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Physical Development

From moving game pieces to running around in the yard, climbing and balancing in the playground, and even jumping on the bed, children demonstrate to parents the range of motor skills they are learning and how well they are using these skills to interact with the world around them. The questions and tips that follow will help you understand what physical skills your 3- to 4-year-old child should be learning – and how you can support her continued development.

Is your child developing age-appropriate physical skills?

It’s helpful to know what physical skills your child should be developing by age 3 or 4. Abilities in this area include both gross (large) motor skills and fine (small) motor skills. Review the following checklists about physical development expected in a child this age, and note how your child is doing in each area. 

Large motor skills — My child can:

  • Walks with agility, good balance, and steady gait.
  • Run at a comfortable speed in one direction and around obstacles; she can also stop, re-start, and turn while running.
  • Aim and throw a large ball or beanbag, or catch one thrown to her.
  • Hop several times on each foot.
  • Walk along and jump over a low object, such as a line, string, or balance beam.
  • Bounce a large ball several times.
  • Kick a stationary ball.
  • Pedal and steer a tricycle.

Small motor skills — My child can:

  • Brush teeth, comb hair, and get dressed with little help.
  • Skillfully use eating utensils.
  • Use (child-sized) scissors to cut along a line.
  • Pick up small items such as coins, toothpicks, and paperclips.
  • Assemble simple puzzles.
  • Copy simple shapes, like a circle or square.
  • Print some letters of the alphabet.
  • Stack objects so they don’t fall.


Encouraging physical development at home

Now that you understand some of the key physical/motor skills your child should have, you can reinforce her development and foster further progress where necessary. It’s easy (and fun!) to practice physical skills with your child throughout the day. Here are some guidelines and activities to try:
  • Give your child the space and freedom to use large muscles, through activities such as running, climbing and swinging on playground equipment.
  • Make sure your child gets adequate sleep and nutrition to fuel her overall development and activity.
  • Take your child to a pediatrician for regular well-child exams, and be sure to have her vision and hearing checked. Even small problems, caught and addressed at this age, can greatly enhance motor skill development and confidence.
  • Collect toys and equipment that your child can use to help her develop large muscles. (For example: hula hoops, bean bags, tricycle, large beach balls and a child-sized basketball hoop.)
  • Set up empty water bottles like bowling pins, and let your child use a soft ball to “bowl.”
  • Join your child in active play. Play catch, tag, or set up a simple obstacle course.
  • Give your child opportunities to practice small motor skills using child safety scissors, Lego blocks, dice, and buttons.