Thinking: Babies


Right from the start of his life, your baby’s brain is hard at work as he makes sense of the world and himself. Even when it looks like simple play, your baby is learning all the time. Here are some simple and fun play ideas to support your baby’s cognitive development.

About baby play and cognitive development

Babies are active and curious learners, busy watching, thinking and trying to work things out. They learn and grow through new experiences, especially new play experiences.

Through play, babies develop the skills to think, understand, remember, imagine and work out what might happen next. These skills are all part of your baby’s cognitive development.

For babies, play is mostly about back-and-forth interactions with you. When you interact with your baby during play, you give your baby important information that she uses to understand the world. For example, a simple game of peekaboo helps baby learn that when dad disappears, he comes back too.

And through play, you’re also creating and sharing new experiences together that support your baby’s thinking and learning and encourage her to do more of it.

What to expect: baby cognitive development

Your baby is likely to:

  • look at things when you name them, from about eight months
  • talk to you in ‘coos’ and expect you to respond
  • be fascinated by older children
  • enjoy repetitive games and hearing the same story over and over.

From 8-16 months, your baby might look more like he’s experimenting during play – he might throw a bowl towards the floor and watch it fall, push over the rubbish bin, or throw toys at the wall to figure out how things work. He’ll test all toys and any objects within reach – cups, saucers and even pets.

This isn’t being naughty. It’s your baby learning about cause and effect – that is, ‘If I do this, that will happen’. It’s not surprising that your baby enjoys cause-and-effect toys – playing with them means she can push a button and something happens.

If your baby has lots of opportunities to test out the environment, he has the chance to learn more and more every day. If you set up a safe environment and always supervise your baby, he can roam and learn with freedom.

Play ideas for encouraging baby cognitive development

Here are some fun and simple play ideas for you and your baby:

  • Let your baby take the lead in play. Be a playmate rather than a teacher. Respond to baby’s interests and share her delight in the discovery of new things, however small they might seem. For example, if she’s excited that a plastic cup floats, share this experience and get excited too.
  • Give your baby a few play options to choose from, but don’t overwhelm him with too many. Let him take his time choosing what he wants to do.
  • Help your baby put together basic puzzles from 12-18 months.
  • Provide lots of fun bath toys for dunking, measuring, floating and pouring. Plastic milk bottles and margarine containers work just as well as shop-bought toys.
  • Read books and recite nursery rhymes together. Young children enjoy cloth books with different textures, flaps and puppets. Be prepared for lots of repetition, which helps your baby to learn.
  • Give your baby materials that she can sort – for example, different coloured blocks or balls.
  • Give your baby toys that let him push a button to make something happen, or activities like shaking or banging objects.

All babies are unique and will develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, it’s a good idea to visit your paediatrician or General Practitioner (GP). If your child goes to an early childhood education and care service, you can talk with your child’s educators to help you decide whether there are problems you need to have checked out.

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Play is a great relationship builder. Spending time playing with your child sends a simple message – you are important to me. Help your child learn about who she is and where she fits in the world.