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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

IEL FAQ: What Do I Need to Know about Physical Development in Young Children? About

What is the general pattern of physical development from birth to 5?

Height and Weight. A child’s height and weight change dramatically over the first 5 years of life. Newborns typically measure from 18-1/2 to 21-1/2 inches in length. A child usually weighs between 5.5 and 9 pounds at birth. A premature baby (born 4 or more weeks early) or a baby who is a twin may be less than 5-1/2 pounds at birth. Most children will triple their birth weight by their first birthdays and quadruple their birth weight by age 2. By the time they are 4 years old, children are likely to have doubled their birth length. These ranges vary, of course, depending on such factors as

  • the size of the parents,
  • the amount and quality of what the mother eats and drinks while pregnant,
  • the amount and quality of what the child eats and drinks,
  • the amount of exercise that the child gets,
  • the child’s general health, and
  • the quality of the child’s medical care.

A child who is not getting enough nourishment, sleep, exercise, and love and attention may experience slowed growth. However, even the best conditions will not make children grow taller than their genes have determined for them.

A child's parents and pediatrician or other health care provider may want to chart her growth in height and weight. If this growth slows, if the child's weight is not proportional to her height, or if her height or weight falls below the fifth percentile for her age, the pediatrician can arrange tests to learn more about the reason for the slow growth. The earlier an abnormal condition is found, the earlier it can be treated.

Growth charts are available online and can be printed out so parents can keep their own records. Here are a few good growth charts from the National Center for Health Statistics:

Birth to 36 Months:

Age 2 to 20 Years:

Motor Skills. Children also vary in how quickly they develop specific motor skills. Motor skills are the physical abilities that a child needs to move effectively within the environment. One child may crawl early but walk later than other children. Some children may skip crawling entirely. A parent who is concerned that his child is not learning new motor skills as quickly as other children should discuss this concern with his child’s pediatrician or other health care provider.

Developmental Milestones. Here are some developmental milestones in physical development that parents may want to look for.

Newborn Weighs between 6 and 9 pounds, has rooting and sucking reflexes, needs to be held with head and neck supported.
3-month-old Holds up head, rolls over from stomach to back, follows a moving object with eyes, wiggles and kicks.
6-month-old Weighs twice birth weight, can sit with support and roll over, can hold an object, smiles and laughs, looks at faces and sounds.
8-month-old Sits up without help, rocks on hands and knees, and picks up small objects and transfers them to the other hand. Some may begin to crawl.
12-month-old Weighs three times birth weight, crawls and pulls up to stand, may walk alone, picks things up, waves “bye-bye.”
18-month-old Walk and runs, climbs steps holding on or by crawling, tosses a ball, feeds self, rides small-wheeled toys, opens drawers and cabinets.
2-year-old Weighs four times birth weight, walks alone, goes up and down steps holding onto hand or rail, scribbles with crayon, may start using the toilet.
3-year-old Grows more slowly, helps dress self, hops and tiptoes, can balance on one foot, opens doors, pedals a tricycle, uses the toilet.
4-year-old Has doubled birth length, dresses self, runs and skips, stacks blocks, bounces and throws a ball.

(Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children Web site)

What should parents do if they are concerned about their child’s development?

Parents who wonder whether their child’s development is “normal” may want to compare their child’s progress to the milestones for typically developing children in books or in the Web resources listed below. If parents suspect there may be a problem or if there is a substantial difference in a child’s development from what is suggested in these lists of milestones, parents can contact the child’s pediatrician or other health care provider and ask for an appointment. It may help to remember that, at times, a physical problem such as frequent illness may slow development.

What Illinois resources are available for children who may have special developmental needs?

  • IEL FAQ: Where Can Parents Find Help for Young Children with Special Needs? About
2009

Resources

Illinois Early Learning Tip Sheets

Web Resources

Other Resources

  • Informing Our Practice: Useful Research on Young Children's Development
    Author(s): Essa, Eva L., Ed.; Burnham, Melissa M., Ed.
    Publication Date: 2009
    Availability: National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, DC.
  • Physical Development: Thinking Physically
    Publication Date: 2005
    Source: Early Childhood Today, v19 n6 p6-7.
  • Active Start: A Statement of Physical Activity Guidelines for Children Birth to Five Years
    Author (s): Clark, Jane E.; Clements, Rhonda L.; Guddemi, Marci; Morgan, Don W.; Pica, Rae; Pivarnik, James M.; Rudisill, Mary; Small, Eric; & Virgilio, Stephen J.
    Publication Date: 2002
    Availability: AAPHERD Publications, Oxon Hill, MD.

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Disclaimer

The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.

The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.

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