Remember the cinema stereotype of the child genius clumsy, lacking in confidence and isolated? Yes, it's ridiculous, but there's more than a grain of truth in it.

Ask most parents what they really want for their children and they'll say to be happy, healthy and well-rounded. But for that to happen, children must feel as at home in their bodies as they are in their minds and imagination.

It's all too easy to give in to the prevailing anxiety that children must learn to read and write, for instance, as early as possible. But neither of these skills can be developed in isolation.

Both require a high level of physical skill just to reach this stage children need to have made considerable physical headway. Is this something we can leave to chance?

The Early Learning Goal for physical development believes that we can't. Yes, children love exuberant physical activities but the physical permeates all that they do.

Even the simplest activities demand specific physical skill. Making a collage develops eye-hand co-ordination and manual dexterity, doing up shoes is good for manipulation skills, carrying a box through a doorway increases spatial awareness.

You could add many more to the list. In fact, nursery nurses, playworkers and reception-class teachers do just that. They know that children learn through the structured play programmes they devise ensure that the children in their care are working steadily towards all the Early Learning Goals.

Most nurseries for example, certainly those offering funded places for three and four-year-olds, ensure that scope for physical development is built into all the key play areas.

Most have spaces devoted to activities, such as a role play corner, a creative workshop, construction area and sand and water. Here, children will learn to use their bodies to achieve what their minds want.

But demanding,exciting even slightly frightening physical play in a safe setting does far more than that for any child. It helps children to develop the qualities they need to become rounded, happy adults confidence, determination, patience and co-operation.