Provide toys that DO something when a baby acts on them. A bracelet made of stretch material with jingle bells sewn on firmly gives baby a powerful feeling that he can make jingle-bell sounds on his own as he waves and shakes his wrist and hand. An easy-to-kick mobile in the crib helps sharpen his coordination of eye and foot movements and eventually helps him realize that he has the power to make the nursery birds fly about as he vigorously kicks. This connection is important if you realize that babies are creating their own scientific experiments by figuring out what they can do to make interesting events happen predictably!
Give a baby a fuzzy long piece of ribbon or yam and let her feel how she can crumple the long piece into a small piece. Let her try to put the ribbon down into an old coffee can. Later, give her large chips to plunk into the can. Then encourage her to pour the chips out of the can and, later, to take them out one by one. Each action teaches the baby a new idea about how things work, including how different actions bring about different results.
Provide foods that will entice the baby to experiment. How many different ways are there to get more than one Cheerio into his fist or to pick up a wiggly strand of spaghetti? As he explores, the baby will be learning about the textures, shapes, and weights of different foods along with their tastes. Hide some plastic animals in the sand table and encourage the baby to sift through the sand to find the toy dinosaur with her fingers. When playing with a plastic farmhouse or barn, encourage babies to put the plastic figures to bed or to put the animals in their stalls. As they discover that they can influence and change the environments of the toy figures, babies feel a new sense of empowerment.
"What will happen if ... ?" is a major investigation theme for toddlers. They feel so pleased and proud as they try ways to work a busy box or press a lever on a toy to get a duck to pop up. Choose toys that respond to a toddler's exploratory motions by producing interesting sounds or sights. For example, some toys set a spray of fake snow falling gently as the plastic toy is turned upside down. Others rattle small marbles around in an enclosed jar if the little one presses a bar up and down.
The ultimate causality toy that toddlers love is the Jackin-the-box, where a turn of the handle sets music into motion and then Jack pops up. Toddlers will play this game over and over as they become masters at controlling the pop-up toy.
When a toddler wants to play with a puzzle or a causality toy over and over again, rejoice! That means that the budding young scientist is trying hard to figure out exactly how the new game works. As the toddler persists over and over, he is trying to master the techniques and sequences that will get the puzzle pieces to fit into the puzzle board or will result in getting all the stacking blocks to make a tall tower. As the toddler dumps all the large poker chips out of the can, and starts filling the can all over again, be sure to encourage such scientific adventures.
You can provide safe learning experiences with foods, such as instant puddings, and with drip and sift toys at the water table. As they create or feel transformations from dry to wet, toddlers are learning the science of change in material composition and texture.