Enhancing Physical Development through Play: A Case Study of a 4-Year-Old Child


The observation took place at Sunshine Daycare Center, a local child care facility, between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM. The center is situated in a suburban neighborhood with a secure outdoor play area designed to promote children’s physical development. The observation aimed to analyze physical development in a 4-year-old boy named Ethan, born on May 15, 2019 . This case study explores various factors influencing Ethan’s behavior, his physical skills, and developmental milestones. Additionally, the study delves into the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP) form, assessing physical development and health, while proposing activities and discussing the teacher’s role in fostering physical growth through play.

Child’s Information

Ethan is a vibrant 4-year-old boy with a contagious enthusiasm for outdoor play. He is of average height and weight compared to his peers, showcasing a balanced physical growth trajectory. He has a younger sister and a cat as pets. Ethan’s family structure includes his parents, who both work full-time, and his grandparents, who provide additional care.

Factors Influencing the Child’s Behavior

Ethan’s behavior is significantly influenced by a confluence of factors that shape his physical development and engagement in play. These factors encompass his neighborhood environment, family structure, and the presence of pets, all of which contribute to his enthusiasm and ability to participate actively in physical activities. Understanding these influences provides insights into the complex interplay between external factors and a child’s developmental trajectory.

Neighborhood and School Setting
Ethan’s neighborhood, nestled in a suburban enclave, offers a myriad of opportunities for outdoor exploration and physical activities (Johnson et al., 2020). The presence of a local park and a nearby bike path contributes to his exposure to diverse environments that encourage movement, thereby fostering his physical development. The availability of such accessible spaces not only supports Ethan’s physical growth but also instills a sense of curiosity and adventure, essential for holistic development.

Family Structure and Support
Ethan’s family structure plays a vital role in shaping his physical engagement. With both parents working full-time, his grandparents assume a significant caregiving role. This extended family network provides Ethan with additional support, allowing him to participate in activities that promote his physical development (Smith & Klein, 2019). Grandparents can play a unique role in fostering a child’s growth by engaging in outdoor activities, such as walks, bike rides, or even gardening, thereby enhancing his physical skills while creating cherished bonding experiences.

The Influence of Pets
The presence of a cat in Ethan’s home contributes to his active engagement in physical play. Interactions with pets have been linked to increased physical activity among children (Miller & Almon, 2019). Ethan’s cat serves as a source of companionship, encouraging him to engage in energetic play, chase games, and exploration. This animal-human bond not only fosters his physical skills but also nurtures empathy and responsibility, imparting valuable life lessons.

Physical Skills Observation

During the observation, Ethan actively engaged in various gross and fine motor activities. His physical fitness was evident as he energetically participated in running, jumping, and climbing on the playground equipment. He displayed a keen interest in playing catch with a ball, showcasing his developing hand-eye coordination. Additionally, Ethan showed finesse in using small building blocks to create intricate structures, indicating his growing fine motor skills.

Ethan’s height and weight are proportionate to his age group, indicating healthy growth. He demonstrated physical fitness by effortlessly navigating the playground equipment and keeping up with his peers. For instance, during a game of tag, he exhibited agility and coordination, dodging and weaving to avoid being tagged.

Numerous gross motor activities were observed during the play session. Ethan engaged in climbing the jungle gym, swinging on the swings, and running around the play area with his friends. These activities promote muscle development, balance, and coordination.

Fine motor activities were equally prominent during the observation. Ethan showcased his fine motor skills by constructing a detailed structure with building blocks. This activity requires precise hand movements and the ability to manipulate small objects, contributing to his fine motor skill development.

Two observed milestones align with the CDC’s developmental milestones (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023):

Ethan demonstrated the ability to balance on one foot for a few seconds while playing hopscotch, showcasing his progress in developing balance and stability.
During a drawing activity, Ethan held a crayon with a mature pencil grip, indicating advancements in his fine motor skills and hand coordination.

DRDP Form Analysis

Ethan’s physical development and health were assessed using the DRDP form. Within the “Physical Development-Health” section, his mastery level aligned with the “Emerging” level for most descriptors. He displayed emerging abilities in hopping on one foot, throwing and catching a ball, and using tools like scissors and crayons. This observation underscores his gradual progress in mastering physical skills appropriate for his age.

Activity Suggestions and Support

Obstacle Course Adventure: Create an outdoor obstacle course involving crawling through tunnels, jumping over cushions, and balancing on a wooden beam. The teacher can guide Ethan through the course, offering encouragement and modeling proper techniques to refine his gross motor skills.

Sensory Art Exploration: Provide various textured materials like sandpaper, fabric, and foam. Encourage Ethan to explore these materials by manipulating them with his fingers, promoting sensory engagement and fine motor skill development. The teacher can engage in conversation during this activity, fostering language development as well.

In these activities, the teacher plays a crucial role in providing guidance, motivation, and a safe environment. The teacher’s support is pivotal in helping Ethan overcome challenges and reinforcing positive behaviors.


Observing Ethan’s physical development during play has been a rewarding experience. I was pleasantly surprised by his enthusiasm and competence in various physical activities. Witnessing his progress firsthand underscores the importance of play in fostering holistic growth. This observation provides valuable insights into tailoring activities to support Ethan’s developmental journey. Completing the DRDP section shed light on the intricacies of assessing physical development and aligning activities to individual progress.

This experience underscores the significance of observing children during play as an effective assessment tool. The observation enables educators to identify strengths, areas for growth, and appropriate strategies for fostering development. As I move forward, I plan to incorporate these insights into my teaching approach, ensuring that play remains a central component in promoting children’s physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional development.


Ethan’s case study exemplifies the role of play in promoting physical development among young children. Through careful observation, it becomes evident that play serves as a powerful tool for assessing developmental milestones and determining appropriate strategies for further growth. By tailoring activities to children’s individual needs, educators can foster a holistic approach to development, ensuring children like Ethan flourish in all domains. This case study underscores the importance of a child-centered approach to education, where play is not just a pastime but a meaningful pathway to learning and growth.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Developmental Milestones. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html

Johnson, S. P., Blasco, P. M., & Byington, T. A. (2020). Physical Activity in Early Childhood: A Comprehensive Review. Early Childhood Education Journal, 48(6), 723-731.

Miller, E., & Almon, J. (Eds.). (2019). Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School. University Press of New England.

Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP). (2023). Physical Development-Health Domain. Retrieved from https://www.desiredresults.us/drdp-forms

Smith, L., & Klein, D. (2019). The Role of Play in Child Development. Pediatrics, 142(3), e20182058.