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The general health and well-being of young children is central to the core of child development. The first five years of life mark significant changes in a child’s body and establish a critical foundation for the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor behaviors needed to progress through childhood.

In addition to significant health benefits, physical activity, creative movement, and play provide many advantages for the growing child. Young children who are physically active show greater brain functioning and an enhanced ability to develop gross-motor movements. Studies have shown that physical activity plays an essential role in creating nerve cell networks that are the essence of learning (Ratey, 2008). This research reinforces the need to move in a variety of ways, such as left to right, up then down, through and around, tracking a moving ball, and so on. Research also indicates that regular physical activity can help to increase concentration and reduce disruptive behaviors, suggesting a direct correlation to academic achievement (Trudeau & Shephard, 2008). Physical activity and movement also improve children’s self-concept and social skills. Children exhibit joy and confidence as they accomplish basic motor skills while playing simple games of low organization or when they move to the rhythm of a beat. Creative movement experiences help children express themselves and learn what they can do with their bodies. And in many physical activities, children learn to relate to other children as they share equipment or take turns.

Learning about health and safety practices is important, too. Preschool teachers can help children become more aware of their bodies and develop general health habits early in life. It is also important for children to develop decision-making skills and be able to differentiate between a safe and an unsafe situation.

The teaching of physical development and health at the preschool level plays a significant role across the major developmental domains. A strong foundation of physical activity, healthy eating habits, and general health practices will provide each child with the necessary skills and behaviors to be able to benefit from the learning environment and to lead an active, healthy life.

Juanita teaches preschool at a Head Start program in rural Illinois. Her children have long bus rides to and from the program. When they arrive, they have lots of energy and need to run, jump, and play. Juanita recognizes that trying to settle them down immediately is a lost cause. It’s far more important for them to have opportunities to move after having been so sedentary on the bus. So, she begins the day with outdoor time if the weather allows and, if not, movement activities indoors. She not only expects the children to use the standard playground equipment at her Head Start site, she also plans for other engaging activities for them outdoors. She sets up obstacle courses—not so much with special equipment but rather with special directions for the children. They love to hear what she’s got in store for them this time: “Run to the slide. Climb up carefully. Slide down. Take two big jumps. Walk backward to the red pole, then tiptoe over to me and give me a hug!” Remembering all of those directions is a challenge to the children, and she coaches them as they go. But they keep asking her for another obstacle course every day! When outdoor time is over, they have expended lots of energy and are ready to go inside, eat a nutritious morning snack, and settle into the indoor routines.

Example Performance Descriptors can be found on the List of goals, standards, and benchmarks page.

Goal 19: Acquire movement skills and understand concepts needed to explore the environment, support learning, and engage in health‐enhancing physical activity.

Learning Standard 19.A: Demonstrate physical competency and control of large and small muscles.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 19.A.ECa: Engage in active play using gross- and fine-motor skills.
  • 19.A.ECb: Move with balance and control in a range of physical activities.
  • 19.A.ECc: Use strength and control to accomplish tasks.
  • 19.A.ECd: Use eye-hand coordination to perform tasks.
  • 19.A.ECe: Use writing and drawing tools with some control.

Learning Standard 19.B: Demonstrate awareness and coordination of body movements.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 19.B.ECa: Coordinate movements to perform complex tasks.
  • 19.B.ECb: Demonstrate body awareness when moving in different spaces.
  • 19.B.ECc: Combine large motor movements with and without the use of equipment.

Learning Standard 19.C: Demonstrate knowledge of rules and safety during activity.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 19.C.ECa: Follow simple safety rules while participating in activities.

Goal 20: Develop habits for lifelong fitness.

Learning Standard 20.A: Achieve and maintain a health‐enhancing level of physical fitness.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 20.A.ECa: Participate in activities to enhance physical fitness.
  • 20.A.ECb: Exhibit increased levels of physical activity.

Learning Standard 20.B: Assess individual fitness levels.

Learning Standard 20.C: Set goals based on fitness data and develop, implement, and monitor an individual fitness improvement plan.

Goal 21: Develop team‐building skills by working with others through physical activity.

Learning Standard 21.A: Demonstrate individual responsibility during group physical activities.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 21.A.ECa: Follow rules and procedures when participating in group physical activities.
  • 21.A.ECb: Follow directions, with occasional adult reminders, during group activities.

Learning Standard 21.B: Demonstrate cooperative skills during structured group physical activity.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 21.B.ECa: Demonstrate ability to cooperate with others during group physical activities

Goal 22: Understand principles of health promotion and the prevention and treatment of illness and injury.

Learning Standard 22.A: Explain the basic principles of health promotion, illness prevention, treatment, and safety.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 22.A.ECa: Identify simple practices that promote healthy living and prevent illness.
  • 22.A.ECb: Demonstrate personal care and hygiene skills, with adult reminders.
  • 22.A.ECc: Identify and follow basic safety rules.

Learning Standard 22.B: Describe and explain the factors that influence health among individuals, groups, and communities.

Learning Standard 22.C: Explain how the environment can affect health.

Goal 23: Understand human body systems and factors that influence growth and development.

Learning Standard 23.A: Describe and explain the structure and functions of the human body systems and how they interrelate.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 23.A.ECa: Identify body parts and their functions.

Learning Standard 23.B: Identify ways to keep the body healthy.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 23.B.ECa: Identify examples of healthy habits.
  • 23.B.ECb: Identify healthy and nonhealthy foods and explain the effect of these foods on the body.

Learning Standard 23.C: Describe factors that affect growth and development.

Goal 24: Promote and enhance health and well‐being through the use of effective communication and decision‐making skills.

Learning Standard 24.A: Demonstrate procedures for communicating in positive ways, resolving differences, and preventing conflict.

Learning Standard 24.C: Demonstrate skills essential to enhancing health and avoiding dangerous situations.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 24.C.ECa: Participate in activities to learn to avoid dangerous situations.


  • Goal 19: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Goal 19 reads, “Acquire movement skills and understand concepts needed to engage in health-enhancing physical activity.”
  • Standard 19.A: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 19.A reads, “Demonstrate physical competency in individual and team sports, creative movement and leisure and work-related activities.”
  • Standard 19.B: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 19.B reads, “Analyze various movement concepts and applications.”
  • Goal 20: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Goal 20 reads, “Achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical fitness based upon continual self-assessment.”
  • Standard 20.A: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 20.A reads, “Know and apply the principles and components of health-related fitness.”
  • Standard 23.B: In the K-12 Illinois Standards, Standard 23.B reads, “Explain the effects of health-related actions on the body systems.”
Reviewed: 2013