malformations in the brain?

Sometimes there are malformations in the brain that don’t appear at birth but then develop later on hindering the person’s learning and behavior. Malformations are caused because some people have unusual circuits or missing/distorted structures. Malformations can also be caused due to errors in genetic instructions and/or due to the mother’s drug/alcohol use, illness, and/or  stress during her pregnancy. One type of malformation is called “schizophrenia.” Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric disorder  that often is not noticeable until adolescence. Schizophrenia affects 1 in 100 people and is caused from genes, viral infections, malnutrition during prenatal development, childbirth complications, and/or a stressful environment during childhood.  Schizophrenia gives people thought disorders such as irrational ideas and disorganized thinking.

How do the environmental systems in which children live affect them?

Bronfenbrenner’s biological model offers a great understanding. Bronfenbrenner’s model points out how children’s experiences with their families are important for their health. Families may develop a liking of particular unhealthy foods,  poor means of coping with stress, and minimal physical activity for the child. Other impacts that families have on children is the usage of toxic substances such as aerosol sprays and cigarettes. On the contrary, families could provide healthy food, medical insurance, and promote physical activity. Bronfenbrenner’s model also points out how the media and society may tamper/improve children’s lives. From role models such as athletes promoting good living decisions to other idols such as rock stars promoting poor living decisions. The government’s regulation of alcohol and cigarettes may also affect children’s lives poorly.

What about children’s physical well-being?

Children with good eating habits experience good physical wellbeing, energy, growth, and ability to concentrate. Good eating habits should start at birth with breastfeeding or  with specially designed formulas since children can’t chew or swallow. Lack of iron in the child’s diet could result in making the child anemic. Poor eating habits and decisions can result in obesity. Obesity is a condition of being seriously overweight. Other eating disorders could be anorexia nervosa which is that the person eats a little or even bulimia which is when the person eats a lot and then regurgitates it.

April 2014
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