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Baby Breakthroughs

As infants and toddlers learn to move, they're developing in many other ways at the same time, many of which we can't see. Research shows that when babies start to grab, crawl, and furniture-surf, they make major cognitive leaps. Tricia O'Brien, Features Editor for American Baby Magazine, tells us what cognitive developments babies make as they learn to move.

When a baby is looking, she develops memory and planning skills. Eventually, she is able to remember, imagine, plan, and reason. In the first few months, babies focus on faces; by 3 ½ months, they can track moving people and objects; a 5-month-old is able to move her eyes and head in sync as she follows an object like a spinning mobile. At 5 months, babies develop "object permanence": they are able to observe something (like a rolling ball that disappears behind a couch) and understand that the object continues to exist even when it's no longer visible. This is a huge development.

When a baby is grabbing they can make connections about size and shape, determine whether something is "on" or "over," and learn depth perception. By picking up a ball or a spoon, for instance, baby learns about 3-D objects by combining visual explorations with manual ones. Give your child lots of opportunities to touch things of different sizes and textures

By crawling babies learn independence; memory, a sense of time, and depth perception. The way your baby moves (scooting, crawling, or cruising furniture) constantly alters her perceptions and ramps up knowledge. Babies typically start to crawl between 6 and 8 months. If she sees something she wants across the room, but can't crawl, she can't get it. If she can get to the object, she refines her cognitive skills and develops new ones - memory, a sense of time, and depth perception. Babies on the move also learn to protect themselves from harm and explore emotions like fear, frustration, and anger. Following the family cat teaches baby to focus on a goal as she moves toward it. A typical toddler travels the equivalent of more than 39 football fields and accumulates about 15 falls per hour as she learns to walk. A lot of parents are concerned that baby isn't crawling on time, but about 5 percent never crawl. Usually, it's totally fine. Motor skills are least predictive of baby's ultimate cognitive development.

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Tricia O'Brien & Erika Wortham