Early Years

Physical Development

Physical Development

From 1st September 2021, the statutory framework for the EYFS (2021) states that educational programmes must involve activities and experiences for children, as set out under each of the areas of learning.

Physical activity is vital in children’s all-round development, enabling them to pursue happy, healthy and active lives. Gross and fine motor experiences develop incrementally throughout early childhood, starting with sensory explorations and the development of a child’s strength, co-ordination and positional awareness through tummy time, crawling and play movement with both objects and adults. By creating games and providing opportunities for play both indoors and outdoors, adults can support children to develop their core strength, stability, balance, spatial awareness, co-ordination and agility. Gross motor skills provide the foundation for developing healthy bodies and social and emotional well-being. Fine motor control and precision helps with hand-eye co-ordination, which is later linked to early literacy. Repeated and varied opportunities to explore and play with small world activities, puzzles, arts and crafts and the practice of using small tools, with feedback and support from adults, allow children to develop proficiency, control and confidence.

The Chief Medical Officer has published guidance on physical activity;

‘The recommended level of moderate to vigorous physical activity for children under 5 is 180 minutes a day, spread through-out the day’.
UK Physical Activity Guidelines, Chief Medical Officer (2019)

Supporting Physical Development in your Setting

Moving and Handling

Moving and Handling relates to the development of children’s physical skills. Children develop control and co-ordination both of large movements and small movements. As children become more skilled with large movements, their confidence grows and they learn different ways to move and develop the skills they need to negotiate space safely. The outdoor learning environment provides a wealth of opportunity to encourage the development of large movements (gross motor development). Time outside supports both children’s physical skills and children’s mental health and well-being. The natural light outside is important for our development of sight but also helps our bodies produce vitamin D (important for strong bones) and serotonin (a feel good hormone).

Physical opportunities can also be supported indoors. Children should be given choices about where they want to play with plenty of opportunities for indoor and outdoor physical activities/ play.

Once children develop fluid, controlled movements of the arms, they can begin to refine those movements, gradually making them smaller and more accurate. This is how they develop the fine motor control that they will need to manipulate and handle tools and equipment, including mark-making equipment, effectively.

For children to be able to use their physical skills well, they need to develop a form of partnership between their eyes and hands (and other senses). They need time to learn and practise physical skills and movements, through a variety of experiences to support their overall physical skills. Children will often practise movements repetitively to learn how to move their bodies automatically with control and coordination.

Health and Self-Care

The Health and Self-Care strand of physical development shows children how to stay healthy and safe and to begin to manage hygiene and personal needs. This includes learning how to get dressed, eat and feed themselves and toileting. Through the Characteristics of Effective Learning, children learn to make choices and decisions about taking risks – the beginning of learning to keep safe.

As their independence grows, adults can help them to recognise the effects of exercise on their bodies and encourage them to decide when to have a drink or a rest. Snack and meal times support learning across all seven areas of learning and are especially valuable when teaching children about healthy eating and healthy choices. The environment and routines should provide opportunities to explore their own health and self-care and develop independence as they develop.


You can find information about our bespoke training and support packages, in-house training opportunities and training courses on our training pages

Was this page helpful?

Very poor
Neither good nor poor
Very good