Physical changes and Cognitive Changes


Physical changes and Cognitive Changes in Early Childhood

During early childhood period of development, rapid physical changes and cognitive changes can be seen. The advances in physical abilities that occur during the preschool period are nothing short of astounding. Just how far children develop is apparent when we look at the specific changes they have undergone in their size, shape, and physical abilities.

Physical changes: The Growing Body

Children grow steadily during the early childhood period, and by the time they are 6 years old, they weigh, on average, about 46 pounds and stand 46 inches tall. By the end of the preschool years, children start to lose their
primary, or “baby,” teeth. The age at which they do so is heavily influenced by heredity. For example, girls, who are ahead of boys in physical development, lose their primary teeth earlier.

Individual Differences in Height and Weight

The averages mask great individual differences in height and weight. For instance, 10 percent of six year-olds weigh 55 pounds or more, and 10 percent weigh 36 pounds or less. Furthermore, average differences in height and weight between boys and girls increase during the preschool years. Although at age two the differences are relatively small, during the preschool years, boys start becoming taller and heavier, on average, than girls.

The better nutrition and health care received by children in developed countries translates into significant differences in growth

Changes in Body Shape and Structure

If we compare the bodies of a two year-old and a six-year-old, we find that the bodies vary not only in height and weight but also in shape. During the preschool years, boys and girls begin to burn off some of the fat they have carried from their infancy. Moreover, their arms and legs lengthen, and the size relationship between the head and the rest of the body becomes more adultlike. In fact, by the time children reach six years of age, their proportions are quite similar to those of adults.

Other physical changes are occurring internally. Muscle size increases, and children grow stronger. Bones become sturdier. The sense organs continue to develop. By age 5 the top-heavy, bowlegged, potbellied toddler has become a more streamlined, flat- tummied, longer-legged child with body proportions similar to those of adults. Consequently, posture and balance improve—changes that support gains in motor coordination

Nutrition: Eating the Right Foods

Because the rate of growth during this period is slower than during infancy, preschoolers need less food to maintain their growth. However, children tend to be quite adept at maintaining an appropriate intake of food if provided with nutritious meals.

Ultimately, some children’s food consumption can become so high as to lead to obesity, which is defined as a body weight more than 20 percent higher than the average weight for a person of a given age and height.

The Growing Brain

The brain grows at a faster rate than any other part of the body. Two-year-old have brains that are about three-quarters of the size and weight of an adult brain. By age five, children’s brains weigh 90 percent of average adult brain weight. In comparison, the average five-year-old’s total body weight is just 30 percent of average adult body weight.

Why does the brain grow so rapidly? One reason is an increase in the number of interconnections among cells. These interconnections allow for more complex communication between neurons, and they permit the rapid growth of cognitive skills. In addition, the amount of myelin, protective insulation that surrounds parts of neurons increases, which speeds the transmission of electrical impulses along brain cells but also adds to brain weight. This rapid brain growth not only allows for increased cognitive abilities but also helps in the development of more sophisticated fine and gross motor skills (Dalton & Bergenn, 2007; Klingberg & Betteridge, 2013; Dean et al., 2014).

By the end of the preschool period, some parts of the brain have undergone particularly significant growth. For example, the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, becomes considerably thicker, developing as many as 800 million individual fibers that help coordinate brain functioning between the two hemispheres.

Motor Development

When children of different ages gather at a playground, it’s easy to see that preschool children have come a long way in their motor development since infancy. Both their gross and fine motor skills have become increasingly fine-tuned.

Gross Motor Skills

time they are three, children have mastered a variety of skills: jumping, hopping on one foot, skipping, and running. By four and five, their skills have become more refined as they have gained increasing control over their muscles. For instance, at four they can throw a ball with enough accuracy that a friend can catch it, and by age five they can toss a ring and have it land on a peg five feet away. Five-year-old can learn to ride bikes, climb ladders, and ski downhill—activities that all require considerable coordination.

Another reason that motor skills develop at such a rapid clip during the preschool years is that children spend a great deal of time practicing them. During this period, the general level of activity is extraordinarily high.

Fine Motor Skills

At the same time that gross motor skills are developing, children are progressing in their ability to use fine motor skills, which involve more delicate, smaller body movements, such as using a fork and spoon, cutting with a scissors, tying one’s shoelaces, and playing the piano.

The skills involved in fine motor movements require a good deal of practice, as anyone who has watched a four-year-old struggling painstakingly to copy letters of the alphabet knows. . At the age of three, children are already able to draw a circle and square with a crayon, and they can undo their clothes when they go to the bathroom. They can put a simple jigsaw puzzle together, and they can fit blocks of different shapes into matching holes. However, they do not show much precision and polish in accomplishing such tasks. For instance, they may try to force puzzle pieces into place.

By the age of four, their fine motor skills are considerably better. They can draw a person that looks like a person, and they can fold paper into triangular designs. And by the time they are five, they are able to hold and manipulate a thin pencil properly.


  1. Robert. S. Feldman. (2017). Development Across the Lifespan. (8th ed.). Pearson Education.
  2. Laura. E. Berk. (2018). Development Through the Lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education.

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