This video requires a membership to the Siren Clip Library. Please log in if you are a member or purchase a subscription.

Learning through Play – Physical Development

Here we see three year old, Seb, playing at home and at his nursery, with friends and adults. Find out about the development of his fine and gross motor skills and how play is a great way to support this are of development.

Good for looking at

  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Three year old development
  • Playing at home

Physical development is crucial to all learning because it is integral to brain development. Babies and young children are programmed to move in ways that develop and build all the different parts of their brain. Unfortunately modern life can prevent some of this natural development (eg spending too long in baby car seats, not enough opportunities for crawling or tummy time etc) and adult attitudes to risk have also impacted in children’s opportunities for vigorous physical play. Research into sensory integration is also making strong links between issues with physical development and learning and emotional difficulties.

Seb displays his developing fine motor skills by manipulating tools and construction materials and we see his gross motor dexterity in the way he uses large open spaces for vigorous and sure-footed activity. Movement play also provides us with good opportunities to observe children’s schemas, as their interest in rotation, trajectories or transporting can drive their physical play.

Questions for reflection

  • What do you know about the early physical development of babies and young children?
  • Why is outdoor play important for children?
  • How would Seb be affected if he didn’t have access to outside space to play?
  • How do you feel about super hero play? How would you manage Seb and Tom’s play indoors so that they could make the most of the experience, but not create problems for other children?
  • How do you support the need for children to experience ‘rough and tumble play’?
  • How do you manage children’s need for vigorous physical activity when space is restricted?
  • How do you encourage 3-4 year olds to still benefit from movement play associated with younger children, eg crawling, tummy time etc ? Why do you think this might be important?
  • How do you know when to step in and help a child with a tricky physical task – and when to extend their learning by encouraging them to do it for themselves?


The Well Balanced Child: Movement and early learning by Sally Goddard Blythe (Hawthorn Press)

Learning & Development: Physical Development series Anna Daly and Anne O’Connor March – Nursery World July 2009

Sensory Integration and the Child: 25th Anniversary Edition A Jean Ayres Western Psychological Services 2005