Toddler development

Physical development in the first five years

Watch how a child grows and develops in our guide to the physical changes from birth to age five

By Sandra E. Martin
Physical development in the first five years

In the early years, your child is changing all the time. It’s a period of wondrous transformation in which the changes you can measure are only part of the picture, says Fabian Gorodzinsky, associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Western Ontario, and a community paediatrician in London, Ont. Keep reading for more insights from Gorodzinsky and the Canadian Paediatric Society.


“He’s so much smaller than his friends” Being shorter and slighter than other kids his age isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. But when a child who once landed consistently around the 50th percentile on his growth chart (meaning about half of all kids his age are bigger and half are smaller) slips to the 15th percentile, there could be a problem. Your child’s doctor should be able to pick this up at regular checkups, but if you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to ask.

0–1 Your child’s first year marks a period of amazing physical growth. Onesies that fit this week will be tough to snap up next week, and car seat safety harnesses need continual adjustment. “You won’t see growth at this rate again,” notes Gorodzinsky. Baby boys or girls who are right at the midpoint between the biggest and smallest of their peers will grow to about 30 inches (76 centimetres) and 22 pounds (10 kilograms) by their first birthday.

1–3 After graduating from breastmilk or formula to mostly solids, it seems that your child has mysteriously stopped growing, and her voracious appetite has disappeared as well. Not to worry, Gorodzinsky says. “After one year of age, parents come to me and say, ‘My child is not eating.’ That’s right; she isn’t eating as much because she isn’t growing as fast.” Between the first and third birthdays, kids who are still following the 50th percentile growth curve will grow less than in that first year, reaching about 38 inches (97 centimetres) in height and 31 pounds (14 kilograms) in weight.

3–5 By their fifth birthdays, both boys and girls in the middle of the pack will grow to about 43 inches (109 centimetres) tall and weigh 40 pounds (18 kilograms). More importantly, though, they’re making their first friends and are incredibly curious about their world. “Their two main words are what and why,” says Gorodzinsky. “They are learning colours, they are learning figures, they are learning to write their names. That’s a huge milestone; it’s the beginning of reading.”



Is my child on track? Every child develops at his own unique pace. So if yours isn’t exactly following the sequence of milestones published by the Canadian Paediatric Society (see; click on Growing & Learning, then Your Child’s Development: What to Expect), that isn’t necessarily cause for concern. For example, the CPS says “most” three-year-olds can jump in place; but say a four-year-old still isn’t taking off on two feet? “If they’re not jumping, but they are otherwise fine and walking well, I wouldn’t worry,” says paediatrician Fabian Gorodzinsky. If you’re in doubt, or your child seems behind in many areas, talk to his doctor.

0–1 “In the first year of life, motor development progresses from the head to the toes and from the centre of the body to the periphery of the limbs,” Gorodzinsky says. What does this look like? Think about tummy time: Probably the first thing you’ll notice is baby lifting her head up instead of just turning it to the side. Soon she can lift her chest, propping herself up on her elbows, sphinx-style. Then she might move to her hands and knees or stand upright with support. By her first birthday, she may be up for the challenge of running into your arms. “That’s from the head down,” says Gorodzinsky. Fine-motor coordination begins too: “She begins by flapping her hands with the whole arm; progressing into grasping with the full hand; then finally, at the periphery, that becomes a fine pincer grasp.”

1–3 Toddlers are on the move! At this stage, you’ll see your child pick up her feet as she graduates from walking to running and jumping. She’ll start to pull wheeled toys behind her and stack four or more blocks to make a pretend tower. By three, she can probably pedal a tricycle. Climbing comes into play, so now’s the time to revisit childproofing measures in your home. Fitting together a two-piece puzzle is within her grasp.

3–5 You’ll watch your little one learn how to kick and catch a ball, and move with more confidence. Her drawings become more sophisticated, as she transitions from making lines to drawing a person with arms and legs. There are more important changes happening too. “Motor skills are the things you see the most, but are really not the ones that count at this age, when it comes to mental development,” notes Gorodzinsky. “It’s personal and social growth; it’s communication; it’s awareness of the environment and the way the child relates to the environment.”

This article was originally published on Oct 05, 2009

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