Physical Development and Health

The domain of Physical Development and Health includes Preschool Benchmarks in: Movement Skills, Rules and Safety During Physical Activity, Team-Building Skills, Principles of Health Promotion and Prevention, and Human Body Systems

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.


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.

Example Performance Descriptors

Exhibit body control while running (e.g., run in and out of cones in a figure eight or change directions while moving and step down from higher surface instead of jumping). Move in general space throughout the play area exhibiting adequate body control and safety. Demonstrate the skills of climbing (ladders, playground equipment), hopping (on one foot), and jumping (can jump over objects 4-6 inches high and land on both feet).
Exhibit balance while using gross-motor equipment. Exhibit balance, control, and coordination during movement activities (e.g., climb stairs using alternating feet; run, jump, and walk in a straight line; stand and hop on one foot). Demonstrate strength and balance by performing body support movements (e.g., bear crawl and crab walk).
Put on clothing items, such as shirts, jackets, pants, and shoes. Demonstrate ability to use writing and drawing tools (e.g., hold pencils, crayons, and markers in a functional grasp; use paintbrushes to make strokes at an easel). Demonstrate eye-hand coordination and fine-motor control through various activities (e.g., string beads, manipulate pegs, build with small blocks, pour using different tools, assemble puzzles, button/zip, snap, use scissors to cut paper).
Learning Standard 19.B
Demonstrate awareness and coordination of body movements.

Example Performance Descriptors

Demonstrate awareness of spatial boundaries and the ability to maneuver within the area. Move effectively in different pathways (e.g., zigzag, curved), able to stop quickly and change directions. Coordinate large movements to use equipment (e.g., peddle a tricycle, pull a wagon).
Demonstrate the ability to throw (overhand and underhand). Throw, catch, or kick a lightweight ball. Demonstrate the ability to kick or strike (using an implement) in a specific direction with some control and accuracy.
Participate in activities involving a series of large motor movements (e.g., dance, play “Follow the Leader,” play “Simon Says”). Demonstrate understanding of spatial relationships, such as under, over, behind, and next to, by using the body and an object. Demonstrate ability to coordinate fine- and gross-motor movement (e.g., build structures, such as some houses and roads, with hollow and unit blocks).
Learning Standard 19.C
Demonstrate knowledge of rules and safety during activity.

Example Performance Descriptors

Demonstrate safe, controlled movement during activities, with occasional adult reminders. Adhere to basic safety rules during gross- and fine-motor activities, with occasional adult reminders. Apply body control during gross-motor activities to prevent accident or injury to self or others.
Participate in discussions about the importance of helmets for safety on tricycles, scooters, and wagons. Understand the concept of safety relative to helmets while riding tricycles, skating on a scooter, or riding in a wagon. Ask for a helmet before riding tricycles, skating on a scooter, or riding in a wagon.

Goal 20
Develop habits for lifelong fitness.

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

Example Performance Descriptors

Participate in activities that increase heart rate, flexibility, muscle strength, endurance, and cardiovascular endurance, such as running and jumping. Participate in activities that require stretching muscles, such as climbing, reaching, and pulling. Engage in repetitive behavior to practice and promote skill and ability, recognizing that physical activity keeps the body healthy.
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.

Example Performance Descriptors

Ask questions such as “Is it my turn now?” during a game. Show basic awareness of others and participate in an activity while remaining in their personal space. Follow rules for simple games.
Participate in discussion of safety during physical activity. Participate safely in the day’s physical activity, with assistance from adults. Participate safely in the day’s physical activity, with few reminders from adults.
Learning Standard 21.B
Demonstrate cooperative skills during structured group physical activity.

Example Performance Descriptors

Share equipment with others during a group physical activity. Take turns during group physical activities. Cooperate with others during a physical activity to complete a task.
Encourage peers to be successful. Respect others’ abilities. Respect others’ abilities and cooperate to help the activity be fun and enjoyable for all.

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.

Example Performance Descriptors

Participate in discussions about healthy living (e.g., eating healthy foods, hand washing, sneezing and coughing into sleeve). Distinguish food on a continuum from more healthy to less healthy. Recognize the importance of doctor and dentist visits for staying healthy.
Participate in hand washing throughout the day, with adult reminders. Practice personal hygiene, such as using a tissue to wipe nose and throwing used tissues in a wastebasket or covering the mouth when sneezing and coughing, with adult reminders. Complete personal care tasks, such as toileting and washing hands, with only occasional reminders.
Identify ways to reduce injuries on the playground, such as standing far enough from swings to avoid injury and using play equipment in safe ways. Discuss safety rules such as pedestrian safety (e.g., look both ways before crossing the street and walking on the sidewalk). Demonstrate basic safety knowledge (e.g., looking both ways before crossing the street, wearing a seatbelt, practicing bus safety, using a helmet).
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.

Example Performance Descriptors

Point to external body parts, such as arms, legs, knees, ears, and toes. Identify external body parts, such as arms, legs, knees, ears, and toes, by naming them. Identify or demonstrate ways to use body parts (e.g., ears to hear, eyes to see, legs to walk and run).
Learning Standard 23.B
Identify ways to keep the body healthy.

Example Performance Descriptors

Distinguish between being healthy and not healthy. Participate in discussions of good health habits, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and getting enough exercise every day. Identify good health habits, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and getting enough exercise every day.
Participate in discussions about the importance of eating breakfast. Identify healthy foods and snacks. Explain that bodies need healthy food to grow, feel well, and have energy to play.
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.B
Apply decision-making skills related to the protection and promotion of individual health.

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

Example Performance Descriptors

Understand some practices can be unsafe (e.g., horsing around on the playground equipment). Communicate to adults if there is an unsafe condition in the play area, such as “Bobby is tripping other children.” or “The playground equipment is wet”. Demonstrate understanding of how to respond in unsafe situations, such as what to do if playing near the street, not wearing a helmet, or someone gets hurt (e.g., tell an adult, call 911).
Participate in a discussion about familiar adults. Participate in a discussion about who is and who is not a stranger. Know when you feel “uncomfortable” with an adult to express that to another adult.


  • 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.”