The Physical Development of Infants & Toddlers in Child Care

The freedom to play and explore in a child care setting gives children opportunities to move around and use their muscles, which is vital to healthy physical development 2. Newborn movements are usually reflexes, but as a baby grows, he learns to use his body to move around in his space and gain access to things or people that interest him.

Positve Child Care Experience

About 70 percent of parents place their child in some form of child care, according to Kids Health 1. Child care facilities can promote the healthy physical development of infants and toddlers in a safe, supervised environment where constructive play is encouraged and modeled 2. Babies benefit developmentally from a nurturing environment where they can develop trust in parents and caregivers and the confidence to explore their environment.

Motor Skill

Access to both free and structured physical play helps babies and toddlers develop gross and fine motor skills that are the foundation for later physical milestones. Gross movement engages the larger muscles of the arms, torso and legs and helps young children develop strength, control and coordination. Fine movement involves smaller muscles such as those in the fingers and face.

Play Time

Good child care programs give each baby tummy time, which helps strengthen arm and torso muscles. Babies should get opportunities to explore their environment, listen and move to music and play gentle movement games. A good program introduces colorful toys to encourage reaching and crawling and interactive games such as peek-a-boo that invite babies to move, turn, reach and kick.

To promote healthy physical development, caregivers give toddlers access to grasping toys, sturdy objects to pull up on, room to crawl and explore, picture books and art materials. Toddlers need opportunities to climb on age-appropriate structures and to listen to and move to music.


Signs of appropriate physical development for infants include increased control of arm and leg movements, pushing up, sitting or rolling over, increased mobility and the ability to lift and turn their heads, according to the North Carolina Division of Child Development (DCD) 2.

Physical developmental milestones for toddlers include the ability to pull up and sit down, crawl up steps, use riding toys and move independently. Progress for older toddlers includes kicking, jumping, pedaling, sliding, ducking under structures and increased balance, strength and coordination, adds the DCD.

Play and Development

A child's experiences during her first three years has a tremendous influence on the way she grows and develops. A well-trained caregiver recognizes that infants and toddlers need both indoor and outdoor play opportunities. Play is the primary medium for physical development in infants and toddlers. Play time promotes the physical well-being of children, and helps them develop foundational motor skills, dexterity and strength, according to the DCD.