Zero to Three offers great advice on how to promote Thinking Skills for 0-12 months:

Babies learn by using their senses. They explore and discover by touching and mouthing objects, hearing voices and music, and seeing the colorful, fascinating wonder all around them.  But the most important part of your child’s early learning experiences is you.  It is through interactions and experiences with loved and trusted adults that babies begin to make sense of the world.

In this first year, babies are learning very important concepts. They learn about cause and effect when they shake a rattle and hear a sound, or when they pull on their mother’s glasses and hear her voice (much sterner than usual) tell them not to pull!  They learn about size and shape by stacking blocks, mouthing them, and trying to fit them into the correctly-shaped holes.  They learn to solve problems when they discover how to turn the crank to get the jack-in-the-box to pop up.  They learn about gravity when they drop a spoon from the high chair and look down to the floor to see where it lands.  They learn object permanence—that things they can’t see still exist—when they play peek-a-boo or crawl into the next room to find you.

Click on the links below to learn about ways to build your baby’s thinking skills:

Encourage your baby to explore.
You will see your baby act on her natural curiosity about the people and objects around her as she:

    • Looks carefully at your face
    • Inspects her hands, fingers, feet and toes
    • Rolls to get closer to a person she wants to connect with or to an interesting object
    • Babbles and then waits for your response
    • Looks at and reaches for objects that interest her.
    • Responds to familiar words like baba, mama, dada, night-night, teddy bear, etc.

Your baby’s curiosity reflects a desire to figure out how the people and objects in his world work. You will see your child’s curiosity in action as he:

    • Touches his fingers and toes
    • Bangs and shakes objects to see what they can do
    • Pulls on long hair or earrings
    • Uses sounds, facial expressions and gestures to get your attention
    • Puts things in his mouth
    • Watches things move
    • Follows interesting sounds with his eyes

These actions help babies learn and build their confidence that they can “make things happen.”  When children know they can have an impact on the people and objects around them, they feel confident and competent, which is a key part of developing positive self-esteem.  In this way, thinking skills and social-emotional skills are tied together.  What you can do:

    • Offer interesting objects to explore—fabrics of various textures, a ball of sticky masking tape, a wooden spoon and a metal one to touch and compare.
    • Respond to her efforts to communicate. Use words to describe what she is experiencing: I see you looking at that ball on the shelf. Let me get that for you.
    • Delight in their discoveries.  You found your hands! Look what they can do. You can use them to reach that red ball.
    • Provide the help your child needs to solve problems, such as showing your baby how to get the lid off the container so she can reach the blocks inside.  But before you jump in, give her a chance to do it herself first.


Support your baby’s growing memory and ability to understand new ideas.  You will see your baby’s memory develop as she:

    • Recognizes familiar people
    • Anticipates routines, for example, grabbing her “blanky” for naptime or crawling to the high chair when she sees you preparing food
    • Responds (turning/smiling) when she hears her name spoken
    • Shows pleasure when given a familiar object like a favorite book of her “lovey”

Your baby’s growing memory also helps her learn that objects and people still exist even when he can’t see them.  This concept is called object permanence.  You will see this new skill developing when your baby starts to look for hidden objects.  This is because he remembers the object and knows it is still around…somewhere.  He may also begin to protest when you leave him with a caregiver, even one he knows and loves.  This is because he knows you are out there somewhere and naturally, he wants to make you come back!

During this first year your baby is also learning about the concept of cause and effect—that he can make things happen.  When he shakes the rattle it makes a sound.  When he bats at the mobile it moves. When he cries out for you, you come. Learning to make things happen is the foundation for solving problems. I want dad’s attention.  What can I do?  I will crawl to him and pull on his leg to let him know I want him to play. Young babies show you how they are now able to make things happen when they:

    • Cry when they need something
    • Drop food off a high chair tray, look down to the floor to see where it goes, and look for you to come pick it up
    • Enjoy repeating a new activity (like pressing a button to see a toy pop up)
    • Reach for a rattle to shake it and make a sound

What you can do:

    • Play disappearing and reappearing games.  Play peek-a-boo. Make a simple game of hiding objects to find. This helps develop your child’s memory and teaches him about object permanence.
    • Encourage your child to explore objects and toys in different ways. Touching, banging, shaking, and rolling help children learn about how things work. Talk with your child about what he is doing. “You got the truck to move by pulling the string!”

Help your baby become a good problem-solver. Babies learn to solve problems by examining and learning about new objects and people they encounter.  Then they apply what they have learned to new situations. For example:

    • A 7-month-old has figured out who she knows and who she doesn’t.  So she holds her arms out so you will pick her up, but buries her head in your chest when a new person tries to talk to her.
    • An 11-month-old waves bye-bye when her dad puts her in the crib for the night.  This is after seeing her parents wave bye-bye to her many times when they leave for work.

Problem-solving is a critical thinking skill that helps babies be successful now, later in school, and the rest of their lives.  In the beginning, the problems babies solve seem simple:  How do I make the tambourine rattle?  How do I make the jack pop up out of the box?  But figuring out the answer to these dilemmas requires a lot of thought and trial-and-error.  When they are successful, children feel confident and proud, which motivates them to explore and learn more from the people and world around them. What you can do:

    • Provide support for reaching goals.  Watch your baby carefully.  See what she is trying to make happen and help her solve the problem. If she is trying to roll over to reach an interesting object, encourage her to go as far as she can and then bring it close enough that she can get it and explore it.
    • Model problem-solving. Take the top off the container and take the blocks out. Then put them back in and let her have a try. Young children learn a lot through imitation.

Explore differences in objects

One of the strategies babies use to figure out how the world works is by putting objects into categories. They notice similar features even among very different objects. A flower, a rattle, and grandpa’s nose are all very different, but they all can be grasped.  Babies also notice differences among similar objects.  If they are given a piece of furry fabric and a piece of rubber that are the same size, shape and color, babies will pat the fur and squeeze the rubber.  This shows they have some idea about how these textures will feel and “should” be touched.  (Berger, 166) What you can do:

    • Take “touching” walks.  On your walks together, hold your baby’s hands up to a bumpy tree trunk.  Crinkle a leaf and let her listen.  Give her a flower petal to touch, or run her hand over tickly grass.  Stop and listen together to the cars going by.  Talk about what you are seeing and doing.
    • Look at books that put objects into categories.  While your baby won’t be able to understand how to sort objects yet, activities like these will help her build this skill over time.


Make everyday activities “teachable moments.”  

Children learn so much during daily routines likes feeding, diapering and bath time.  For example, during bath time, babies get to explore math and science concepts like empty/full, in/out, wet/dry.  Filling and dumping cups help children learn about empty and full, and in and out. When your child makes the rubber duck splash in the tub, she learns about cause and effect. When the duck stays on top of the water but the washcloth sinks, she is learning about floating and sinking. What You Can Do:

    • Make the most of daily routines.  Let your baby help drop clothing into the washing machine. Hand her groceries she can put on the conveyer belt.  Sing a song about body parts as you change her diaper.  These routine activities are not-so-routine for your growing baby. They teach her how things work.
    • Give your child some everyday “toys”.  See how a wooden spoon and a whisk make very different sounds when tapped on a pot lid.  Pull a scarf through a cardboard paper towel tube to make the scarf appear and disappear.  Let your child feel the difference between the brush used on her hair, and the spiny teeth of the comb.  Activities like this give your child the chance to discover the properties and functions of objects, an important part of problem-solving.