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EYFS physical development activities: How to spot the amber flags

9 min of reading
04 September 2023
EYFS physical development activities

How do we measure good EYFS physical development progress? Well, by using milestones. But these physical development milestones are not a one size fits all approach. Knowing the amber and red flags to watch out for when assessing a child’s physical development progress can help to catch any concerns early and reassure parents.

Sarah Cooke (EYFS occupational therapist) shares what to look out for, how to make your nursery observations count, and some easy EYFS physical development activities to try.

What you’ll find in this article:

    Meet the expert: Sarah Cooke.

    Sarah Cooke is a qualified occupational therapist. Having a strong background in paediatrics and schools, Sarah has worked across mainstream and SEND settings and clinical environments.

    Sarah has experience working with premature babies, supporting them with physical development guidance. She is now a valued member of the Alder Hey Autism Assessment Team.

    What is good physical development in the early years?

    Physical development in the early years is one of the prime areas for learning. Children must play indoors and outdoors, helping them to develop physically. The EYFS Framework and Birth to 5 Matters both highlight the areas that physical development enhances through play:

    Skip ahead for EYFS physical development activities to try in your nursery (or encourage your parents to try them at home).

    What are the EYFS physical development milestones?

    Sarah reminds us that it is important to remember that every child develops at a different rate. Milestones guide occupational therapists and other physical development experts on what a ‘typically developing child’ might achieve and when.

    It can be easy for practitioners (and parents) to become fixated on their child’s ability to reach a physical development milestone and become incredibly disheartened when it takes longer than expected. Parents can compare milestone achievements to other siblings or family friends, which can create panic and concern.

    What are the EYFS physical development amber flags to watch out for?

    Sarah explains how amber flags for each child are different and must be interpreted cautiously. No two children have the same upbringing, life experiences and genetic makeup; they will experience different physical development milestones at different times. And this is perfectly normal!

    We share a few of an occupational therapist’s amber flags for EYFS physical development to boost awareness of what might be useful as ‘watch out and monitor’ signs as nursery practitioners. It is important to note that this brief list is not a one-size fits all approach and is by no means exhaustive.

    EYFS physical development: 12 months:

    EYFS physical development: 18 months:

    EYFS physical development: 3 years:

    EYFS physical development amber flags:

    EYFS physical development red flags:

    Top tip:

    If you are concerned about a child’s early physical development progress, record all observations and refer the child to the community paediatric team.

    EYFS physical development observations for nursery practitioners.

    Nursery practitioners often experience many children’s ‘firsts’ during their time at nursery. It may be their first steps, jumping jack or friendship. It is a privilege to be able to witness these golden moments.

    Parents appreciate videos or images shared of their child throughout their nursery day, especially when they have achieved a milestone. Sharing and celebrating how well their child is developing in your care can help boost parent and nursery relationships.

    When nursery practitioners are recording their observations, it is useful to be mindful of physical development amber flags. Encourage your nursery practitioners to look out for the following:

    EYFS physical development activities - EYFS physical development observations

    EYFS physical development gross and fine motor skill activities for nursery

    Gross motor skills are essential for developing fine motor skills; jumping jacks go hand-in-hand with eventually being able to tie laces and use buttons independently. Sarah reminds us that gross motor activities in EYFS settings are important for progressing towards tabletop activities when they are school-age. Here are some of our favourite EYFS activities to boost physical development.

    Physical development activities: Balance and coordination.

    EYFS Physical development activities - Balance and coordination

    Physical development activities: Posture and core activities.

    EYFS Physical development activities - Posture and core activities

    Physical development activities: Upper body strength.

    EYFS Physical development activities - Upper body strength

    Physical development activities: Wrist stability.

    Physical development activities: Body awareness.

    EYFS Physical development activities - Body awareness

    Physical development activities: Muscle tone.

    EYFS Physical development activities - Muscle tone

    Physical development activities: Ball skills and coordination.

    EYFS Physical development activities - Ball skills and coordination

    Physical development activities: Bilateral coordination.

    Physical development activities: Hand strength.

    EYFS Physical development activities - Hand strength

    Physical development activities: Shoulder stability.

    Physical development activities: Visual motor.

    EYFS Physical development activities - Visual motor
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