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The Role of Environment in Child Physical Development


Physical development is intense in childhood, and it is paramount to properly understand the processes which take place in different periods of the young age of a person, as well as the factors that have an impact on these processes. In order to better comprehend the various aspects of such development, which are complex and interrelated in their nature, as well as the role of different factors influencing it, it might be recommended to discuss the changes that take place in separate periods of childhood, and consider the effects of different factors separately. In particular, the problem of physical development during middle childhood, and the role of school and family environment as a factor that influences this development, will be discussed in this paper.

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Prior to considering the given problem further, it is pivotal to provide definitions of the key terms related to this topic. In particular, the terms “middle childhood” and “environment” should be defined. It is possible to understand middle childhood as the period in the life of a person which starts approximately at 7 years of age and finishes at nearly 11 years of age (Feng, Shaw, & Silk, 2008). On the other hand, the term “physical development” refers to the anatomical and physiological changes which take place in the organisms of individuals and are related to their process of maturing (Ghetti & Bunge, 2012).

Therefore, synthesizing these two definitions (Feng et al., 2008; Ghetti & Bunge, 2012), it is possible to understand the term “physical development in middle childhood” as the anatomical and physiological changes that take place in the organisms of individuals aged 7 to 11 and are related to their process of maturing. As for the environment, for the given problem, it could be understood as the surroundings in which the child grows, and which create conditions that elicit different developmental responses from the child (Del Giudice, 2014).

From these definitions, it is clear that the target population will be comprised of children whose age varies from 7 to 11 years, and the main area of the research topic will primarily pertain to biological science. On the whole, when discussing the physical development of human individuals in their middle childhood, it is possible to focus one’s attention on the issues related to such areas as the general growth of the organism; the changes in the skeleton and the musculoskeletal system, and its functioning, that is, to the process of acquiring of the new motor skills; the development of the brain and its functions (Ghetti & Bunge, 2012); the individual differences in the physical growth between different children; the physiological changes that take place within the organism of a child; the process of pubic development, and the differences in the development of organisms of individuals of different genders.

In addition, it should be pointed out that a variety of impacts that the school and/or family environment may have on a person’s development during their middle childhood might be discussed within the given topic. In particular, it is possible to consider the influence of hostility and/or unpredictability of the school and/or family environment, and the role that the levels of these play in the emergence and development of various phenotypic characteristics of an individual (Del Giudice, 2014). Some other aspects of the impact of the environment on the physical development of individuals in their middle childhood may also be discussed in greater detail.

A review of research literature related to the topic of physical development of an individual during their middle childhood, and to the theme of the impact of the environment on this development, may allow for creating a clear, coherent picture of such development; it may also permit for understanding the importance of such development for the future growth and maturation of a person. However, to paint such a picture, it is critical not only to carefully consider the main aspects of the process in question but also to pay attention to the relationships between these various key elements.

Therefore, while conducting a review of scientific literature on the given topic, it is crucial to also focus on the various relationships and impacts that exist between the different systems of the organism that develop and mature most intensively during the period in question (de Veld, Riksen-Walraven, & de Weerth, 2012; Shirtcliff, Dahl, & Pollak, 2009), as well as on the role that the school and family environment play in these relationships and impacts.

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On the whole, it should be stressed that gathering the latest research information and scientific findings related to the process of physical development of individuals in the middle childhood and to the role of the environment in this process might prove extremely useful in providing additional insights on the named process (Feng et al., 2008). It may also permit for creating a coherent, exhaustive picture of this development. This, in turn, could allow for building a better understanding of the importance of the changes that take place in the organisms of young individuals during the period in question, and of the school and family environment that they are in, for their future growth and maturation, as well as for their psychosocial development.

Literature Review Rough Draft

On the whole, the environment has a great impact on the physical development of a person during their middle childhood. For instance, it has a profound influence on the phenotype of individuals, that is, on their traits and characteristic which result from the interaction of that person’s genotype and the environment (Del Giudice, 2014). It is stressed that there exists a mechanism called adaptive plasticity, which is the ability of the organism to alter its phenotype using “developmental switches” so as to make it agree with the environment in order to stimulate biological fitness (Del Giudice, 2014, p. 196).

More specifically, in an environment with some characteristic at a certain level, certain genes will be expressed; however, if the level of that characteristic of the environment is considerably different (i.e., if it exceeds a certain threshold), the corresponding “developmental switch” will trigger the expression of other genes specific for the new level of that characteristic. For example, safe environments allow an individual to have low levels of aggression because “aggressive” genes will not be strongly expressed; however, in dangerous environments, genes that lead to higher levels of aggression will be expressed (Del Giudice, 2014).

It should be noted that the environment is of great importance during the person’s development, for instance, in their middle childhood, because during this period, these “developmental switches” can (easily) be triggered (Del Giudice, 2014). So, it can be assumed that in an aggressive environment, for instance, in a family or school with high levels of aggression, persons in their middle childhood are rather likely to develop aggressive traits of character (as parts of their phenotype). It should once again be stressed that in this case, the external environment will affect the phenotype – that is, not only the characteristics of an individual that depend purely on the environment but also the way in which that person’s genes will be expressed (Del Giudice, 2014).

The environment which a person is in can also affect the development of the cognitive functions and the brain of that person – that is, their cognitive and neural development (Halperin & Healey, 2011). It is stated that in animals, the more diverse and varied environment might lead to enhanced neurogenesis, more profound dendritic branching, the levels of certain substances (such as neurotrophins, which are responsible for development, survival, and functioning of the nerve cells, as well as for neurogenesis), and so on; among humans, the effect is apparently not so profound, but it is still present, and it probably should be the strongest during the periods when the brain is in the process of active development (Halperin & Healey, 2011).

It is even hypothesized that there might exist ways to modify the environment so as to change its effect on the cognitive and neural development of people in early and middle childhood in order to prevent the development of certain disorders such as ADHD (Halperin & Healey, 2011). Thus, on the whole, the environment may play a crucial role in such aspects of the physical development of an individual as neurodevelopment during their middle childhood.

As for the brain development, it should be noted that, according to Ghetti and Bunge (2012), the development of the hippocampus can be disrupted by a variety of adverse environmental factors, such as chronic stress, mistreatment, drug exposure, etc., in particular, during the middle childhood. The authors also stress that the development of the prefrontal cortex is adversely impacted by chronic stress, the use of drugs, and other negative events and influences (Ghetti & Bunge, 2012). Therefore, it is clear that when in their environment (such as the school, the family, the community), a child finds themselves faced with various types of adversity, this may have a negative impact on the development of their brain, whereas a positive environment will not impair such development, but may even stimulate it instead.

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It is also important to stress that, while the majority of the world’s children live in the second-world or especially the third-world countries, most studies have investigated the impact of the environment on a child’s development in the first-world countries (Ferguson, Cassells, MacAllister, & Evans, 2013). Ferguson et al. (2013) observe that a variety of conditions, such as crowded environment (the authors note that, according to the U.S. Census standards, crowded dwellings are those where there is more than 1 person per room), chaos in the household, residential mobility, low-quality housing, etc., also may negatively impact the physical development during the middle childhood.

It should be highlighted that when it comes to the literature on the topic of the role of environment on physical development in the middle childhood, it is difficult to find research articles that directly pertain to the topic; most of the ones that were found focus on the development of the brain. This may be due to several reasons; the most apparent of them is that it could be methodologically difficult to research the nuances pertaining to the impact of the environment on the development of a child during their middle childhood.


De Veld, D. M., Riksen-Walraven, J. M., & de Weerth, C. (2012). The relation between emotion regulation strategies and physiological stress responses in middle childhood. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(8), 1309-1319.

Del Giudice, M. (2014). Middle childhood: An evolutionary‐developmental synthesis. Child Development Perspectives, 8(4), 193-200.

Feng, X., Shaw, D. S., & Silk, J. S. (2008). Developmental trajectories of anxiety symptoms among boys across early and middle childhood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117(1), 32-47.

Ferguson, K. T., Cassells, R. C., MacAllister, J. W., & Evans, G. W. (2013). The physical environment and child development: An international review. International Journal of Psychology, 48(4), 437-468.

Ghetti, S., & Bunge, S. A. (2012). Neural changes underlying the development of episodic memory during middle childhood. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2(4), 381-395.

Halperin, J. M., & Healey, D. M. (2011). The influences of environmental enrichment, cognitive enhancement, and physical exercise on brain development: Can we alter the developmental trajectory of ADHD? Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(3), 621-634.

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Shirtcliff, E. A., Dahl, R. E., & Pollak, S. D. (2009). Pubertal development: Correspondence between hormonal and physical development. Child Development, 80(2), 327-337.

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