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

Year 1: His cognitive development

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

As his memory and attention span increase in the months ahead, he will start to apply knowledge through activity. He 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.

Hints for supporting cognitive growth

Read. Read. Read some more. It’s proven to promote thought development.
In the first month, begin by reading almost anything aloud to your baby. At three 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. He 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.

Name of the game: Variety.
Expose your baby to a variety of toys and 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 he 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.

The "cause and effect" 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 he matures, move to interactive toys or activity boards. Show him 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 exploration.
Fill an accessible drawer or lower kitchen cabinet with baby-safe objects that vary in shape, texture, and size for your baby to discover. He learns by dropping, rolling, and waving objects, and by fitting items inside one another.

Play make-believe 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 he imitates the action. By 12 months, he will understand that items have both a name and a function.