What Babies Are Learning
By 4 months old, your baby has learned to recognize you and familiar caregivers, focus and pay attention to things, and actively engage your attention.
Your infant will learn to sit during this time, and in the next few months will begin exploring by reaching out for objects, grasping and inspecting them.
Continue to foster the learning process by engaging, responding, and encouraging as your child develops a stronger body, a curious mind, and a feel for language. Provide opportunities for practicing and building on what your little one learns with age-appropriate toys and a safe environment to explore.
Exploring will be a big part of this stage. Your child will be drawn to colors, patterns, and shapes of different objects and toys. By reaching out for things, babies learn about touch, shape, and texture.
Your baby's ability to reach and hold an object will mature now, and after successfully grasping an object, your tot is likely to put it into his or her mouth for further exploration. It's important to make sure that any objects that could be choking hazards — or dangerous to your baby in other ways — are out of reach, or even better, out of sight!
Although those first words are still a couple of months away, your infant is learning a lot about language and will begin to distinguish between different sounds even though he or she doesn't understand what the words mean. By the end of this period babies recognize and respond to their own name.
Your baby will also learn how to use his or her voice, and cooing sounds may be mixed with other consonants such as "ba" and "da," and evolve into babbling like "bababababa," "dadadadada," or "mamamama." Talk to your infant and respond to the sounds he or she is making — this helps teach the social aspects of language and conversation.
Learning Object Permanence
Your baby will also begin to get a sense of object permanence, that something can exist, even when it's out of sight. This knowledge will prompt your baby to search for an object that you have partially hidden and to drop toys and other objects over the side of a crib or high chair to watch you retrieve them.
By doing this, babies learn that an object exists even after it's dropped out of sight and start understanding cause and effect (that an action causes a reaction).
As your baby masters this concept, expect your little one to find more ways to make thing happen!
Create a safe place for exploration (with supervision), because by the end of 7 months your baby will be rolling over, sitting, and reaching for everything. It's never to soon to childproof the play space, even if your baby isn't mobile yet — it will happen before you know it.
Make play spaces inviting and fun with age-appropriate toys in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. Everyday objects, like wooden spoons, plastic containers, and cups also stimulate creativity and curiosity. It's not so much the toy that's important, but the way it can help your baby learn.
As your baby babbles and explores how to use his or her voice, keep responding. Reinforce the sounds by repeating them and introduce new sounds and simple words, then watch as your baby tries to imitate you.
If you haven't already, introduce books now. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends reading to kids every day, starting around 6 months of age. When you read to your infant, say the names of the objects, people, and animals as you point to them, and make the sounds of the animals and the objects in the book.
Choose baby books with simple pictures and faces and those with lots of textures to feel, like Pat the Bunny. Also look for cloth, vinyl, and sturdy board books that won't rip and can withstand a little drooling and chewing.
Other Ideas for Encouraging Learning
- During tummy time, place a favorite toy or soft ball in front of the baby to reach for.
- Hide a toy — but don't hide it very well — and encourage your baby to find it.
- Play "Peekaboo."
- Let your baby discover that actions can make things happen. Provide toys that move or make sounds when your baby plays with them, such as baby musical instruments, busy boxes, or see-through toys that show motion.
- Sing nursery rhymes like "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" and "Hey Diddle Diddle."
Remember that there's a wide range of what's normal for babies. If you're concerned about the way your baby is developing, speak with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2008