Development of your baby’s thinking (cognitive development)
Your baby is a natural-born scientist full of curiosity about the world they live in and the people around them. Many of the things we take for granted had to be learned and understood when we ourselves were little babies.
Many of the really classic games that we play with babies are perfectly tuned to help their brain development, in particular the development of thinking (sometimes called cognitive development). The clever thing about babies and their parents is that they naturally seem to play the games that help babies’ brains to develop.
Babies grow to love tickling songs, where they have to wait for the song to finish and learn that they get a big smile and a tickle at the end. You will probably remember Round and Round the Garden and This Little Piggy Went to Market from your own childhood – they are fun songs and perfect if your baby is in a playful alert mood. If you sing the song to your baby a lot they will begin to anticipate the tickle and giggle before you get to the end!
Your baby will love anything with an element of surprise or anticipation, like moving your finger in a circle on your child’s palm for Round and Round the Garden, followed by walking your fingers up their arm and a tickle. Or This Little Piggy Song, where you pinch your baby’s toes. Your baby learns a pattern of events that helps to develop their memory skills.
This Little Piggy
This little piggy went to market
This little piggy stayed at home
This little piggy had roast beef and this little piggy had none
And this little piggy went wee-wee-wee-wee-wee all the way home
Round and Round the Garden
Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear
One step, two step and tickly under there
Hiding games and object permanence
Hiding toys under cups and scarves for your baby helps them to discover that objects and people still exist even when they cannot see them. This ability that develops from four months is called the development of ‘object permanence’. Babies become very interested when they can see an object, then it is hidden by a scarf or cup, and then you remove the obstruction so that it reappears.
Peek-a-boo’s a lovely game because a baby is so fascinated and in love with the human face, especially Mum and Dad’s faces! Babies find it very exciting to see a face disappear and then reappear. It also introduces the idea that someone that you love can be there and then not there and then they come back. This understanding is a reassuring knowledge, which can help with separation anxiety when you might have to say goodbye to your baby for periods of time.
Cause and effect games
As babies become able to sit up independently and grasp objects (between four and six months) they love to use their increasing coordination to bang things. It doesn’t need to be a tambourine, it can be a wooden spoon with a pot or a pan. As well as helping to develop their gross motor skills and grasping skills, babies learn about cause and effect in this way.
They will notice that when they hit a drum or a pan they hear a noise. In time they will know that the drumstick hitting the drum is what makes the noise. Although it is obvious to us, understanding of cause and effect is something that babies slowly learn over time.
Knocking down building blocks
Before older babies can build things, they actually like knocking things down. You can play some nice games with cereal boxes, where you just create a high tower and your baby will have a great time knocking it over again and again.
Babies love and need repetition to understand cause and effect. So while to onlookers the game may seem pointless and destructive, it is actually really important for babies from around six to nine months. As well as cause and effect, babies are learning that they have a kind of power to do things within their own environment.
Try not to be frustrated that they keep knocking down the lovely towers you build. It is very important to allow children to play this game because instinctively they know what it is that they need to learn and how to go about it.
We categorise the physical world in lots of different ways: by colour, shape, species, and size. Putting things into categories is a vital way for children to understand the world. Children have an innate desire and ability to categorise things even before they can speak and there are lots of games you can play to help them understand meaningful categories.
If you sort blocks into colour, shape or size with them they will begin to recognise the fact that the items are the same in some way. All these games are great fun and really help your baby to develop their memory, thinking and reasoning skills.
Toys to help your baby learn
A colourful playmat
Fun to knock down
Baby's first book
A classic baby game