Baby's hands playing with sphere toy.

Activities to support your baby's cognitive development

From birth, your baby absorbs information and starts building cognitive skills — even if it's not obvious at first. In fact, the care and experiences you provide can affect the development of your baby’s brain.

What are your baby's cognitive skills?

Cognitive skills encompass your baby's ability to think, learn, understand, problem-solve, reason, and remember.

Your baby's cognitive development in year 1

Every experience — from a simple cuddle to organized play — teaches your baby about the world. Helping your baby feel secure and engaged has been shown to increase mental aptitude. In the first few months, your baby might simply turn toward bright colors, lights, or a human voice.

As your baby's memory and attention span increase in the months ahead, he will start to apply knowledge through activity. Your baby might use his hands and mouth to explore, find hidden objects, and imitate familiar actions. By 9 to 12 months of age, your inquisitive baby craves your interaction, which further fuels cognitive development.

How to support your baby's cognitive growth

Reading is proven to promote thought development. In the first month, begin by reading almost anything aloud to your baby.

At 3 months, move to brightly colored picture books that show common objects.

In later months, create your own picture book with photos of familiar people or items. Your baby might only be interested for a few minutes, but reading books every day will make a difference.

Repetition encourages self-confidence. Doing the same things over and over with your baby provides the practice that's needed to learn. As your baby matures, create a game out of repeating actions or words. This will build self-confidence and strengthen the connections in your baby's brain throughout the first year.

Provide a variety of toys and textures for your baby to feel. Expose your baby to textures, such as a soft stuffed animal, bumpy plastic rattle, or smooth wooden block. Because most objects end up in a young baby's mouth, always provide close supervision and be sure items are not too small.

At first, limit toys to one or two simple, colorful choices to help your baby focus. As your baby matures, modify a toy or activity. For instance, place a ball inside a box. This small change challenges your baby's cognitive skills without frustration.

Help your baby learn "cause and effect." By 4 to 5 months, your baby will start to intentionally drop things to test this newly discovered ability to influence the environment. Give your baby wooden spoons, plastic cups, or small boxes, and make it a game.

As your baby matures, move to interactive toys or activity boards. Show your baby that pushing a button creates music or opening a toy barn door makes a cow moo. Seeing the results of actions strengthens self-confidence.

Provide safe opportunities for your baby to explore. Fill an accessible drawer or lower kitchen cabinet with baby-safe objects that vary in shape, texture, and size for your baby to discover. Your baby learns from dropping, rolling, and waving objects, and from fitting items inside one another.

Play make-believe with your baby to reinforce names and functions. Give your baby props, such as a soft hairbrush, toy phone, toothbrush, cup, or spoon and demonstrate the proper way to use each object. Give praise when your baby imitates the action. By 12 months, your baby will understand that items have both a name and a function.

Keep learning about your baby's development every week
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