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Supporting Physical Development

in Infants and Toddlers

The first three years of life are characterized by dramatic changes in children's physical abilities. Adults can support young children's physical development by moving with infants and allowing them plenty of time to freely move on their own, by providing toddlers with opportunities to practice walking and running on different surfaces, and by challenging toddlers to move in a variety of ways.

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  • Supporting Physical Development in Infants and Toddlers

    (This video has captions. You can turn them on by clicking the CC icon at the bottom of the video.)
    Download a printable transcript in English and Spanish.

    Narrator: The first three years of life are characterized by dramatic changes in children’s physical abilities. Parents, caregivers, and teachers can support young children to develop the abilities they will need to learn to walk, run, and engage in other physical activities.

    Tummy Time (0:27)

    Babies need to spend time on their bellies to develop the chest and arm strength that they’ll soon use in crawling. Adults can encourage babies to develop these muscles by giving them adequate tummy time and by placing interesting toys just within reach. It’s also important that babies have as much time as possible to move freely, unrestricted by baby seats, playpens, or exersaucers.

    Moving With Babies (0:55)

    Narrator: When adults move with a baby, the baby feels a sensation of motion. This helps them to understand how bodies move through space. Adults can help this understanding develop by rocking babies, taking them for walks, and dancing with them.

    Supporting Walking and Running in Toddlers (1:16)

    When children first start walking, their stride is unsteady and variable, and falls are common. Parents and caregivers can help toddlers develop solid walking and then running skills by providing lots of opportunities for toddlers to move in different ways throughout the day.

    Teacher: Very good, Nico.

    Narrator: Toddlers will master walking and running skills more quickly if they can experiment with walking on different types of surfaces, such as soft mats and then hard floors. Adults can help by providing different walking challenges, such as walking on a soft balance beam, and walking or running up and down hills.

    Teacher: Are there big bumps in the way up here? Is it a bumpy road? You want to go this way? Let’s go check over here. Okay, be real careful because I see there’s pavement down here.

    Providing Motor Challenges (2:11)


    Narrator: Encouraging toddlers to try moving in new ways will support their physical development.

    Teacher 1: Jump for me.
    Teacher 2: Can you jump in your hula hoop, Sam?
    Teacher 1: Jump. Jump.
    Teacher 2: (in Spanish) Nico, salta!
    Teacher 1: Nico, jump? Let me see you jump!

    Narrator: A simple, inexpensive obstacle course is a great way to challenge toddlers to try new ways of moving.

    Teacher: Over the hoop.
    Child: Over the hoop.
    Teacher: Stepping on the circles.
    Child: Step on the circles.
    Teacher: Remember it gets a little bigger right here, we have step higher? It’s taller. And down; we have to step down right here – oops!

    Narrator: As toddlers master these skills, they will gain confidence in their own abilities.

    Child: I’m going!

  • Crawling, Walking, Running!: Supporting Physical Development in Babies and Toddlers
  • This video is part of a series of five videos created as part of the Center's effort to study the effects of physical and outdoor play. The work was funded in part by Head Start Body Start.
  • Producer: Julia DeLapp
    Videographer and Video Editor: Ken Measimer
    Student Production Assistant: Kristin Chemerka
    Narrator: Julia DeLapp
    Content Experts: Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Dr. Darren Robert, Dr. Ann Gruenberg