Category Archives: Cognitive

Learning through imitation

Babies learn through imitation; it gives them the opportunity to practice and master new skills. They observe others doing things and then copy their actions in an attempt to do them themselves. For example, it’s how your baby knows, without you having to give him specific instructions, how to hold a toy phone up to his ear! He has learned from watching you talk on the phone!

Imitation can also be considered as a basis for the development of empathy, or having the ability to experience what someone else is feeling. In fact, an infant’s ability to imitate simple actions, like sticking out his tongue, originates from the same part of the brain that allows us to develop empathy. Recent studies have found that imitation is not only one behavioral skill, but it’s more like different ways of combining and using diverse types of knowledge, developing across the first 2 years of life (Jones, 2007). Continue reading

What is object permanence and what makes it a key milestone?

Have you ever heard the expression “out of sight, out of mind”? As adults, when we see an object is moved out of our sight, we know the object still exists, even though we can’t see, touch, or hear it. However, this is not the case for babies. During the first few months of their lives, when an object is removed from their sight, the object ceases to exist according to them!

Nevertheless, around 4-7 months, your baby will begin to understand the concept of object permanence (which is a fancy way of saying that he is starting to understand that when objects are out of sight, they still exist). This is due to the fact that his hearing and vision are almost completely developed!

Why is object permanence such an important milestone?

Understanding the concept of object permanence is a major developmental milestone for your baby because it will help him understand the world and know what to expect next. This means that your baby will learn not to be frightened when he gives something up, like a toy, because he can get it back. Another critical thing is that he will realize that other people exist, even when they leave! Until this point, your baby did not have the ability to keep this in his mind. He thought that when you left, you had disappeared. However, when he reaches this milestone, even though he might not be happy when you leave, he can think about you when you’re gone, and realize you will return. Over time, when you leave, it will not cause your little one as much distress.

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Surprise! Awaken your Child’s Innate Curiosity

“Don’t require them to do something, just set up experiments they can observe and switch their mindsets. Motivate them to doubt their own logic, this will impulse new and stronger connections that will eventually make them exploring geniuses!”

Babies naturally slow us down -in a good way. They look at us in awe and instantly half a million neurons fire and absorb everything we do and say. Every time we connect with them, their eyes and brains light up simultaneously. Once we take the time to live and enjoy these moments, we allow ourselves to slow down. After all, that’s what babies do -they lose track of time and expand their awareness.

When does learning actually begin? Most people would probably guess it begins in the early years, however, learning begins in the womb. Babies develop a fine ear for certain sounds; they have their first lessons in their native language while they are still in the womb. Babies are then born ready, designed to learn. They are overstimulated with everything. Their brains are incapable of using this mechanism that we as adults have developed: a logic of priorities. With it, we can tune in what we should focus on and eliminate the rest. This happens in a relatively new brain area called the prefrontal cortex; new in evolutionary terms. It is not as evident in older mammalian species, but it is responsible for our judgment and flexible thinking, also known as “wisdom”. It is efficient at shutting down activity in our brains and focusing our attention. However, babies lack this mechanism and therefore they need to calculate and evolve conditional probabilities, in order to figure out how this world works.

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Why babies crave repetitive motion

Balance, the ability to sense and adjust to gravity and perceive any kind of acceleration, is a fundamental sense. But if this sense is fundamental, why is it often ignored?

Known as the vestibular system, this sense functions below the level of our cerebral cortex and we often take it for granted. The vestibular nerve is the first fiber tract in the brain to begin myelination (a process by which a fatty layer accumulates around nerve cells enabling transmission of faster information for complex brain processes). By only 5 months after gestation, the vestibular apparatus is ready and the vestibular pathways to eyes and spinal cord have begun the process of myelination, so the entire system works effectively.

How does this system work? The auditory system’s cochlea is part of a maze which sits in the vestibulum in the inner ear. Given that movement consists of rotations and transitions, the vestibular system consists of both the semicircular canal system (sensing angular acceleration in three planes) and the otoliths (sensing linear acceleration: gravity and translational movements). The receptor cells of the otoliths and the semicircular canals send signals through the vestibular nerve fibers to the neural structures that control the eye movements, posture, and balance. What is projected from this anatomical basis of the vestibulo-ocular reflex is essential for an accurate vision. These projections to the muscles that control posture are also necessary to maintain an upright position. The brain obtains this information from the vestibular system and from our ability to sense the position, location, orientation, and movement of our bodies to understand our motion and dynamics.

5 ways to boost your child’s creativity!

We commonly think about creativity as the colors someone chooses for a painting or a drawing. But having creativity goes beyond just choosing colors, it’s also a way of thinking, solving problems, and applying knowledge.

Experts say creativity is ageless and timeless, but, more importantly, creativity can be acquired and fostered! From their earliest days, kids respond to contrasts, colors, sounds, and movements. How they integrate these various experiences will influence their development, especially in how they acquire their creativity. When creativity is fostered in the early years it can bring tons of benefits. A study made at UNC-Chapel Hill found that kids’ imagination and creativity specifically helped them to cope with pain. Creativity also helps children to be more confident, develop social skills, and learn more.

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5 Things you didn’t know about your baby!

You surely have noticed that your baby can do many amazing things at such a young age. Babies are full of surprises! Read these interesting facts and solve some of the mysteries that surround your little one!

  1. If your baby is having trouble sleeping and you take him for a car ride, do you notice that almost magically your little one sleeps? The reason for this is that the vestibular system (in charge of balance and spatial control) tells your baby’s brain that he’s moving. Since your baby can only see the inside of the car, the visual system is sending signals to the brain that he’s standing still. This confusion causes your baby to go to sleep. Even though this method is effective, it is not recommended because your baby probably won’t get deep, restorative sleep.
  1. Have you asked yourself why your baby makes a scene every time you leave the room even if it’s just for a little while? Or why does Peek-a-boo amuse your baby so much? This happens because your baby doesn’t understand object permanence yet. This means that if something is out of your baby’s sight, he will assume it doesn’t exist. Babies gain the ability to know that something exists, whether it is in their field of vision or not, before they turn one.
  1. Have you ever wondered how your baby managed to live 9 months underwater? During pregnancy and the first 6 months, humans have the diving reflex, allowing babies to remain underwater longer than an average adult can. When a baby is underwater, they immediately stop breathing while their heart rate decreases by 20%. Also, their glottis (opening that allows air to pass to the lungs) closes, causing water to go to their stomach instead of damaging their lungs.
  1. Have you asked yourself how many neural synapses your baby has compared to you? On average, newborns have 100 billion neurons, that’s approximately the same number of stars in the Milky Way! The number of neurons remains the same in adults. However, the number of neural connections or synapses is higher when your child is 2-4 years old. The neural network is prepared to learn anything, like languages, playing instruments, and sports. When your kid becomes an adult, the number of synapses reduces to one third of what they were because only the remaining ones were reinforced.
  1. Have you wondered how your baby recognizes you if his vision hasn’t developed yet? Before your baby is born (at around 7 months of pregnancy), your baby starts hearing your voice, and that’s why they’re able to recognize you since day one! Also, your baby starts recognizing your scent after only 3 days of being born. Not only can your baby recognize your smell, it’s his favorite one!


Want to learn more about your baby? Check out these links:

The logical minds of babies: Considering sample and sampling process

MIT Early Childhood Cognition Lab lead investigator, Laura Schulz, studies early childhood learning and how it fundamentally relates to human cognition. Schulz has been trying to understand how children learn and absorb so much information in a short period of time, and how they reach logical conclusions from the data that surrounds them.

In a study she conducted, Schulz intended to prove that babies make inferences from their surroundings and learn by using logic. In the experiment, a fifteen month-old baby is shown a box full of balls of two colors, blue and yellow. The balls either squeak or don’t squeak. For the first part of the experiment, the majority of the balls in the box are blue, and a researcher takes out three blue balls in a row and squeezes them so that they squeak. The baby then infers that the balls squeak.

But what happens when you hand that baby a yellow ball from the same box? The baby will try to squeeze it, so that it makes a sound. Babies generalize properties from the blue balls to the yellow ones.

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Why is curiosity so important and how can we encourage it?

Babies are born curious – they come into the world with an innate desire to understand how things work. They are drawn to new things and experiences, they question, explore, and, by doing so, they learn!

If you want your child to be a lifelong learner, the best way to do it is by cultivating his curiosity. All children have some level of innate curiosity that motivates them to explore. However, it is important that you take into account your child’s particular curiosity style. Remember, not every child is the same. For example, some children like to explore with their minds, while others prefer to do it through physical activities (touching, crawling, smelling, or tasting). Provide opportunities for each style within a safe and encouraging environment!

Research has shown that it is a child’s inner desire to learn (their curiosity), not external pressures, that motivates them to seek out new experiences and solutions. Curious people are “seekers” of knowledge. They do not only enjoy exploring, but they actually like to look out for challenges. Curiosity helps people approach uncertainty in a positive light.

A recent study conducted by researchers from John Hopkins University revealed the critical role curiosity plays. In their experiment, when babies were surprised –that is, when their expectations of an object’s behavior was challenged– researchers discovered that they learned best! Curiosity drew babies to test, explore, and consequently figure out what was going on to better understand the situation.

Given the importance curiosity plays in learning, how can parents nurture their child’s curiosity and make them become knowledge “seekers”?

Here are some tips that will help you get started: Continue reading

Building blocks and puzzle play help boost math-related skills

Although toys, such as puzzles and blocks, may not be as flashy as video games or electric toys, evidence suggests that children who play with them may gain a whole lot more of cognitive benefits. In fact, research shows that specific types of play are actually associated with the development of certain cognitive skills, meaning there may be some toys you should be paying attention to!

According to a study done by researchers from Rhodes College, data from 847 children was examined and the results indicated that children who played frequently (about 6 times per week) with puzzles, blocks, and board games tended to have a better spatial reasoning ability. Interestingly, other types of play such as drawing, riding a bike, or playing math games were not associated with the development of such ability. Another study conducted by psychologist Susan Levine from the University of Chicago, a leading expert on mathematics development in young children, further confirmed that children who played with puzzles early on, develop better spatial skills.

But in what way does having better spatial skills help your child?

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Developmental Edge: The Serious Need for Imaginative Play

When people think of play, they automatically think of children engaging in physical exercises such as tag, ball games, or playing on slides and swings; in other words, kids exploring their physical environments. Play has been shown to be a key component in development in a child’s early years. Even the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized it as a right for every child! But although physical play is the first thing that comes to mind, this is not the only kind of play. In fact, there is another type of play -imaginative or pretend play- that has caught the eye of many researchers, educators, and psychologists because of the many benefits it may provide.

According to Laura E. Berk, renowned professor and researcher in the field of child development, imaginative play stimulates the senses and generates opportunities for exploration and creative thinking that can help your little one improve various language, emotional, social, and cognitive skills; including creativity, impulse inhibition, and empathy!

At what age does pretend play start to emerge in children?

According to research, imaginative play emerges when your child is around 12 to 18 months of age. In fact, by the time your little one turns 18 months old, you will begin noticing behaviors such as trying to feed a doll with a spoon, or picking a block and bringing it to her ears as if it were a phone. Although early forms of pretend play are mostly solitary, by the time your kid turns 2, you will notice that she enjoys the company of her peers. Play allows children to develop their imagination, physical agility, cognitive prowess, and emotional strength. It is through play that children at a very early age learn to interact with people and understand the world around them.

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