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Supporting physical development in early childhood
Supporting physical development in early childhood

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1 Understanding children's holistic development

The term ‘holistic development’ is often used to describe a way of seeing a child as a whole person whose areas of development intertwine and interact with each other.

You can see what this looks like in practice by reading the description of Monique (9 months old) by Doherty and Hughes (2014, p. 26) below. They describe an everyday scenario of a baby at mealtime. At first glance it may look like the child is only developing fine motor skills by learning to hold a cup, however the authors encourage you to look more closely by indicating in brackets all the other learning that is taking place.

Case study: Monique

Over the past few months, her mother and father have helped to feed her and encouraged her to hold the plastic cup on her highchair and guide it to Monique’s lips. The cup sits in front of her as usual but one morning while waiting, she looks at it intently (perception) and moves a hand towards it.

At first, she knocks the cup but then grasps it firmly and raises it off the plastic tray (physical); ‘Oooh’ she gurgles (language) as her mother rushes over smiling and saying’ ‘What a clever girl. Well done Monique!’

Monique beams back at her (social) and gurgles again.

(Source: Doherty & Hughes, 2014)

Activity 1

Although there can be a tendency to think about some areas of learning and development, such as language or maths, as happening in the mind and therefore as intellectual pursuits, learning noticeably happens through physical interactions, as shown in the example of Monique.

Can you think of examples when you have seen different aspects of development in a child’s simple action as you saw in the description of Monique?

You might like to think of a child doing something physical (jumping, climbing, gripping, drawing) and consider what other learning could have been taking place.

Perhaps you have your own children where you have noticed this, or it could be children that you work with.

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You may have thought of a child jumping and counting their jumps at the same time (physical and mathematical development), a child conquering their fear of heights by climbing up the steps of a slide (physical and emotional development) or even a child drawing a get well soon picture for a friend (physical and social development).