Baby Discoveries

By looking, touching, and tasting, your baby is on a quest to make sense of the world.
Nov 28, 2012



Baby Discoveries

Nov 28, 2012

Babies are born explorers, and their hands, eyes, and mouths are the indispensable tools of their trade. In the first months of life, infants will deliberately shift their gaze in order to explore their environment visually, and they'll suck at their fingers vigorously to taste those interesting protrusions.


Very quickly, however, the explorations become more complex. At about 4 to 5 months, babies will begin to pull at and entwine their fingers. They'll also discover, by waving a hand back and forth, that the palm and the back of the hand look different. At 5 to 6 months, they'll use voluntary hand movements to obtain objects to study — for example, they'll reach out to grab a toy to touch or a rattle to shake.

  • How Babies Discover
    What methods do infants use to explore? Just like scientists, they're constantly employing trial and error to find out how things work. Over and over again, an infant will kick and swipe at a nursery mobile to see what makes the pieces move. Similarly, a 5 month old will repeatedly crumple and tear sheets of paper to deduce the best way to shred things into little pieces.

    At about a year, the world becomes a treasure chest of things to figure out. How do I put on Papa's eyeglasses? How do I make Mama's shiny car keys jingle? By touching and tasting, your child tries to learn what things are made of and what he can do with fascinating new objects.

  • Understanding Causality
    Babies are also liberal users of cause and effect as a method of learning. The most wonderful toys for toddlers are those that do something when the child does something, thus enforcing this whole notion of causality.

    It's not just toys, however, that teach this vital concept. The earliest cause-and-effect lessons are what can be called "gut syllogisms." A baby will figure out intuitively, "If I cry when I'm hungry, someone will cuddle and nurse me." Thus, babies learn that they can cause things to happen — mostly by crying and smiling.

  • How You Can Help
    What can you do to foster your child's natural desire to explore?

    • Baby-proof your environment. When babies become mobile, put any breakable treasures away — or at least high up. Place safety latches on floor-level cabinets containing dangerous or off-limits materials.

    • Plan appropriate explorations. You and your caregiver should provide opportunities for your baby to taste, squeeze, push, pull, bounce, poke, roll, slide, and build with toys. A good start is to offer opportunities for some simple science experiments. For instance, drop a potato and watch as it falls but doesn't bounce the way a ball does.

    • Choose toys with discovery potential. Provide materials that challenge your baby to explore the physics of balancing (such as blocks, stacking rings, and nesting cups) or toys that spur your child to problem-solve (a xylophone makes the best music if you rap the stick at just the right angle).
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