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What Is Physical Development? - Definition and Examples

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  1. 0:01 Physical Development
  2. 0:56 Childhood & Adolescence
  3. 3:27 Aging
  4. 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Everyone grows and changes throughout their lives. In this lesson, we'll look at some important times in physical development, including childhood and old age, and how physical development contributes to other types of development.

Physical Development

Matthew recently retired, and he's spending all his spare time with his great-nephew Johnny, who is in preschool. Though their ages are far apart, Matthew has discovered that he and Johnny have a lot in common. They are both dealing with new developmental milestones. That is, they are growing and changing every day and have to deal with new physical changes.

Human development is the way that people change and grow across their life span. There are many types of development that people go through. As children learn problem-solving skills, their cognitive (or thinking) development grows. When people age, they often develop wisdom, which means they are better able to handle stress, a process that is part of emotional development.

Let's look closer at one aspect of human development, physical development, and what it means for different people at different points in their lives.

Childhood and Adolescence

Remember Johnny? He's Matthew's great-nephew, and he's at an age where his physical development is rapid. Every day, it seems like he's grown more, and his parents have to keep buying him new clothes because he keeps outgrowing them!

Childhood and adolescence are times of great physical changes. Children grow taller and become better at controlling their bodies. Adolescents develop body hair and other adult features as they make their way into full adulthood. These changes seem pretty straightforward. If Johnny is two inches taller or his hat size goes up, it means that he's physically growing. What could be more simple than that?

What many people miss is that physical development is closely linked to other types of development as well. For example, Johnny's brain is developing, growing and changing every day. That's physical development, but it is tied to other skills that he develops, including motor skills (like how coordinated he is) and eventually reasoning and problem-solving skills.

A child's motor skills develop before their higher cognitive skills, like reasoning or problem solving. To see why, think about Johnny. When he was a baby, he couldn't do much of anything except lie down and stare off into space. He didn't have the ability to hold his head up or to grab onto something and hold it.

But as he developed these motor skills, something else began to happen. When he could control the movement of his own head, he was able to look around. When he could grab something and hold onto it, he could explore it further, testing what it felt like, tasted like and what it looked like way up close.

As he developed the skill of crawling, Johnny was able to explore even more of his environment, taking a trip across the living room to check out what the curtains on the windows were like, for example. All of these explorations are part of Johnny learning. He's learning about the world around him, but he's also learning how to find answers to things. His cognitive development is springing from his motor development, which came from the physical development of his brain and body to be able to allow him to control himself in relation to his environment.

Later, when Johnny is a teenager and young adult, the prefrontal cortex of his brain will develop, which will allow him to have higher thinking skills, like reasoning and problem solving. In essence, every type of development springs first from physical development.

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