Physical development in the EYFS

With physical development as a prime area in the Early Years Foundation Stage and physical activity guidelines from the Department of Health including recommendations for the under fives, it's an important area in your early years setting. Read on for our tips to support the children you work with.

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Physical development and the EYFS

Physical development is one of the three prime areas within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Each prime area is divided into Early Learning Goals, for physical development these are:

  • Gross Motor Skills

Children at the expected level of development will:

  • Negotiate space and obstacles safely, with consideration for themselves and others;
  • Demonstrate strength, balance and coordination when playing;
  • Move energetically, such as running, jumping, dancing, hopping, skipping and climbing.
  • Fine Motor Skills

Children at the expected level of development will:

  • Hold a pencil effectively in preparation for fluent writing
  • using the tripod grip in almost all cases;
  • Use a range of small tools, including scissors, paint brushes and cutlery;
  • Begin to show accuracy and care when drawing.

Best practice and activity ideas

The Department of Health say to aim for at least three hours of physical activity across the day for children in the early years. But every movement counts and you don't need to plan extra activities, just make the most of everyday opportunities. For example when you're changing toddlers' nappies, encourage them to lie down and get up themselves as this helps to strengthen their core muscles and to support and develop their balance and coordination.

Encouraging children to walk up and down stairs by themselves is another good opportunity (it's challenging so they may need your support). And help children learn to use alternate feet by making sure there are opportunities in your setting for them to climb. Try starting off with having large blocks for the children to crawl, walk and climb up and over and when they're more confident, provide stilts so that they can get used to moving their feet at different times.

Let babies and children feed themselves finger foods as this helps to promote fine motor skills like grasping and hand-eye coordination (just be aware of choking hazards).

You'll find more ideas on our expressive arts and design in the EYFS page.

Jargon buster

If you're new to working in early years you may not be familiar with all of these terms so here's a handy guide:

  • Cruising - when a child walks or moves along using furniture for support.
  • Fine motor skills - when a child uses precise movements using specific body parts, such as the thumb and finger to pick objects up.
  • Gross motor skills - when a child uses their whole body in a movement, such as jumping or running.
  • Hand-eye coordination - when a child's hands and eyes are working together, for example catching a ball.
  • Mark making - this could be anything, from a baby or child making marks with their fingers in sand, to dipping their hands or fingers in paint, to paint a picture.
  • Pincer movement - when a child uses an index finger and thumb, to pick up and move objects.
  • Tummy time - placing a baby on their tummy with engaging toys, lights, mirrors, or you to look at. This can help the baby build gross motor skills as they improve neck, back and arm strength from this position. Short, frequent sessions of tummy time will eventually help support a baby to crawl. During Tummy Time a baby can learn to kick their legs and flap their arms. They can reach and do push ups when they are strong enough. Eventually, they'll learn to roll over to their back from their tummy.

Supporting children with additional needs

On our Supporting children with SEND page, you'll find guidance about intimate care and toileting. And there's an Early Years Resources Pack under Children's occupational therapy. It'll help you to understand the role of an occupational therapist in early years settings and how to make referrals. It also includes charts of how to identify difficulties and suggests activities to encourage children's development.

If you're concerned about a child's physical development speak to your area Early Years SEND advisory team:

If you require guidance and support to develop or enhance your provision for physical development in your setting please contact the Early Years Educational Effectiveness Team

Working with dads, mums and carers

Why not share these Move with me leaflets with parents at your setting? They're packed full of easy little tips parents can use at home to support their child's physical development from birth to five years old. Plus they're free!

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