Spontaneous activity bursts contribute to network formation in many parts of the developing nervous system. Warp et al. used time-lapse imaging and optical manipulation of activity to investigate the emergence of spontaneous patterned activity in the developing zebrafish motor system. They found that the emergence of correlated activity resulted from the initial formation of small local microcircuits, which then coalesce into a larger network. Importantly, early sporadic activity was shown to be required for the maturation of the spinal network.