Bright Futures at Georgetown University
Bright Futures in Practice: Physical Activity

Physical Activity Developmental Chapters



The first year of life is marked by dramatic changes in the amount and type of physical activity displayed. Infants spend the first days of life sleeping and eating. However, 1 year later, when they become toddlers, they usually are crawling and probably have taken a few independent steps.

Motor skill development begins with the involuntary reflexes that ensure the newborn infant's survival. Over the next few months, these reflexes disappear as the infant slowly gains voluntary control over body movements. With increasing control comes more physical activity. Sitting up, rolling over, crawling, standing, and eventually walking expand the infant's level of physical activity.

Motor skill development, like other aspects of the infant's development, is an individual process. Infants usually acquire motor skills in the same order, but the rate at which they acquire them is individual. For example, some infants walk as early as 9 months, whereas others do not walk until after their first birthday.

The way infants are held and handled, the toys they play with, and their environment all influence their motor skill development. Parents can influence the quality of the infant's movements by providing a stimulating environment. Physical activity should be promoted from the time infants are born. Motor skills do not just appear. Motor skills, like cognitive skills, flourish when the infant is exposed to a stimulating environment. Physical activity opportunities and nurturing of motor skill development during the first year of life establish the foundation for physical activity behaviors.

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