Age six is an important transitional time in the physical development of children. From learning how to catch a ball a year ago, at the age of six a child can begin to be quite proficient in playground games and sports.
The first grader’s physical development will start to slow down and settle into a more steady growth period that is focused on refinement. He has learned how to bounce a ball; now he will begin to learn how to dribble it. She has learned to hold a pencil and draw a straight line; now she will learn to write neatly and accurately. Coordination will improve, and motor skills will be sharpened during this stage of growth.
Motor skills are divided into two major areas: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills involve the larger muscles and refer to broader body movements, such as running, jumping, throwing a ball, riding a bike, etc.
Fine motor skills, which involve small muscles, are much more precise and intricate. Typical fine motor skills include using one’s hands in activities like writing, drawing, and putting a puzzle together.
While gross motor skills and fine motor skills are often referred to under separate headings, they are actually interdependent and work closely together as part of children’s physical development. Gross motor skills serve as a foundation for fine motor development; strong shoulders and upper arms provide stability for writing or using scissors, for example. In first grade, children will refine both gross motor and fine motor skills, and become more comfortable and proficient in these.
The six year old is more in control of her body overall. You will notice an increase in stamina and coordination as compared to last year, although there is still some clumsiness and awkwardness in physical activities due to uneven development of muscle control. First graders are very active and like trying new or adventurous skills; if they are not terribly proficient in these active games, it doesn’t seem to bother them. They are confident and proud of their physical abilities, though they may not always be able to judge their own limitations and may fall or get hurt. Older six year olds and seven year olds will have a more accurate grasp of their abilities.
Children at this age do like to play rough. Highly physical, rough-and-tumble play is a healthy part of kids’ physical development, and also serves important social functions. Watch children’s interactions on the playground, and you will see children poke, prod, push, squeeze, and wrestle each other. Boys, especially, relate to each other through interactive play, and are not as adept as girls to communicate their feelings and affection verbally. But highly physical play (roughhousing) is healthy and fun for both boys and girls, and should be encouraged in appropriate settings.
Of course, one of the most visible physical changes that occurs during first grade has to do with that famous gap-toothed smile: kids begin to lose their baby teeth, and make room for incoming permanent teeth. If dental care has been sporadic up till now, this is the time to get serious about brushing and flossing; you want these new teeth to be around forever, and good dental habits don’t happen overnight. As to the actual losing of the teeth (an event that can be infused with high drama), I can say from personal experience that the string-tied-to-the-door trick and the removal-with-pliers method really don’t work that well. When the tooth wants to come out, let it happen naturally.
Even though your six year old is a big kid now, she will still have accidents from time to time, and bed wetting may continue to be a problem for some 6 and 7 year olds (or even older). First graders may wet or soil themselves when they get upset or excited, and may have accidents if they wait too long to find a bathroom.
These incidents can be very embarrassing for your child; accept accidents calmly and matter-of-factly, taking care of practical concerns such as dry clothes or new bedding without making a big deal about it. If accidents happen with some regularity, however, do be sure to talk with your child’s physician to make sure there is not a physical cause.
First graders want and need to get outside and play, but the desire to plop down in front of the TV or a computer game can be at least as compelling. Kids may need a nudge from you, or possibly even a full-blown push, to get them outside and staying active. Here are some suggestions on how you can support kids’ healthy physical development:
Provide varied opportunities for active play: Tossing a ball, jumping rope, running, throwing at targets, tumbling-these are all fun ways to be active. Suggesting a variety of activities will keep things fresh and make physical activity more appealing.
Don’t buy into the idea that girls do one type of activity, and boys do another. Challenge your child if he insists jump rope is for girls, or if she claims that soccer is for the boys. Encourage both genders to choose from a full spectrum of activities.
Encourage adventures: Physical challenges appeal to a children’s sense of adventure, and kids love to test their own physical limits. See who can jump the farthest, run the fastest, keep the balloon in the air for the longest time. As kids’ physical development increases, toys such as stilts, trampolines, scooters and skateboards add another level to adventuresome activity. (Of course, don’t forget the safety gear.)
Orchestrate a play date: Plan some simple outdoor activities for your child to do with a friend. Kids at this age really do love to be told what to do. Take advantage of this and plan something fun outdoors for the two of them, so they don’t just hole up in the back room with a PlayStation. Outdoor play is always more fun with a friend.
Set a good example: Whenever possible, get outside with your child, even if it’s just for 15-20 minutes before dinner. Not only are these valuable times of bonding, but your participation in outdoor, active play will make it about 300 times more fun and show your child how great it can be.