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Get to Know How Your Baby Learns

(And the Science Behind Her Very Busy Brain)

Highlights 4Cs

Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
The light bulb icon represents curiosity. For content about raising a curious child, look for this icon.
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What you see: Big bursts of progress and new skills. What you don’t see: Steady, nonstop learning underneath it all!
Get to Know How Your Baby Learns
Ever wonder how a little one magically masters a new skill in the blink of an eye? Or seems to forget one she already learned just when a new one appears? This is common, but has been tricky for experts to understand, investigate, and explain.

But now, researchers at Penn State University have figured out a way to peek inside and watch those tiny gears turning. By monitoring the electrical activity in babies’ brains over several months using an electroencephalogram (EEG), the experts could see brainpower marching along at a steady increase.

At the same time, the researchers were tracking developmental progress by giving those babies a cognitive test, one that looked for mastery of skills such as object permanence, attention, and working memory. Instead of being predictable and linear, new skills popped up in irregular bursts.

Sound familiar? This tells us that babies’ brains are very busy behind the scenes. As Koraly Pérez-Edgar, a psychology professor at Penn State, explains: “Like with kids learning to talk, it looks like they learn all these words overnight, but they’ve been listening and thinking and processing for a long time.”

Use That Noodle

What does that mean for you and your baby? First, it’s cool that science can confirm what parents have long suspected! And it can help you notice and understand your baby’s development. What to do:

  1. Keep supplying your baby with building blocks. Not just actual blocks, but all the toys, books, and songs he needs to learn new things. Read to him often, even if he seems to lack interest (let him play with the books however he wants—chewing them, stacking them, and tossing them are all OK!). Sing and talk to him to expose him to new words, even though he can’t talk back just yet and you feel a little silly. Encourage him to try new things, like pounding pegs or pushing buttons, even when he is struggling with mastering them.
  2. Keep the faith. Remember that even when it seems as though nothing is happening, deep inside your baby’s brain she is still hard at work. Hang in there and eventually you will both be rewarded with an exciting new skill.

Be calm and carry on. Setbacks are normal just before a developmental leap. Your baby may be fussy or clingy, go on a sleep strike, or regress on something he’d previously mastered. His brain and body are so busy working on one thing that others can slide. Not to worry: he’ll soon put everything together. In the meantime, offer cuddles and quiet times during the day (if nighttime sleep is disrupted) and remember that this too shall pass.

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Lift-the-Flap Board Books 2-Book Set

Traveling with your family for Thanksgiving? Are you:

Parents Talk Back
Traveling with your family for Thanksgiving? Are you:
Driving by car
45% (27 votes)
Taking an airplane
5% (3 votes)
Boarding a bus or train
2% (1 vote)
Not traveling—hosting!
48% (29 votes)
Total votes: 60