Understanding the Infant-Toddler Learning Process
They grow up so fast! The following are several key areas of infant learning, broken down to help you understand your child's amazing development process.
Birth and Up
Problem solving. Beginning at birth, babies are constantly experimenting with the world around them. Accidental discoveries lead to more purposeful behaviors. Starting at around eight months old, babies begin to understand that actions cause reactions. They start to actively solve problems to achieve goals. Babies repeat their "experiments" over and over again, particularly when their actions are rewarded—like hearing delightful sounds when they spin a brightly colored wheel.
Language. Exposure to speech helps newborns become familiar with useful language sounds. In their first year, babies progressively develop the ability to produce the sounds of speech. Crying, cooing and babbling lead to the repetition of multiple syllables. By six months old, babies slowly begin to figure out the meaning of certain sound strings. By 12 months, babies can purposefully imitate and replicate sounds, and they consistently string sounds together. Beyond 12 months, children build vocabulary, typically with two-word combinations, and begin to learn the principles of word order and the unwritten rules of when and how to speak.
3 Months and Up
Memory. Crawling and cruising begins the process of memory development. When babies move around, they experience elements of space from different perspectives. They also begin to remember the locations of things. Babies display basic memory skills, like locating a hidden object, at around three months old. By 12 months, children may be able to retain the memory for a specific sequence of three or more behaviors, words or events. Eventually, babies develop autobiographical memory—the personal memory of events and feelings.
6 Months and Up
Early math. As early as six months old, babies notice small groups of one, two or three things. This lays the foundation for understanding the concept of numbers. At around 12 months, posing questions to your child such as, "Which cup holds more juice?" facilitates a more advanced understanding. As language skills develop at around 18 months, some toddlers begin to recite numbers in order, as well as begin to count things. Other important math skills at this stage include recognizing the names of shapes, mathematical concepts basic to geometry and trigonometry.
Early reading. Positive early reading experiences help children develop a great enthusiasm for books. At around nine months, children begin to understand that text proceeds from left to right across the page. As a result, at around 12 months, children begin to recognize that sounds can be combined in different ways to form different words. Soon, children recognize letters and produce letter names, eventually sounding out each letter of the alphabet.
9 Months and Up
Creative thinking. Playing games that involve funny sounds and facial expressions helps spark your child’s imagination. After the age of nine months, babies become fascinated with learning about objects. They experiment by interacting with objects in new and creative ways. Beyond 12 months, as imagination grows, pretend play becomes more real and complex. After 18 months, creativity with words, music and drawing emerges, leading to the ability to creatively overcome obstacles.
Remember, Learning Doesn’t Happen at Once
Your baby develops many skills at the same time. For example, she may be putting a lot of energy into learning to walk. If so, her language development may slow down for a bit. Or she may be trying to get used to a new child-care center. If so, her physical and social skills may stall. Give plenty of support, and all areas of development will usually level out.
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