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Physical Development & Health

What Is the Link Between Health and Physical Development & Health?

In order for children to develop strong muscles and healthy bodies, they need to engage in physical activity, access healthy nutrition, and get adequate rest. Also, it is important that they practice healthy and safe behaviors. Learning how to stay healthy can reduce illness and improve attendance, resulting in better educational outcomes.1

Staff support physical development and health using strategies that improve children's:

  • Gross motor development to build balance and coordination that are important for movement and physical activity
  • Fine motor development to develop drawing and writing skills
  • Adaptive skills to function in early learning environments

Examples of School Readiness Goals

The following table includes sample goals developed by the Early Head Start National Resource Center and the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. Review the links to health services in the third column and find strategies to accomplish your Approaches to Learning school readiness goals. If program school readiness goals address topics that are different from the examples offered, find links to health services here.

Early Head Start Head Start Links to Health Services
Goal 1: Children will develop control of large muscles for movement, navigation, and balance. Goal 1: Children will demonstrate control of large muscles for movement, navigation, and balance. Children with Special Health Care Needs or Disabilities
  • Modify and adapt services to meet. children's unique developmental needs.
  • Increase staff knowledge and skills on inclusive practices to promote children's access to learning.
Family Health Literacy
  • Provide engaging, empowering, and action-oriented health education programs that are designed for and with families to support child development in culturally and linguistically responsive and meaningful ways.
  • Cultivate effective partnerships to support healthy child development and promote school readiness.
Nutrition and Physical Activity
  • Provide age-appropriate amounts of physical activity in children's daily routines to support positive behaviors and promote physical health.
Physical Health
  • Use health data to make decisions about how to individualize services to meet each child's needs.
Safety and Injury Prevention
  • Educate children, staff and families on ways to avoid injuries to ensure children learn safely.
  • Create and maintain safe environments that engage children and support their healthy development.
Sanitation and Hygiene
  • Promote healthy habits to prevent illness and improve child participation.
  • Integrate school readiness into health policies and procedures to keep children healthy and engaged in learning.
Goal 2: Children will develop control of small muscles for manipulation and exploration. Goal 2: Children will demonstrate control of small muscles for such purposes as using utensils, self-care, building, writing, and manipulation.
Goal 3: Children will learn and begin to demonstrate healthy and safe habits. Goal 3: Children will identify and practice healthy and safe habits.

Research Connections 

In a national survey of 1,448 kindergarten teachers carried out by the National Center for Education Statistics, teachers reported that "being physically healthy, rested and well-nourished ... were the most essential qualities for children to be ready for kindergarten."2 From conception, children's environments can impact their ability to fight disease and make them vulnerable to health issues later in life.3


1Connolly, F. and Olson, L.S. (2012). Early elementary performance and attendance in Baltimore City schools' pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Baltimore: Baltimore Education Research Consortium. Retrieved from http://www.attendanceworks.org/research/

2Hair, E., Halle, T., Terry-Humen, E., Lavelle, B. & Calkins, J. (2006). Children's school readiness in the ECLS-K: Predictions to academic, health, and social outcomes in first grade. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 21, 431–454. Retrieved from http://childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/First-Grade-Readiness.pdf [PDF, 346KB]

3Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2010). The foundations of lifelong health are built in early childhood. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu

Last Updated: June 3, 2018