bond with baby

Develop & Learn

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development is about intellectual growth that occurs from the ability to take in and process information in the brain, to develop reasoning and problem solving skills, and to gain knowledge about others and the world we live in. The theory of cognitive development (devised by Jean Piaget) describes how this type of growth progresses in stages from birth right through into adolescence. Importantly, a child's environment and the people within it are the essence to providing opportunities that encourages cognitive growth. So through your loving communicative interactions, encouragement and the environment you have created for Baby that provides opportunities to explore, his cognitive ability to process information, develop thinking, reasoning and memory skills are being acquired.

Based on Piaget's theory of cognitive development the following sets out a guideline of 4 progressive stages that occur during a baby's first year of development. A summary table is also provided below.

  1. REFLEX Stage: During the first few weeks of a baby's life cognitive skills begin to develop via her body's physical reflex reactions (such as sucking and sudden arm movements), and from her senses (sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing). From your sensitive interactions Baby will be processing information that you are her loving parent as she gazes at your smiling face, feels your soothing touch and hears the sound of your voice. However, at this stage, babies have not developed a sense of permanence - that people and objects continue to exist even though they can't be seen. So to them it is like 'Out of sight, out of mind' - this being they will only look at what is in their line of sight, focusing on what is in front of them.
  1. PRIMARY CIRCULAR REACTIONS: From about 1 to 4 months babies show signs that they are becoming aware of their body parts and what a source of pleasure they are - such as sucking the fist, grasping their feet and eventually bringing them to the mouth. This is all part of processing information and through repetition of these actions their thinking, reasoning and memory skills are developing. You will play a big part in this discovery through your interactions - such as when you talk with baby ... 'Look at these strong little feet, and look at these toes' - and using the Bond With Baby playsongs and rhymes about hands and feet are most appropriate.

As they physically develop during these first 4 months babies further discover the capabilities of the body. They are beginning to grasp at objects and will progress to putting them in the mouth (using the sense of taste as part of learning) - and are fascinated by their actions on objects. They are learning to purposefully use their body (e.g. reaching out) then repeat the actions, which brings them pleasure. Through such actions they learn to anticipate/expect certain outcomes e.g. You are playing with Baby during nappy change, and you put your head down to kiss his tummy, Baby will reach out to touch (and eventually learn to grab!) your hair. Then you will laugh and say 'Oh ... can you feel my hair ... is it soft ... oh, and now you are pulling my hair!!!! To Baby's great delight this becomes a familiar game ... through repetition and predictability of your reaction/interactions. Also during this stage of cognitive development babies are now starting to realise that there is some permanency of the people and objects around them. They are recognising familiar people, objects and spaces within the home.

  1. SECONDARY CIRCULAR REACTIONS: From about 4 to 8 months babies are beginning to really explore their surroundings as they are physically developing in leaps and bounds. Through a 'cause and effect' method of discovering their environment babies' actions on objects become more purposeful e.g. Baby thinks 'I like the look of that mobile so I will reach out to it. Look at that, it moves when I touch it ... I like that ... now let me see if it does the same thing if I touch it again'. Another example is a baby being able to grasp a rattle ... and by shaking it she realises that it makes a sound ... she likes doing this ... and repeats the action.

During this stage Baby is also developing what is known as PEOPLE PERMANENCE and OBJECT PERMANENCE - meaning, babies understand that people and objects continue to exist even when they are not in sight. The game of peek-a-boo (seen on the Bond With Baby video demonstration) becomes great fun, as Baby knows you're still there with him but hiding! By about 6 months of age, a specific example of Baby's development of object permanence is if you hold up his favourite rattle to show him but then partly cover it with a cloth, he will stay focused and show excitement when you uncover it. As he physically develops he will pull the cloth off to satisfy his own sense of discovery. Such mastery of tasks also shows that Baby is developing problem solving skills as well as memory skills.

  1. COORDINATION OF SECONDARY REACTIONS: From 8 to 12 months babies have reached the stage where they will actively seek objects that are covered or 'hiding' showing that they are using their reasoning and problem solving skills, and the concept of object permanence is really developing. During the later part of this stage Baby will also be showing signs of 'the dropping' game. You probably have seen babies drop a toy e.g. from a high chair, then look at it on the floor and gestures for it to be picked up. Mum or Dad pick it up and give it back to the baby. Baby repeats the dropping action! And will continue to do so while parents are happy to play along. This is NOT about the baby deliberately wanting to annoy her parents but she is practising at the motions of 'cause and effect'. Babies at this stage are also showing perseverance at play tasks such as being able to stack and re-stack blocks, putting objects into containers and then playing their own 'hide-and-seek' with their toys and if there is an obstacle in their way they will move it to get to what they want. So independence is truly beginning to show and needs to be encouraged. Baby is well on the way to discovery, and will continue to learn from her surroundings and your loving interactions.

A general guide to babies' cognitive development during the first year:

Baby’s Age Cognitive Developmental Milestones
First month

Discovering herself and the surroundings (both objects and people) using senses, physical reflex reactions and parents sensitive interactions.

When objects and people are ‘out of sight’ they are also ‘out of mind’.

1-4 months

Further discovery of herself e.g. pleasure from sucking fist.

Thinking, memory and reasoning skills are developing through Baby’s repetition of actions on objects e.g. hitting out at a mobile, watching it move and repeating the action.

Beginning to realise that there is some permanency of the people and objects around her

4-8 months

‘Cause and effect’ concept of learning is taking place as Baby practises her actions on objects through play.

Baby begins to develop the concepts of PEOPLE PERMANENCE and OBJECT PERMANENCE.

8-12 months

Actively seeks objects that are out of sight.

‘Cause and effect’ is being refined e.g. Baby continues to drop a toy and waits to see if Mum/Dad will continue to pick it up.