How Does Environment Impact a Child’s Physical Development?
Nature vs. nurture. It’s a continuing discussion. We know that certain physical features are inherited; and most scientists agree that some emotional/psychological characteristics are inherited too – or at least a susceptibility for them (e.g., addiction, schizophrenia, etc.).
Nurture, of course, refers to all that occurs in a child’s life from the time of conception throughout his growing years. While most don’t think of the prenatal environment as a part of nurture, it certainly is. A healthy diet and lifestyle certainly promote healthier newborns. In some cultures, in fact, such activities as playing certain types of music are believed to have a positive effect on prenatal life of babies.
There are two large categories of environments – psychological/emotional and physical. Both can certainly impact a child’s physical development, but the physical environment is more impactful. So, for purposes of this article, the physical environment will be the focus.
Here are all of the physical environmental factors that impact a child’s physical development.
Interior Space: Children who grow up in homes with more interior space than those who do not may have more of an advantage in terms of movement and full freedom for crawling, standing, walking, even climbing at a rather normal rate of development.
The Surrounding Neighborhood: Children who have plenty of outdoor space, parks nearby (or transportation to those parks) and safe places for such things as riding toys will have normal muscle tone and development. Children who do not have these opportunities on a regular basis may not have normal development. Unstructured free play, the kind that can occur in large open spaces, on the other hand, will help build the healthy bodies we want our kids to have.
School/Daycare Situations. The same things can be said about school and daycare situations. Daycare facilities that have indoor and outdoor play areas are preferred, of course – physical features that promote physical development. Children who may have daycare at grandma’s tiny apartment may not have those same opportunities for physical activity.
Food and Nutrition. So much of food and nutrition is based upon parent knowledge and commitment to proper meal planning. Unfortunately, too many families rely on fast and frozen foods, given the busy lifestyles of two working parents. Processed foods which tend to be cheaper also have lots of sugar and fats. Fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are pricier than canned, and many require preparation before eating. Proper amounts of calcium and vitamins result in stronger bones, teeth, healthier skin, etc. Without them, the opposite is obviously true.
Marie Fincher, writer and editor for TrustMyPaper, speaks to this issue on a personal level: “growing up with two working parents meant lots of eating on the run. I became one of the overweight kids pretty quickly. And on those occasions when we had a healthy meal at home, I balked at the fruits and veggies. My wake-up call didn’t come until after college, but it did come – higher blood pressure than normal, struggling to do the fun things that my friends were doing, etc. Reversing the impact of poor diet as a youngster has taken a lot of work and commitment, but I did it.”
And poor nutrition is not limited to financially strapped families. Poor diets, heavy on starches, fats, and sugars, along with more sedentary lifestyles of video games and computer screens, are key factors in childhood obesity. Obesity, in turn, leads to a number of other health conditions, some of which become chronic.
Medical and Dental Care are also key factors. Families with good health insurance plans tend to take their children for those key checkups, immunizations, and during illness. Many employers, though, no longer provide comprehensive health, dental and vision plans, or they are quite costly. The lack of regular medical and dental care can mean that conditions may not be diagnosed early and may damage growth and development.
Sleep: Sleep is a key factor in growth and development. This is a time when the body releases growth hormones that boost muscle mass, repair damaged cells, and promote brain development. And sleep also boosts immune systems. Recommended sleep amounts are as follows:
Newborns – 14-17 hours
Infants – 12-15 hours
Toddlers – 11-14 hours
Preschoolers – 10-13hours
School-age children (up to 13 years of age) – 9-11 hours
Air Quality: This is a both interior and exterior factor. What small children breathe in over prolonged periods of time impact their lungs. Highly polluted air is dangerous. No one should be smoking inside a home with small children; it is important to keep air flowing, especially in the winter when germs “mingle.” Outside air pollution contributes to chronic respiratory conditions too.
Noise: Continued exposure to loud noise can result in hearing loss at any age, including young children. Any noise above 85 decibels can damage hearing. 85 decibels are equivalent to normal street traffic. Loud toys, prolonged exposure to loud music and TV, indoor “playgrounds,” etc. will result in hearing loss, and it is permanent.
In the End…
It is up to parents to provide the right physical environments for their children. These eight factors are key to normal and healthy child growth and development. Look at them carefully, and be certain that you are providing the environment that promotes healthy growth and development. We all want our children to grow into healthy, happy adults – let’s see that we do this through the best physical environments.
Author Bio: Nicole D. Garrison is a content writer and strategist for a number of venues, including Supreme Dissertations and LiveInspiredMagazine, as well as numerous forums and blogs on a myriad of topics. She is a solid researcher with an interest in almost any topic that impacts people, the environment, and societal health. You will also find her blog, Live Inspired Magazine, filled with important and current topics. In her free time, Nicole is an avid runner and curious beekeeper.