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                                                        INFANT CHILD DEVELOPMENT

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                                                         Each Q. separate document!!!

Answer the following questions.

Q1. (No Reference Page)

Step 1 – Review this case study write up for 17-month old, Kim.  (PDF Below)

Step 2 – Choose 3 of the inclusive child care strategies listed below.

In 3 paragraphs, describe how you will use each selected strategy to include Kim in your infant/toddler learning environment.  Be specific and descriptive in each of your strategies.  Include what you will do and why.

List of child care strategies (Choose 3)

  • -Environmental Support
  • -Materials Adaptation
  • -Activity Simplification
  • -Child Preferences
  • -Special Equipment
  • -Adult Support
  • -Peer Support
  • -Invisible Support

Q2. (No Reference Page)

Infant and toddler teaching is based on a curriculum of caregiving.  As we will learn about in week 7, caregiving routines include things like feeding, diapering and toileting, dressing and bathing, soothing infants to sleep, etc.

PDF Below of reading Supporting Cognitive Development Through Interaction with Young Infants, by Tiffany Field, pages 32-37 (see if this reading helps) or look over the internet to answer the following questions 

In 3 paragraphs: Answer BOTH Questions!!

  1. In what ways do caregiving routines (in general) support cognitive development in infants and toddlers?
  2. Expand upon this general response, by providing at least 3 specific examples of caregiving routines that take place in an infant and toddler care environment. How does each support cognitive development? At least one of your examples should specifically address the needs of toddlers.

Q3. (No Reference Page)

This video explores the constant quest for knowledge of infants and toddlers. It depicts six major kinds of discoveries children make in the first three years of life in the following areas: 

  1. use of learning schemes
  2. cause and effect
  3. use of tools
  4. object permanence
  5. understanding space
  6. imitation

The video also offers guidelines on how caregivers can support early learning by setting up rich yet uncluttered environments, by avoiding the temptation to teach children specific lessons, by observing children to see which discoveries they are engaged in, by letting activities continue longer before interrupting, and by offering the least amount of help and not taking over. Caregiver responsiveness and understanding of the discovery process will greatly facilitate early learning.


Watch the video (links below)

In 1 page:  (Answer BOTH questions)

  1. For each of the 6 discoveries of infancy listed above, provide 2 examples described in the video.  Each example should include a description of what you observed in the video and should be at least 2-3 sentences long.
  2. How can a care teacher use this knowledge to support and facilitate cognitive development and learning in infants and toddlers?

Links: (8 short clips, total viewing time under 30 min.)

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Part 4.

Part 5.

Part 6.

Part 7.

Part 8.

child development

Early Intervention (Part C) Child Example Case Study: “Kim” at 17 Months of Age 1

Early Intervention (Part C) Child
Example Case Study:
“Kim” at 17 Months of Age
updated May 2014

The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center

Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

This document is available online at:

It also appears as a part of the ECTA Center’s Developing High-Quality, Functional IFSP Outcomes
and IEP Goals Training Package at:

A. Medical and Developmental Background
Kim Doe, who is currently 17 months of age, was referred to the early intervention program by David
Johnson, MD, her pediatrician, one month ago due to failure to thrive associated with cardiac
anomalies, encephalitis, spasticity (most likely cerebral palsy) and seizures. Kim is followed by
neurology and cardiology in addition to her pediatrician, Dr. Johnson.

Mrs. Doe reported that she was very stressed by Kim’s hospitalizations, especially since she was
unable to stay with her near the hospital (out of town) due to her need to care for Kim’s sister, Jana.
Jana is 4 and does not attend school. Mrs. Doe shared that her parents live nearby and that they have
helped care for Jana when she was with Kim. Her parents are not in good health and it is difficult for
them to help for long periods of time with Jana and/or Kim. Her greatest concern for Kim is her health.
She also wants Kim to continue to gain weight so she can get off the NG tube. Mrs. Doe reports that
she has not had a complete night sleep since Kim came home from the hospital due to the night tube

Kim was last seen 2 months ago by Ms. Davis, her hospital occupational therapist, when Kim had her
follow-up neurologist appointment at the hospital out of town. The following developmental information
was shared by Ms. Davis based on her evaluation of Kim at that time:

Kim was able to drink about one ounce of liquid from a spouted cup when it was held for her. She
accepted a variety of foods (different tastes, different textures) by spoon and she was able to move the
food around in her mouth with her tongue. She had good lip closure. Kim was taking between 5-10
spoonfuls of food per meal (mostly baby food) when seated in an adapted high chair. Mrs. Doe told Ms.
Davis that Kim was not eating the same foods that her family eats during mealtime. Kim was starting to
make munching motions. She was swallowing liquids of varying consistencies, as well as soft foods,
without choking. When new textures or foods were introduced Kim choked/gagged initially. It was not
clear if her gagging and choking was due to oral hypersensitivity as a result of her NG tube or due to
neurological concerns. She was holding a spoon and waving it when it was placed in her hand;
however, she was not controlling the spoon to scoop food or bring food to her mouth or to finger feed.
Kim had continued to gain weight, though Mrs. Doe reports that Dr. Johnson wants Kim to gain more
weight before she can come off the night feeding tube.

Early Intervention (Part C) Child Example Case Study: “Kim” at 17 Months of Age 2

Kim was not able to assist with dressing due to significant challenges in moving her arms and legs. She
attempted to move her arms and legs when dressing but due to spasticity was unable to control her
movements. Mrs. Doe reported that Kim enjoyed bath time.

Kim was playing by reaching for and batting toys, touching pictures and making sounds, and watching
and making sounds in response to what happened around her. Mrs. Doe described the sound as a
“guttural sound in the back of her throat.” She was attempting to engage in imitative sound play by
making throaty sounds following sounds made by others. She was not babbling or making consonant
sounds, which Ms. Davis believed was most likely due to her NG tube since she appeared to have
good movement of her lips and tongue. Mrs. Doe reported that Kim sometimes used gestures and
sounds to let her mom and dad know when she wanted to be picked up, when she was full or didn’t like
a particular food. Kim sometimes made choices about which book she wanted to have read to her. Mrs.
Doe informed Ms. Davis that Kim cries and fusses when she is not understood (and this was happening
several times every day):

“Kim was able to support her head well when in an adapted seat, when she was held either in
sitting or standing supported at her trunk, and when on her tummy or side. She was able to
balance momentarily when propped in the sitting position (hands on the floor or on her knees),
but was not able to regain her balance or get herself into the sitting position. She lifted her head
and used her abdominals to help get to sitting when assisted to sit toward one side. Kim was
able to roll by herself from her stomach to her back but with some difficulty. Kim was also able
to roll from her back to her stomach. She moved short distances forward, sideways and
backwards lying on her stomach mostly by twisting her body to inch along, though she was
trying to pull with her arms and to push with her legs. She was motivated to move to get her toys
although she was not able to move far.

Kim appeared to enjoy being with adults and other children. When with other children, especially
her sister, Kim watched them, laughed, and attempted to imitate sounds they made. Kim
enjoyed sound play with her sister and her mother. She had a preference for toys that made
sounds (by moving to, looking at and/or smiling when the toy was presented to her). She
especially liked ones that played tunes. She showed recognition of a number of toys and objects
by looking at them when they were named.

Kim reached with both hands and was able to move objects by swiping at them. She patted
pictures and banged toys. She was able to grasp toys and other objects that were placed in her
hand, but was not able to consistently open her hand to pick up an object by herself. She did not
bring toys or hands to her mouth due to spasticity.”

Early Intervention (Part C) Child Example Case Study: “Kim” at 17 Months of Age 3

B. Family Routines and Priorities
What are the daily routines/activities of your child and family (where and with whom your child
spends time)?

o Jana usually is up before Kim in the morning so Mrs. Doe has time to feed Jana and get her
dressed before Kim gets up.

o During the week when Mr. Doe is working, Mrs. Doe spends most of the time at home during the
day with Kim and Jana. She is beginning to do some errands with the girls during the day now that
Kim is healthy – she had been doing shopping at night when Mr. Doe could be at home with Kim.

o Kim eats small meals every 3-4 hours. She is tube fed twice a day, around 1:00 AM and around
1:00 PM – she will be weaned from the lunch feeding within the next week or so. Mrs. Doe prepares
different foods for Kim than the rest of the family.

o Kim likes to play on the living floor with Jana. She does so several times a day. Jana likes to
interact with Kim during the playtime, showing her books and toys, and attempting to engage her in

o Mrs. Doe’s parents live close by and visit several times during the day each week. They almost
always spend time with Kim and Jana after church on Sundays.

o Jana plays with neighborhood children almost every day and Kim likes to watch them play and
seems to want to play with them.

o Jana usually naps around 2:00 PM everyday and Kim naps around 3:00. Mrs. Doe has about an
hour each day to do chores at home when both girls are napping.

o Jana goes to bed at night around 8:00 and Kim goes to bed around 9:30. Mr. And Mrs. Doe usually
go to bed around 10:00.

o Mr. Doe and Kim’s grandparents are “uncomfortable” feeding Kim and spending long periods of
time caring for her. Mr. Doe is not home a lot due to his long hours of work.

Are there other routines or activities you would like to establish? These can be routines or
activities that your family would like to do now or in the future.

o Mrs. Doe would like to be able to have the family eat the same foods at mealtime and not have to
feed Kim different foods. Mrs. Doe has been working on introducing new textures and different
foods over the past several months. Kim still gags when new textures/tastes are introduced but
gagging reduces as she adjusts to the foods.

o Mrs. Doe would like the girls to be on the same sleep schedule so she has some time to herself and
to do household chores.

o Mrs. Doe would like Kim to be around children her own age, especially since she really enjoys
watching Jana play with neighbor children. Mrs. Doe would like to explore some childcare, respite
care opportunities for Kim.

o Mrs. Doe would like to have more support from Mr. Doe and Kim’s grandparents in caring for Kim
and Jana. She is hoping that Kim’s grandparents will be more willing to help with Kim when she is
able to eat table foods and not gag. Mrs. Doe understands their reluctance and also recognizes that
they are not in the best of health. She knows that caring for Kim is stressful for them – they are
afraid they will do something to ‘hurt” Kim.

Early Intervention (Part C) Child Example Case Study: “Kim” at 17 Months of Age 4

Who are the people and what are the toys, activities, routines, and places your child enjoys the

o Kim likes riding in the car. The Doe’s have a car seat for Kim that with guidance from the OT at the
hospital they have adapted.

o Kim likes to be read books by her grandparents. She also enjoys playing games with them (peek-a-
boo, pat-a-cake).

o She likes toys that make sound.

o She likes to watch Jana and the neighbor children play. She especially likes Jana to interact with
her, showing her toys and books.

o Kim enjoys being with most adults, especially her grandparents.

Which routines or activities are challenging for you or your child?

o Mealtime

o Nap and bedtime

What are your family concerns related to your child’s development (Including anything your
family identifies that would help to improve your ability to meet the needs of your child)?

o Kim gags and chokes when new foods/liquids are introduced and Kim’s mom has to spend a good
amount of time working to help Kim overcome her dislikes of new foods and textures – Kim’s mom
is concerned about how long it will take to transition Kim to table food that the rest of the family

o Kim and her sister are not on the same sleep schedule (going to bed, awaking in the morning or
napping during the day) so Kim’s mom doesn’t always finish all of her chores and is frequently tired
as Kim does not yet sleep through the night.

o Several times a day, Kim cries and fusses because Kim’s parents and sister do not always
understand what she wants or needs.

o Kim attempts to initiate play with her sister but is unable to move very far around the living room on
her own and is unable to tell her sister what she wants to play with.

o Grandmother doesn’t like to feed Kim because she gags/chokes on new foods.

o Kim is fed every 3-4 hours during the day and is on a feeding tube at night.

o Kim wakes several times during the night taking 10-15 minutes to get back to sleep.

What are your family priorities related to your child’s development?
Kim’s mom has prioritized the following concerns to be addressed immediately by the team:

o Would like Kim to sleep through the night and get both Kim and her sister on the same sleep routine
so Kim’s mom feels rested and better able to do daily chores.

o Would like Kim to be able to gain enough weight to be off the night tube feeding and for Kim to be
able to eat table foods with the rest of the family at meal times.

o Would like Kim to be able to let people know what she wants.

Early Intervention (Part C) Child Example Case Study: “Kim” at 17 Months of Age 5

What are your family resources, including family, friends, community groups, financial
supports, etc., that are helpful to you?

o Kim usually spends her day at home with her mom and sister.

o Kim’s maternal grandparents spend time with Kim and her family almost every Sunday after the
family returns from church. Her grandparents are helpful with Kim and Jana.

o Transporting Kim to the store, church, etc. is easy.

o Kim spends about 30 minutes 2x/day playing on the living room floor with her sister.

C. Child Developmental Information
Child Strengths: At 17 months of age, what’s working well for Kim is she is able to drink from a
spouted cut (about 1 oz. of liquid) if the cup is held for her. She accepts a variety of foods (different
tastes, textures) by spoon when fed, holds a spoon when placed in her hand and waves and bangs it.
She is swallowing liquids of varying consistencies, as well as soft foods, without choking. Kim watches
people and is very interested in what is happening around her; recognizes and enjoys familiar people
and children, likes toys that make sounds, shows recognition of toys and objects by looking at them
when named. Kim plays by reaching for and batting toys, patting pictures, holds toys when placed in
her hand. Kim is able to hold her head up when in her adapted seat, held supported in a sitting or
standing position or when on her tummy or her side; sits momentarily when propped in a sitting
position, She lifts her head and uses her abdominals to help get to sitting. She is able to roll from her
back to her stomach and moves short distances forward, sideways and backwards lying on her
stomach (twisting her body to inch along. She is motivated to move to get her toys, although she is not
able to move very far. Kim is able to make throaty sounds and gestures to let her family know when she
wants to be picked up, when she is full or doesn’t like a particular food; sometimes makes sounds and
gestures to indicate what books she wants read to her; enjoys sound play with familiar adults and
children and attempts to imitate sounds. Kim enjoys being with familiar adults and children; she
watches other children, frequently laughing and smiling at others, cries and fusses when she is not
understood (several times a day).

Child Concerns: Some of Kim’s challenges or needs include choking or gagging when new foods are
introduced, does not scoop food or bring spoon to mouth, does not finger feed, needs assistance when
drinking from a cup, is not able to assist with dressing or bathing.

Assessment Summary: Assessment included observations, interview with mother and use of the
Early Learning Accomplishment Profile (E-LAP) as the primary source for estimated developmental age
in months.1

Expressive and Receptive Language: (5-6 months) Kim is making throaty sounds and
gestures to let her parents know when she wants (i.e., when she wants to be picked up, is full or
doesn’t like a food, or wants a particular book). Kim enjoys sound play with adults and children

1 Use of the E-LAP in this case study is not intended to be a specific endorsement of a specific tool, nor
a statement of the quality of the tool for use in the outcomes measurement or IFSP planning process.

Early Intervention (Part C) Child Example Case Study: “Kim” at 17 Months of Age 6

and attempts to imitate sounds and toys that make sounds. Her ability to make sounds may
have been affected by the presence of the NG tube.

Gross Motor: (6 months) Kim is able to hold her head up when in her adapted seat, is held in a
sitting or standing position and when on her tummy or sided. She is able to sit momentarily
when propped in a sitting position with hands on floor. She is able to roll by herself from her
stomach to her back with difficulty. She is able to move short distances forward (twisting her
body to inch along) and is motivated to get her toys. Kim is challenged by her limited movement
to be able participate in independent feeding and/or dressing.

Fine Motor: (4 months) Kim plays by reaching for and batting toys, patting pictures and banging
toys, holds toys when placed in her hand. She is able to hold objects (toys, spoon) if placed in
her hand. Kim is challenged by her limited movement to be able to explore her environment and

Cognitive: (7 – 8 months with scattering to 14 months) Kim watches people and is very
interested in what is happening around her; looks for toys when dropped or rolled from view;
likes toys with sound, and shows some recognition of objects when named, and recognizes
mom, dad, sister, grandparents. It is difficult to determine Kim’s level of understanding due to
her motor challenges and limited ways of communicating thoughts, wants and needs.

Social-Emotional: (6 – 9 months) Kim enjoys being with familiar adults and children. She
watches children and adults, laughs and smiles at others. She cries and fusses when she is not
understood. The NG tube affects her sleeping at night, which leaves Kim fussy during the day.

Adaptive: (Under 6 months) Kim is able to drink a 1 ounce of liquid at a time out of a cup held
for her. She is accepting a variety of foods (different textures and tastes) by spoon; however,
while she is holding a spoon, she is unable to bring it to her mouth. She is not able to assist in
dressing or bathing due to her motor challenges.

Hearing: (Normal) Passed Newborn Hearing Screen and subsequent screens by her physician.
Next well-baby check is at 18 months.

Vision: (Normal) physician checks vision at each well-baby check and no concerns. Next well-
baby check is at 18 months.

Health: Kim has been hospitalized off and on out of town for the majority of her first 16 months
of life due to seizures, numerous viral infections and significant nutritional issues. Kim has had
an NG tube since 6 months of age. Repeated efforts have been made to wean Kim from the NG
tube, however, her illnesses prevented that from occurring. Kim has been home from the
hospital for the past 3 months and has been healthy since that time. Her primary care physician
and his nutritionist have made significant gains in weaning Kim from the tube feedings since that
time due to improved health and weight gain. Kim is currently is tube fed twice daily – at noon
and during the night. The goal is to ensure sufficient weight gain and removal of Kim’s NG tube
by late summer. She is being weaned off her seizure medication. Recent EEG shows no seizure

AGuide to


and Learning

Second Edition

Developed collaboratively by the

California Department of Education

and WestEd

Sacramento, 2012

Infant/Toddler Caregi



A Guide to

Development and

Second Edition

Edited by

Peter L. Mangione

Developed collaboratively by the

California Department of Education

and WestEd

with funding from

Carnegie Corporation of New York


Publishing Information
Infant/Toddler Caregiving: A Guide to

Cognitive Development

and Learning
(Second Edition) was developed by WestEd, San Francisco. See the Acknowledg-
ments on page v


for the names of those who made signiflcant contributions to this
document. This publication was edited by Faye


ng and John McLean, working in
cooperation with Peter Mangione, WestEd, and Lisa Duerr and Sy Dang Nguyen,
Consultants, Child Development Division, California Department of Education. I


was designed and prepared for printing by the staff of CDE Press, with the cover
designed by Juan Sanchez. It was published by the Department of Education, 1430
N Street, Sacramento, CA 95814-5901. It was distributed under the provisions of
the Library Distribution Act and Government Code Section 11096.

© 2012 by the California Department of Education
All rights reserved

ISBN 978-0-8011-1732-


Reproduction of this document for resale, in whole or in part, is not authorized.

Ordering Information

Copies of this publication are available for purchase from the California Depart-
ment of Education. For prices and ordering information, please visit the Department
Web site at or call the CDE Press Sales Offlce at


The guidance in Infant/Toddler Caregiving: A Guide to Cognitive Development and
Learning (Second Edition) is not binding on local educational agencies or other
entities. Except for the statutes, regulations, and court decisions that are referenced
herein, the document is exemplary, and compliance with it is not mandatory. (See
Education Code Section 33308.5.)

Prepared for printing
by CSEA members


A Message from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction v
About the Authors vi


Introduction ix

Section One: Cognitive Development and Learning 1
Discovery in Infancy: How and What Infants Learn 2

J. Ronald Lally

Three Points to Remember 2
Understanding the Thoughts of Infants and Toddlers 4
The Intellectual Activity of Infancy


Use of Re‡exes 5
Altering Re‡exes 5
Making Interesting Experiences Continue 6
Unquestioned Intention 6
Fear of Strangers 6
Active Experimentation 7
Insightful Learning 7
Discoveries of Infancy 7
Discovery One: Learning Schemes 7
Discovery Two: Learning That Events Are Caused 8
Discovery Three: Use of Tools 8
Discovery Four: Object Permanence and Memory 8
Discovery Five: Learning How Objects Fill Space 9
Discovery Six: Imitation 9
Facilitating Cognitive Development 9
References 10
Caregiver Responsiveness and Child Development and Learning: From Theory to

Research to Practice 11
Marc H. Bornstein
What Is Responsiveness? 12
What Are Some Typical Characteristics of Responsiveness? 1


How Does Responsiveness Affect a Baby’s Expression of Distress? 14
How Does “Being Responsive” Affect the Child’s Cognitive and Social–Emotional

Development? 15
How Does Responsiveness Work? 18




Where Does Caregiver Responsiveness Come From? 19
How Can a Caregiver Become More Responsive? 20
What Has Been Learned from Research About Responsiveness? 22
References 22
Learning During the Early Months 26
J. Ronald Lally and Elita Amini


Recent Neuroscience 26
The Importance of Early Relationships for Early Learning 27
Unique Aspects of Baby Learning 28
The Role of Infant Care Teachers in Early Learning 29
References 30
Supporting Cognitive Development Through Interactions with Young Infants 32

Tiffany Field

Early Behaviors and Interaction 32
Looking Behavior 32
Face, Voice, and Body 34
Activity Rhythms and Interaction 34
State of Alertness 34
Pauses in Activity 35
Role of the Adult Partner 35
Simplify Behavior 36
Respond Contingently 36
Imitate Behavior 36
Repeat a Behavior 36
Highlight a Behavior 36
Play Games 37
Summary 37
References 38

Section Two: Culture and Cognitive Development 41
The Connection between Culture and Cognitive Development 4


Lucía Alcalá and Barbara Rogoff
Developing Keen Attention to Surrounding Events


Developing Skills for Everyday Community Life and for Child-Directed
Situations 45
General Knowledge of Events 47
Learning to Adjust to the Situation 48
Adapting Care to Children’s Cultural Experiences 48
References 50


Cognitive Development 54


A Message from the State Superintendent
of Public Instruction

ognitive development and learning in the early years is interwoven with devel-
opment and learning in all other domains. Six noted experts have been brought
together to create this second edition of the Program for Infant/Toddler Care
(PITC) Guide to Cognitive Development and Learning. It focuses on discover-

ies and intellectual development during the early years; the effect of caregivers’ respon-
siveness on early development and learning, brain development, and social interactions
during the early months of life; and the role of culture in cognitive development. This
publication provides guidance on implementing high-quality early care and education

Special attention has been given to understanding infants and toddlers as active, self-
motivated learners who are constantly exploring their relationships with others as well as
the physical environment. Just as important as children’s active role in early learning is
sensitive, responsive nurturance. It fosters development in all domains and contributes
to intellectual ability throughout childhood. Children also learn essential cultural prac-
tices and become competent participants in their communities. Above all, this resource
offers infant/toddler care teachers many practical ideas on how to create relationships
with children that encourage exploration and discovery and helps children become confl-
dent learners throughout life.

The guidelines and suggestions in this publication complement the research-based
descriptions of cognitive development of typically developing young children that appear
in the California Infant/Toddler Learning and Development Foundations. It is our hope
that everyone in the infant/toddler fleld can use this new publication hand in hand with
the other resources created by the Department of Education to promote the well-being
and long-term development of California’s youngest children and their families.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction


About the Authors

M arc H. Bornstein is the editor of Parenting: Science and Practice and senior investigator and head of child and family research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Develop-ment. Bornstein is coauthor of Development in Infancy (flve editions);
Development: Infancy Through Adolescence; Lifespan Development; and Perceiving
Similarity and Comprehending Metaphor. He is general editor of The Crosscurrents in
Contemporary Psychology series, including Psychological Development from Infancy;
Comparative Methods in Psychology; Psychology and Its Allied Disciplines (Vols. I–III);
Sensitive Periods in Development; Interaction in Human Development; Cultural
Approaches to Parenting; Child Development and Behavioral Pediatrics; and Well-
Being: Positive Development Across the Life Course. Bornstein is also general editor
of the Monographs in Parenting series, including Socioeconomic Status, Parenting, and
Child Development; Acculturation and Parent–Child Relationships; and Parenting:
Essential Readings. He edited Maternal Responsiveness: Characteristics and Conse-
quences, the Handbook of Parenting (Vols. I–V, two editions), and the Handbook of
Cultural Developmental Science (Parts 1 and 2). Additionally, Bornstein coedited Devel-
opmental Science: An Advanced Textbook (six editions), Stability and Continuity in
Mental Development, Contemporary Constructions of the Child, Early Child Develop-
ment in the French Tradition, The Role of Play in the Development of Thought, Accultur-
ation and Parent–Child Relationships, and Immigrant Families in Contemporary Society.
He is author of or consultant on several children’s books, videos, and puzzles in The
Child’s World and Baby Explorer series and is editor emeritus of Child Development.

J. Ronald Lally is codirector of the WestEd Center for Child and Family Studies,
Sausalito, which created the Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC) for the California
Department of Education. The caregiver training system provides videos, written materi-
als, and technical assistance. Lally is the coauthor, with Ira Gordon, of Learning Games
for Infants and Toddlers; coauthor with Alice Honig of Infant Caregiving: A Design for
Training; and coauthor with Kuno Beller, Ira Gordon, and Leon Yarrow of Studies in
Socio-Emotional Development in Infancy. Dr. Lally also directed the Syracuse Univer-
sity Family Development Research Program, an early intervention program for children
(from birth to age flve) of low-income families. He is currently directing the longitudinal
follow-up study of the effects of the Syracuse program.

Elita Amini Virmani is a senior research associate with the WestEd Center for Child
and Family Studies. She is the director of the PITC Home Visiting Institutes, funded by
the Early Head Start National Resource Center. She also manages the development of
the California Department of Education, Child Development Division’s Desired Results


Developmental Proflle School Readiness instrument. Elita Amini Virmani served as
an instructor at San Francisco State University and West Valley College. She received
intensive clinical training at the University of California, San Francisco Infant-Parent
Program, where she provided clinical services to low-income, multiethnic families and
mental health consultation to child care program staff and parents of children with special
needs. She has published articles in the Infant Mental Health Journal, Early Childhood
Research Quarterly, Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, and the
Handbook of Cultural Developmental Science.

Tiffany Field is director of the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of
Miami Medical School. The TRI was the flrst center in the world devoted solely to the
study of touch and its application in science and medicine. The TRI researchers—a
distinguished team representing Duke, Harvard, Maryland, and other universities—strive
to better deflne touch as it promotes health and contributes to the treatment of disease.
Research efforts that began in 1982 and continue today have shown that touch therapy
has numerous beneflcial effects on health and well-being. Dr. Field is a leading
researcher and authority on the beneflts of touch and has conducted several research
studies based on the ancient practices of infant massage from various cultures of the
world. Her groundbreaking research indicates that massage therapy used on babies born
prematurely increases their healthy weight gain; consequently, they can be discharged
much earlier than infants who did not receive nurturing touch through massage therapy.

Lucía Alcalá is a doctoral candidate from the University of California, Santa Cruz
(UCSC), as of June 2012. Her research focuses on the cultural variation of children’s
contributions to family work and participation in out-of-school activities and how those
levels of participation in‡uence children÷s development of planning skills, initiative,
and responsibility. Alcalá is currently the editor of the UCSC Department of Psychology
newsletter and a teaching associate in the department. She is the recipient of the 2011
Max Levine Scholarship award and numerous other awards in her fleld.

Barbara Rogoff is UC Santa Cruz Foundation Distinguished Professor of Psychology.
She has held the position of University of California Presidential Chair and has been a
Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, a Kellogg Fellow,
a Spencer Fellow, and an Osher Fellow of the Exploratorium. She served as editor of
Human Development and of the newsletter of the Society for Research in Child Develop-
ment, Study Section member for the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development, and committee member on the Science of Learning for the National
Academy of Science. Rogoff is the author of several highly regarded books in her fleld:
Apprenticeship in Thinking (1990) received the Scribner Award from the American
Educational Research Association; Learning Together: Children and Adults in a School
Community (2004) was a flnalist for the Maccoby Award of the American Psychologist
Association; and The Cultural Nature of Human Development (2003) won the William
James Book Award of the American Psychological Association.




T he flrst edition of this publication was developed by the WestEd Center for Child and Family Studies, under the direction of J. Ronald Lally. Funding for the flrst edition was generously provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Special thanks go to Marc H. Bornstein, Helen G. Bornstein, Tiffany
Field, Theodore D. Wachs, and Peter L. Mangione for their contributions to the flrst
edition; to Karla Nygaard for editorial assistance; and to Janet Poole and Mary Smith-
berger, Child Development Division, California Department of Education, for their
review of the content. Thanks are also extended to the members of the national and
California review panels for their comments and suggestions. The national panel mem-
bers are T. Berry Brazelton, Laura Dittman, Richard Fiene, Magda Gerber, Asa Hilliard,
Alice Honig, Jeree Pawl, Sally Provence, Eleanor Szanton, Yolanda Torres, Bernice
Weissbourd, and Donna Wittmer. The California panel members are Dorlene Clayton,
Dee Cuney, Ronda Garcia, Jacquelyne Jackson, Lee McKay, Janet Nielsen, Pearlene
Reese, Maria Ruiz, June Sale, Patty Siegel, and Lenore Thompson.

For contributions to this second edition, special thanks go to Marc H. Bornstein,
J. Ronald Lally, Lucía Alcalá, Barbara Rogoff, Elita Amini Virmani, and Peter L.
Mangione. For editorial assistance, appreciation is extended to Eva Gorman.

The California Department of Education gratefully acknowledges Sara Webb Schmitz
for the use of photos that appear in this publication. Special thanks go to the following
programs: Associated Students Sacramento State University, Children’s Center; Blue
Skies for Children; the Cameron School; Contra Costa Community College Early Learn-
ing Center; Eben Ezer Family Child Care; Little Munchkins Academy; Marin Head Start,
Hamilton Campus; Marin Head Start, Indian Valley Campus; Marin Head Start, Meadow
Park Campus; and Willow Street Schoolhouse.





Studies consistently show that a baby learns most and fastest—and will likelier
remember what he learns—when he can control what’s happening. . . . it’s those
experiences he chooses (not necessarily those chosen for him) that help him learn
fastest and most completely.

Evelyn B. Thoman and Sue Browder
Born Dancing, pp. 109–1


xperts in early childhood development and care have increasingly recognized
the importance of giving infants and toddlers the freedom to initiate and direct
their learning. Yet many articles and books urge infant/toddler care teachers to
be in charge of the kinds of stimulation that infants and toddlers experience.

Teachers have been told to “teach” babies early in life and to do special activities or else
the children will likely miss key learning experiences. In addition, countless numbers of
educational toys and materials have been designed to teach babies speciflc lessons. This
push to teach and control the experiences of infants and toddlers is balanced by an aware-
ness of the effect of too much stimulation on babies. Indeed, the researchers question the
value of teaching infants and toddlers, especially when teaching interferes with children’s
self-initiated exploration and learning (Gopnik 2009). Thoman and Browder (1988)
suggest that in optimal learning situations, babies are in
control, yet formal teaching usually takes control away
from them.

If being in control is beneflcial for babies, what is the
teacher’s role in early cognitive development and learn-
ing? In a nutshell, the teacher plays a special part in the
learning and development of an infant or toddler. The
teacher’s role includes being responsive to the infant,
engaging in back-and-forth interaction, offering
opportunities for the infant to participate in care
routines, setting up the environment, providing interest-
ing and developmentally appropriate equipment and
materials, and connecting the infant’s cultural and
linguistic experiences at home with experiences in the
infant/toddler care setting. These topics are among the ones that will be highlighted
in this guide. Missing from this list is teaching. The teacher and the infant are usually
occupied with far more important matters than the content of a speciflc lesson. How the


naturally occurring actions of infants and toddlers contribute to their early development is
the subject of this guide.

Does allowing babies to be in control of their learning mean that teachers should
always follow babies’ lead or let them play on their own? Or should teachers initiate
interaction and try to interest infants in playing together? The answer to these questions
is—it depends. Too often the debate on whether to initiate interaction with babies has
been reduced to all or nothing. Some experts say that adults should initiate and guide
infants’ learning; others suggest that following the lead of infants is the most effective
way to support their learning. But adults cannot help but initiate interaction and play with
babies, even if they try not to do so. In caring for infants and toddlers, infant/toddler care
teachers naturally talk, provide guidance, structure the environment, and nurture children.
All of these actions stimulate babies directly or create conditions that do so. Infants and
toddlers need this initiative from teachers to develop and thrive in group care settings.

However, the matter is more complicated than simply initiating and guiding early
learning. For example, when is an infant ready for interaction? Is the adult’s verbal and
nonverbal communication simple enough for the infant to follow and learn from? Is it
interesting to the infant? Is it too loud or too fast? Answers to such questions have to be
considered from the perspective of the infant. And for that perspective to be understood,
the infant’s reactions to stimulation have to be observed. The infant has to be allowed to
act and react. Letting the child initiate learning and exploration is the key to (1) under-
standing his or her interests and reactions; and (2) deciding whether a certain type of
response is appropriate or inappropriate.

Giving infants and toddlers opportunities to be
in control of their learning and exploration not only
beneflts their development but also enables the teacher,
through observation, to discover appropriate responses
and thereby support early cognitive development and
learning. Knowing what to look for in the actions
of infants and toddlers is helpful. Sometimes the
actions of infants may appear unimportant to the
casual observer, but the children are learning on their
own terms—the best approach available to them. In
“Discovery in Infancy: How and What Infants Learn,”
J. Ronald Lally illuminates how simple actions (for
example, sucking on a toy) are profoundly important
to infants. With an emphasis on the actions, interests,

and needs of infants and toddlers, the chapter gives an overview of development during
infancy—in particular, the processes of learning and discovery. The adult’s response to
an infant’s actions, especially when the child expresses a want or need, is also important.

The relationship between responsive caregiving and cognitive development is
addressed by Marc Bornstein in “Caregiver Responsiveness and Child Development
and Learning: From Theory to Research to Practice.‘ Bornstein d eflnes responsiveness,
examines characteristics of responsive caregiving, and summarizes research on the devel-
opmental impact of responsive caregiving. He suggests that a major part of being respon-
sive to infants is knowing when to engage in social interaction with them.

Responsive nurturance in a close relationship establishes the foundation for the baby’s
emotional security and promotes cognitive development. J. Ronald Lally and Elita Amini
Virmani, in “Learning During the Early Months,” examine the impact of children’s early
relationship experiences on the developing brain and on children’s early emotional and
intellectual capacities. They describe how early interaction experiences in relationships
shape the brain. In essence, interactions early in life can affect cognitive development
and learning positively or negatively. Positive interactions foster secure relationships and
strengthen infants÷ confldence to explore the people and objects in their world.

To make the most out of interactions with infants, caregivers need to modulate their
responses to match the children’s ever-changing interests, needs, and moods. In “Sup-
porting Cognitive Development Through Interactions with Young Infants,” Tiffany Field
describes how the level of alertness and activity of infants affects their ability to learn
through interactions with an adult. An infant/toddler care teacher who is sensitive to such
factors will be better able to engage an infant in increasingly prolonged interactions. Field
also suggests how teachers can adapt their behavior to an infant’s emerging capacities.

While Section One of this publication focuses on general areas of cognitive develop-
ment and the role of responsive nurturance in close relationships, Section Two consid-
ers the context for early cognitive development and learning. Lucía Alcalá and Barbara
Rogoff, in “Culture and Cognitive Development,” state, “Infants and young children
learn from their day-to-day activities with other people in speciflc cultural communities
that promote practices that are often supported by the members of families and com-
munities.” Infants begin to learn repertoires of cultural practices by being immersed and
taking part in everyday events and routines. These repertoires lead to the development of
a “wide range of cognitive skills.” Alcalá and Rogoff recommend that infant/toddler care
teachers approach a family’s cultural practices with an open mind. In doing so, teachers
can help children learn practices outside their home and help them know which practices
flt in which setting.

The appendix reprints the cognitive development domain from the California Infant/
Toddler Learning & Development Foundations (California Department of Education
2009a). There are 10 foundations in the cognitive development domain, such as cause-
and-effect, problem solving, number sense, and symbolic play. The research literature
that underlies each foundation is summarized. Along with each foundation is a table with
descriptions of children’s competencies at around eight months, at around 18 months, and
at around 36 months. In addition, each table displays a list of behaviors leading up to the
foundation for each of the three ages. The foundations are reprinted in this publication so


the reader will have available in one resource both recommended practices for supporting
early cognitive development and in-depth information on early cognitive development.

Some topics in this guide are covered to the exclusion of others. Two key topics that
have received limited treatment are the environment and caregiving routines. The lack
of attention given to these topics is not meant in any way to diminish their importance in
early cognitive development and learning.

The environment affects infants’ and toddlers’ cog-
nitive development in manifold ways. Factors such as
the lighting, air quality, trafflc patterns, noise level, and
amount of materials in‡uence children÷s capacity to
maintain attention while exploring and learning. High-
quality environments ensure that infants and toddlers
can engage in play and interaction without distraction.
Such environments offer equipment and materials that
are challenging for the age and stage of the children.
The indoor and outdoor environments are organized
so that children know the purpose of each area; for
example, dress-up clothes are in an area with props for
pretend play, blocks are located with space for build-
ing, and books are available in a quiet area, sheltered
from active play. The publication Infant/Toddler Care-
giving: A Guide to Setting Up Environments (Califor-

nia Department of Education 2009b) addresses these considerations and many more.
Care routines, such as feeding and napping, are central in the care of infants and tod-

dlers. For many reasons, experts say that routines are the curriculum from which infants
learn. During routines children learn about their bodies, their needs, their likes, and their
dislikes. As they eat, they discover the taste and texture of different foods. If performed in
a consistent, organized way, care routines make life predictable for infants and toddlers.
Predictability in a child’s daily life supports both social–emotional and cognitive devel-
opment. The child can begin to understand and anticipate order in his or her world.

Throughout this guide, opportunities for one-to-one contact with an adult are cited as
important in early development, and routines often give an infant a chance to have one-
to-one time with a teacher. The role of routines in early development, including cogni-
tive development, is given in-depth coverage in Infant/Toddler Caregiving: A Guide to
Routines (California Department of Education 2002).

This guide explores how the natural activities that infants and toddlers naturally
engage in contribute to their learning and development. During virtually every waking
moment, infants are learning and making discoveries, particularly when they have the
freedom to choose the focus of their learning and exploration. Whether banging a rattle
on the ‡oor or looking for an object or participating in a routine such as eating, infants
are engaged in signiflcant learning. Infants and toddlers beneflt greatly when they have
a caregiver who is sensitive and responsive to their interests and needs, who creates
developmentally appropriate environments, and who encourages them to explore freely
and be in control of what happens. The following pages offer many insights and ideas for
teachers seeking to provide that kind of support to infants and toddlers.




California Department of Education. 2002. Infant/Toddler Caregiving: A Guide to
Routines. 2nd ed. Sacramento: California Department of Education.

———. 2009a. California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
Sacramento: California Department of Education.

———. 2009b. Infant/Toddler Caregiving: A Guide to Setting Up Environments. 2nd ed.
Sacramento: California Department of Education.

Gopnik, A. 2009. The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth,
Love, and the Meaning of Life. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Thoman, E. B., and S. Browder. 1988. Born Dancing: How Intuitive Parents Understand
Their Baby’s Unspoken Language and Natural Rhythms. New York: HarperCollins.

Section One:

Cognitive Development
and Learning

J. Ronald Lally

Discovery in Infancy:
How and What Infants Learn


ur personhood begins in infancy, a
stage rich with activity. An under-
standing of how young children
form lasting relationships, start

communicating with others, and bring
order to their world can turn your time
with the child you care for into an adven-
ture. You see a personality emerging, a
mind struggling to make sense of experi-
ence. You see the child in the early stages
of creating her or his reality—bringing
meaning to each event, each action.

With what looks like crude and primi-
tive actions, infants give structure, order,
permanence, and predictability to their
experiences. Infants work not as passive
recorders but as active artists who paint
their versions of reality. New meanings
and new ways of flnding meaning emerge
from slight alterations in old meanings
and in old ways of flnding meaning. To

O watch infants engage in this process is to watch growth itself. If caregivers watch carefully, they will witness a mental life that is constantly changing, becom-
ing more complex, yet at the same time
maintaining continuity with the past. This
chapter contains information about how
infants think and what they think about—
information that should make it easier for
you to care for infants in ways that foster
their development.

Three Points to Remember

When working with children,
caregivers need to remember three major
1. Children grow and develop at

different rates and with different
temperaments. This fundamental
truth is supported by research stud-
ies and theory in child development.
So in discussing particular traits,
do not pay too much attention to
the child’s age. Certain behaviors
appear earlier for some children
and later for others. Remember,
too, that infants not only develop at
different rates but also have differ-
ent likes and dislikes. One infant,
for example, enjoys sucking more
than another infant does. Another
infant shows signs of pleasure from
being cuddled and does not suck as
much as the flrst one. Still another


infant likes to be out of clothes and
blankets more than most. They are
unique individuals when they come
into the world, and they remain that
way as they grow.

2. A child’s intellect, emotions, and
body do not develop separately.
The child grows and learns holisti-
cally, not in compartments. Motor,
language, moral, intellectual, social,
and emotional skills, attitudes, and
stances blend to form the personal
style of each child. Each area of
development enables and in‡uences
development in other areas. Mo-
tor ability in‡uences what children
can explore, emotions ‡avor the
language that they use, and mental
pictures in‡uence emotion. For ex-
ample, between 18 and 24 months of
age, most children have fairly good
control of their body. They can walk
and run, use their small muscles for
detailed work, and are starting to
control their bowels and bladder.

At the same time, children are
developing skills in language. They
know many more words than they
can correctly say; and they are be-
ginning to express desires, wishes,
and resistance to the wishes of oth-

Intellectually, these children are
beginning to flgure things out, and
they have some basic mental sym-
bols and ideas. They are starting to
pretend and to understand concepts
of past and present.

At the same time, they begin to see
that choice of action is possible, and
they often have a hard time when
restrictions are placed on what they
choose to do.

As they begin to stand on their own
feet, walk in their own way, think
their own thoughts, and express
themselves in their own words, they
become capable of many acts, and
they change. Their simultaneous
experiences in all the developmental
domains help to build the depen-
dent, independent, and interdepen-
dent self they are becoming.

3. Although adults obtain clues from
infant behavior, all adult thought
about how infants think describes
infants in adult terms. Adults have
labeled various aspects of infant
development, but those designations
are just labels. Words like autonomy,
shame, initiative, independence, and
guilt are adult constructs that can
illuminate certain aspects of infant
behavior and development. Yet these


constructs can be deceptive if they
lead to the belief that the experience
of infants is the same as what comes
to the minds of adults when they
hear and think about such words as
autonomy or shame.

Very young infants experience the
world without knowledge of words
and without the clarifying abstrac-
tions of adults. For example, infants
do not experience trust as adults do.
Trust is an adult concept that can be
evaluated as good or bad, strong or
weak, present or absent. The infant
may be building a sense of trust that
is not thought about or evaluated.
Evaluation is the key to understand-
ing the difference between infant
and adult thinking. Young infants do
not consciously re‡ect on experi-
ence, rate behavior, or judge them-
selves. They just live. Young infants
do not realize anything about the
process of development. They just
develop. The older infant and tod-
dler begin to evaluate but not with
the speciflcity of the adult. Toddlers
are more spontaneous and far less
introspective than adults.

Infants and adults have different
abilities; infants cannot experience
the world in the same way that
adults do. Similarly, adults can no
longer experience the world as in-
fants do. Sometimes, the adult view
does a disservice to the infant. That
is, most adults feel that their views
and skills are better than those of in-
fants and that the adults’ view of life
is more real than the infants’. This
way of looking at infants invalidates
the infants’ experience as “less
than” the adults’ experience—one
that should be worked on by adults
and changed rather than given time

to develop. This view leads adults
to try to shape infants, rush them
through infancy to “more important”
stages of life, push them to reach
an adult’s understanding of the
world, and teach them. This view
may interrupt important infant work
and impose inappropriate demands,
requests, and expectations. It may
lead to insensitive and inappropriate

Understanding the Thoughts of
Infants and Toddlers

This exercise will help you understand
infants. As you do it, try to feel the dif-
ference in quality and style of behavior
between an infant and an adult. Close
your eyes and point to where you think
your mind is. This request may seem
silly, but please do it. Most likely, you
will point to a place on or near your head.
Adults do this because of the cerebral
nature of their understanding. If young
infants were asked to point to their minds
and were capable of understanding the
exercise, they would most likely point to
their tongues, eyes, or flngertips. Infants
learn through their senses. Their learn-
ing processes are much less abstract than
those of adults. The sensory system of
learning used by infants requires more
time, movement in space, and energy than
the abstract system used by adults. This
difference between infant behavior and
adult behavior is a key to understanding
the infant’s view of the world. For the
infant, understanding is mostly sensation;
for the adult, mostly idea. The attention
of young infants is mostly in the pres-
ent, and their senses in‡uence attention
powerfully. As infants become older, their
thinking processes gradually change.

Look at how the process works. Place
a mobile above the crib of a four-month-


old to eight-month-old infant so that the
infant can touch it with his or her feet.
Watch as the child waves his or her arms
and kicks his or her legs to move the
mobile. Periodically, take the mobile
away for a minute or two and then return
it to the crib. Watch what the infant does
to show recognition. When the child has
become familiar with the mobile, he or
she will act differently toward it when it
is returned. You will notice that when the
infant sees it, he or she will move his or
her arms or legs toward the mobile, in a
partial motion of what was done in the
past to make the mobile move. This par-
tial motion is a motor recognition symbol,
a memory of the mobile and past actions
taken on it. As the child gets older, the
motor symbol becomes more brief, and
only a slight foot movement in recogni-
tion may appear. Finally, the motor sign
is difflcult to see at all. The internaliz-
ing that the child’s motor memory goes
through offers a glimpse of the work of
sense and motor connections in an in-
fant’s mental activity. This gradual move-
ment from sense to symbolic recognition
is an example of how infants develop
in the way they act on, understand, and
recognize things.

The Intellectual Activity of Infancy

During the flrst 24 months of life,
infants are actively constructing their
world. An appreciation of what they are
doing will help you to act appropriately.
This section of the chapter summarizes
cognitive development and learning dur-
ing infancy.

At birth infants use the skills they have
brought from the womb: sucking, grasp-
ing, crying, hearing, seeing, smelling,

and speciflc re‡exes, such as the root-
ing re‡ex (turning toward an object that
touches the infant around the mouth and
grasping that object with the mouth) and
the ”Moro‘ re‡ex (the dropped infant
raises its arms and grasps). Very young
infants have other skills as well. Infants
avoid brightness. They can see up close
but not far away; when they search with
their eyes, their eyes move back and forth
instead of up and down. They look at
the edges of an object, not at the middle.
They respond more to high tones when
they are awake and to low tones when
they are sleepy. They quickly come to
recognize their mother’s voice, identify
smells, and prefer a mother’s smell and
voice to the voice and smell of a stranger.
Young infants show preference for sweet
liquids and for the human face. These
skills are used for survival and for taking
in information.

As infants develop, their use of re‡ex-
es changes. Gradually, sucking becomes
experiencing something satisfying to the
taste and anticipating the nipple. Seeing


becomes actively scanning the contrasts
in light and dark. Hearing becomes listen-
ing—infants quiet their crying and body
to be able to hear. The grasp changes to
suit what is grasped. Unpleasant smells
are avoided. Thumb sucking starts or
increases as a chosen activity. Crying
becomes a differentiated message that the
parent can understand. By four months
of age, the grasp has changed from a
re‡ex closing of the hand when the palm
is stimulated to a grasp that changes with
the different objects or parts of the body
grasped. The situation changes again
when infants learn to keep their hands in
view and try to look at things grasped and
to grasp things seen. Early re-
‡ex behaviors have changed,
infants have learned new skills
through experience, and the
skills learned have made the
infants different.

Making Interesting

At around four months
of age, infants discover that
experiences they caused by
accident can also be caused on
purpose. During this period,

they show a marked increase in leg kick-
ing, arm waving, banging, rubbing, and
shaking to cause things to happen. At the
same time, they start to put things into fa-
miliar categories. One of these categories
might be things to kick and see move-
ment; another, things to kick and hear that
make sounds. At about this time, clear
indications of intentional behavior appear.

Between seven and 12 months of
age, infants show signs of unquestioned
purpose. They move obstacles to get to
a desired object and use tools to extend
the impact of their body. At this time,
they also show signs of anticipation; for
example, they learn from seeing their
mother put all the diapering materials
away that she is about to leave the room.
Infants may cry even before she goes
because they anticipate her leaving.

Fear of Strangers

There are ways that infants recognize
parents (for example, by smell) as early
as the flrst day of life. Between seven
and 12 months of age, infants become
very good at recognizing those who have
been caring for them and show signs of


not wanting to be with strangers. They
become able to recognize a familiar adult
and clearly prefer that person. This period
can be particularly trying for the em-
ployed mother and for families who use
unfamiliar adults as babysitters. For the
infants, however, this period represents an
intellectual and emotional breakthrough
that helps them to recognize friends, relax
in their presence, and build more perma-
nent relationships.

Around their flrst birthday, infants start
to treat objects differently. During the
infant’s brief past, objects were to be ex-
plored and understood. The properties and
functions of an object were of prime im-
portance. Now, infants fool around with
objects and look for less obvious uses. At
this time, they experiment with their own
skills and seem to try to flnd new ways of
doing things. One-year-old infants experi-
ment and discover new ways of using
tools and of getting what they want.

At approximately 18 months of age,
infants spend time inventing. They imag-
ine ways of acting that will serve their
purpose. Crudely, they flgure out a way
of taking new action. Piaget observed that
his child continually opened her mouth at
16 months of age while trying to get an
attractive watch chain out of a matchbox
(Ginsberg and Opper 1969). The action
seemed to help her “think” about how to
open the matchbox. Such action is typical
when children begin to manipulate sym-
bols in the mind.

Discoveries of Infancy

Part of the excitement of caring for
infants and toddlers is watching them

become increasingly competent. So many
lessons are being learned during infancy,
and in such subtle ways, that adults often
miss the lessons. It may be helpful for
caregivers to cluster what is being learned
into categories so that the child’s learning
activities can be more easily understood.
What follows is a clustering based on
the work of J. McVicker Hunt and Ina
Uzguris (1975). They grouped learning
activities that took place during the flrst
18 to 24 months of life (as described by
Jean Piaget) into categories and placed
them in order according to level of com-

During the flrst two years of life,
infants begin to put things in groups and
develop schemes of thought and action
for exploring the world. They begin to
develop familiarity with hard things, soft


things, sticky things, light things, things
that bounce, things that make noise, and
so on. As they get older, they also learn
to act differently with different kinds
of things. Older infants treat different
objects in different ways. They will not
try to make aluminum foil stick to a
block without using adhesive tape. They
will also combine objects, put blocks in
a container, or use a spoon to take sand
from a sandbox. Learning the different
properties of items continues into the
preschool years. Infants touch, mouth,
bang, pat, and throw things to discover
the functions and properties of objects.
Infants test the environment to see how
it operates and learn new ways of acting
in the process.

Young infants do not make the con-
nection between cause and effect. Often,
they will bat something and look in
puzzlement and disbelief as it rolls away.
They do not make a connection between
the action of batting and the movement
of the object. Cause-and-effect under-
standing starts through simple body
movements. First they come to under-
stand the connection between cause
and effect, and when they are about 15
months old they actively search for the
mechanism that needs to be triggered to
get a speciflc effect–what makes a light
go on or what makes a sound happen.
For example, they increasingly experi-
ment with cause-and-effect by playing
with light switches, radio dials, door-
bells, “pop-up” toys, and so forth.

During infancy, children learn to
extend themselves through the use of
tools. At flrst, infants take in informa-

tion through sight, smell, touch, and so
forth. They use sense tools. Then infants
start to act on things with the body. They
grasp a bottle, bring it to their mouth, and
suck. Infants also learn to use adults—
for example, by putting something to be
opened or rewound into the hand of a
caregiver. Infants use adults as tools for
getting food, toys, and comfort. Finally,
infants use objects to help to get, hold
onto, or explore things of interest—for
example, standing on a box to reach the
sink or pulling a leash to get a toy dog
from under a table or chair.

From birth to about three to flve
months, the young infant does not search
for objects removed from sight. Repeated
contact with familiar objects—for ex-
ample, a mother’s face or a particular


rattle—helps the infant begin to realize
that an object exists even when it is out
of sight. When a child remembers that
things still exist even when she cannot
see or touch them, the child feels a greater
sense of the permanence of her world.
This knowledge deepens the child’s
relationships with loved ones. During the
flrst year of life, the infant gradually is
able to keep things in memory even when
time has passed or he has been distracted
by competing sensory experiences. This
understanding deepens and becomes more
complex throughout childhood.

Infants start to understand size and
shape early, but they are not yet able to
use this information to guide their behav-
iors. They also have trouble with the rela-
tionship between distance and perceived
size and how much space an object will
take up. Infants also have difflculty un-
derstanding that objects can change shape
and that objects can be manipulated into
different spaces. A good deal of infants’
learning has to do with issues of space,
density, distance, movement, and perspec-
tive. Infants build their understanding of
spatial relationships in a number of ways,
including bumping into walls, crawling
into corners, getting stuck under tables,
reaching for things beyond their grasp,
and watching things closely.

During the flrst two years of life,
infants become increasingly skillful at
imitation—a powerful learning skill.
Early in life infants imitate their own
behaviors. Gradually, they mimic what
they see—starting with general body
activity—and they become increasingly
selective and precise with their imitation.

Most infants’ learning occurs through
imitating parents and teachers. Infants
learn to imitate sounds and actions. As
infants move into the second year of life,
they begin to imitate sequences of behav-
ior. Eighteen-month-old infants combine
sounds or imitate adults by using a cup,
saucer, and spoon in pretending to drink
coffee. Imitation is a powerful tool in
learning socially appropriate behavior.


Cognitive Development

The preceding six discoveries are
themes of learning that infants and tod-
dlers experience throughout the flrst
two years of life. As children grow, they
discover more about a theme and gain a
more complete understanding of how that
knowledge can be used to their advan-
tage. Children make these discoveries
naturally. They do not need to be taught
about cause-and-effect or about space and

Rather than teach infants and toddlers,
become an interested and interesting play
partner. At times, the infant will want to
play an imitation game with you. The
young infant may be most interested in
your mirroring of sticking out his or her


tongue at you, while the older infant may
be fascinated by a flnger game and song
you initiate. At other times, the infant
may learn about cause-and-effect by
interacting with you. For example, if you
respond, the young infant will begin to
make the connection between his or her
cry (the cause) and your coming close to
comfort the infant (the effect). These are
just some of the ways that your under-
standing and responsiveness are integral
to the child’s development. The chapters
by Marc Bornstein and my other chapter
in this guide (with Elita Amini Virmani)
give further insight into the in‡uence of
the caregiver’s action on the development
of infants and toddlers.

In addition, part of facilitating chil-
dren’s development in general and intel-
lectual development in particular involves
offering choices of activities, respecting
children’s choices, and creating condi-
tions for them to learn. Understanding
the discoveries of infancy helps you (1)
identify learning as it takes place so that
you can avoid interfering with important
intellectual activity; and (2) prepare mate-
rials and the environment so that the child

will have a meaningful learning experi-
ence. The Introduction by Peter Mangione
in this guide provides rich information on
the foundations of cognitive development
and learning in infants and toddlers.

When you look at infants as active
learners who use their whole bodies
(including their mouth, hands, feet, and
skin) to discover the world around them,
you see how important their actions are.
Teaching becomes more interesting when
you see the discoveries that children
make each day and when you see yourself
as a vital part of the children’s fascinating
enterprise of learning and discovery.


Ginsburg, H., and S. Opper. 1969.
Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Devel-
opment: An Introduction. Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Uzgiris, I. C., and J. McVicker Hunt.
1975. Assessment in Infancy: Ordinal
Scales of Psychological Development.
Champaign: University of Illinois


Caregiver Responsiveness and
Child Development and Learning:
From Theory to Research to Practice
Marc H. Bornstein

I t was once commonly believed that responding to a baby’s cries would make the baby fussier—or worse, a “household tyrant whose continual
demands make a slave of the mother.”
Today, knowledge about infant care and
its consequences has increased signifl-
cantly. It is now understood that a baby’s
crying or smiling or reaching out sends a
message about needs or likes or feelings,
and it is natural for caregivers to respond
to infants’ signals.

Indeed, whether or not a caregiver
responds to a baby may be a matter of the
child’s survival. At birth and for a long
time afterward, human infants depend
totally on adult caregivers to tend them.
Not surprisingly, infants come equipped
with a number of ways to communicate
with their caregivers. Cries and smiles are
two of the most powerful tools at babies’
command. Cries tell a caregiver, “I’m
hungry,” “I’m tired,” “I’m hurting,” or “I
need to be held.” They bring the caregiver
close to the child so that those needs can
be met. Smiles say, “I like to be near
you,” “I like when you play with me,” or
“I like to hear you talk.” They keep the
caregiver close and promote and sustain

During the flrst year, babies also
develop other signals or means of com-
municating that draw responses from their
caregivers. For example, they begin to
coo and babble, they learn to direct their

eyes to things and people of interest, and
they start to point and reach. Eventually,
they talk. The signals most commonly
used by infants to communicate with their
caregivers include the following:
• Distress vocalizing—crying, fretting,

and fussing
• Nondistress vocalizing—cooing, bab-

bling, and talking
• Visual attending—looking at objects

and people in the environment
• Facial expressions—smiling and

• Body movements—pointing at and

reaching for objects and people

Indeed, even very young babies expect
adults to respond to them. Using a “still-
face” paradigm, researchers (Tronick


and others [1978] and Field and others
[2007]) have shown over the years that
infants are very sensitive to the absence
of responsiveness in social interactions.
An adult who interacts naturally with
an infant and suddenly becomes non-
responsive typically elicits demonstrative
“upsetness” from the infant—more than
does the adult’s physically absenting their
interaction altogether.

In short, infants activate many re-
sponses in adults through their voice,
face, gaze, and gesture. In return, adult
responsiveness fosters children’s motiva-
tion to interact and, as will be seen, has
positive effects on the course of children’s

How should caregivers respond to
children’s signals? What are the conse-
quences, if any, of caregivers’ respon-
siveness? These are the main questions
that are addressed in this article. First,
responsiveness will be deflned and typical
characteristics identifled. Next, the effects
of responsiveness on infant crying will be
examined as well as the short-term and
long-term consequences for child cogni-
tive development. Then, how responsive-
ness works and the origins of respon-
siveness in caregivers will be addressed.

Finally, ways to become a more respon-
sive caregiver will be reviewed.

What Is Responsiveness?

Experts deflne responsiveness as a
caregiver’s verbal or nonverbal reactions
to a child’s signals. Responsiveness in
normal, everyday exchanges has the fol-
lowing three main elements:
1. Contingency— The adult’s action

depends on or occurs in reaction to
the child’s action (responsive adult
activities do not occur at just any

2. Appropriateness—The adult’s action
is conceptually related to the child’s
action and is geared to fulflll a child
need (not every adult action does).

3. Promptness—The adult’s action
follows the child’s action closely in
time (so that the child learns to as-
sociate the two).

Responsiveness does not include a
caregiver’s act that just happens to follow
a child’s act, nor does it include a caregiv-
er’s spontaneous stimulation. In neither
of those two cases does the caregiver’s
act depend on or occur in relation to the
child’s act. So, being responsive means
not simply interacting with baby, but be-
ing contingent, appropriate, and prompt,
too. For example, when a four-month-old
turns to his or her caregiver and starts to
coo, a responsive caregiver would make
eye contact with the child and coo back—
“have a conversation.” If, after a time,
that same child starts to fuss or averts
his or her gaze, the responsive caregiver
knows that the conversation has ended.
Responsive caregivers listen to children’s
signals and then adjust their behavior
contingently, appropriately, and promptly
in response to those signals.


Researchers who study responsiveness
break down adult–infant interaction into
three separate but related events:
• Child action
• Caregiver response
• Effect on the child

This analysis provides a framework
for taking a closer look at responsiveness
and its effects. Keeping this structure in
mind while caring for infants and young
children can be helpful in reading their
signals and understanding the conse-
quences of caregiver responses.

What Are Some Typical
Characteristics of Responsiveness?

Some people are very responsive to
children, some are moderately so, and
some seldom respond. For example, in
one study with infants only flve months
of age, Marc Bornstein and Catherine
Tamis-LeMonda (1989) found that some

caregivers were responsive during less
than 5 percent of the time they were
observed, whereas others were responsive
during as much as 75 percent of the time.
Surprisingly, this variation is true of indi-
viduals in the same social class and with
approximately the same years of school-
ing. Responsiveness may be shaped by
education, but once a person knows how
to be optimally responsive, the education-
al level really does not matter as much as
the behavior.

A caregiver’s response typically varies
with the age of the child and the type of
child activity the caregiver is respond-
ing to. A caregiver’s initial response to a
young baby’s distress usually takes the
form of “social soothing”: that is, hold-
ing and patting the baby. Thus, a crying
infant is most likely to experience contact
with the caregiver and soothing social
interaction. By contrast, when caregivers
respond to an infant’s coos and babbles,
they themselves typically vocalize, often

imitating the child’s sounds. When they
respond to an infant’s attempts at ex-
ploration, caregivers generally help the
baby to become better oriented to objects
the baby wants to explore, or they bring


objects to the baby. Finally, when care-
givers respond to a baby’s bids for social
interaction, they tend to stimulate and
engage the infant in affectionate social
play. Caregivers use a more complex set
of signals and responses for older toddlers
than they do for young infants.

Notably, a study (Bornstein et al. 1992)
showed that the characteristics of ma-
ternal responsiveness to infant activity
during home-based naturalistic interac-
tions of mother–infant dyads in New York
City, Paris, and Tokyo are pretty similar
in some important ways. All mothers
respond to infants’ exploration of the
environment with encouragement to the
environment, to infants’ vocalizing non-
distress with vocalizations and imitation,
and to infants’ vocalizing distress with

How Does Responsiveness Affect a
Baby’s Expressions of Distress?

Because crying is one of the most
prominent signals that a baby is capable
of producing initially, the frequency and
manner in which caregivers respond to
cries historically have been of uppermost
concern. Before responsiveness from
caregivers became a subject of research,
it was commonly believed that caregivers
who responded too often or quickly to a
child’s cries would “reinforce” or reward
crying, and the child would learn to cry
more often. Silvia Bell and Mary Salter
Ainsworth (1972) decided to see whether
this commonly held belief was true. They
periodically observed a group of mothers
naturally interacting with their newborn
babies across the flrst year of life. By the
time the children celebrated their flrst
birthday, Bell and Ainsworth found that
toddlers whose mothers had responded
more often to their cries as babies actually
cried less often, not more.

One possible explanation for this
unexpected result is that, when caregivers
responded to children’s signals, chil-
dren learned that they were not helpless
but rather that their behaviors had an
effect on the world. They learned that
they could control their environment in
a predictable and reliable way. Bell and
Ainsworth (1972) hypothesized that, as
infants matured, they learned to substitute
more sophisticated means of communica-
tion for crying; hence, they cried less than
children whose caregivers did not impart
this sense of control by being as respon-
sive. Indeed, by the end of a child÷s flrst
year, children of responsive parents not
only cried less, but their noncry commu-
nications were more varied, subtle, and
clear. These children communicated more
distinctly and understandably using facial
expressions, gestures, and nondistress


Bell and Ainsworth (1972) concluded
that maternal responsiveness to infants’
signals promotes a feeling of competence
and confldence in children that fosters
the development of communication and
encourages the development of children’s
cognitive skills. Since this work, evidence
has accumulated to support the hypothesis
that babies of responsive caregivers may
be at an advantage in a host of ways—for
example, in learning, exploration, and
motivation. Responsiveness from caregiv-
ers appears to beneflt the social and emo-
tional development of children too. These
issues are examined in the next sections.

How Does Being Responsive Affect
the Child’s Cognitive and Social–
Emotional Development?

Being responsive to a child affects the
child’s cognitive and social–emotional
development, just as, reciprocally, chil-
dren who do not experience responsive
caregiving suffer in these domains of
development. Key to children’s
development of wholesome re-
lationships is their early “secure
attachment” to a primary care-
giver, and key to attachment is
the caregiver’s sensitivity and re-
sponsiveness. Infants and young
children can display different
types of attachment patterns—
secure, avoidant, ambivalent,
disorganized. And their attach-
ment status depends, to some
degree, on the quality of care—
sensitive responsiveness—they
have received. Indeed, it was on
the basis of studies of maternal
deprivation (in institutionalized
care, because of war) that John
Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1980)
formulated attachment theory.
Children who are securely at-

tached adjust more soundly, are more
socially competent with peers and other
adults, and perhaps develop more positive
romantic relationships later.

Michael Lewis and Susan Goldberg
(1969) were among the flrst researchers to
notice a positive relation between re-
sponsive caregiving and better cognitive
performance in children. They found that
three-month-old babies whose moth-
ers responded more frequently to their
vocalizations tended to learn about new
things in their environment by looking
at them more quickly than did children
of less responsive mothers. Subsequent
research studies conflrmed that maternal
responsiveness is positively associated
with children’s cognitive development.
For example, Michael Goldstein and his
colleagues (2009) found that the develop-
ment of children whose mothers were dis-
criminating in their responding to infants’
earliest sounds and babbling was changed
by mothers’ responding. Bornstein and


his colleagues (1989, 1992, 2008) have
studied responsiveness extensively in the
United States and abroad and found that
responsiveness has broader short-term
and long-term cognitive beneflts for ba-
bies. Children of mothers who were more
responsive to their nondistress signals
(such as vocalization, facial expression,
and movements) during the middle of the
child÷s flrst year and at one and two years
of age tended to show advanced language.
Four-year-old children whose mothers
had been more responsive when the chil-
dren were infants solved problems more
efflciently and scored higher on a stan-
dardized intelligence test than did their
peers with less responsive mothers.

Caregivers’ responsiveness to chil-
dren’s vocalizations seems to be particu-
larly signiflcant to the development of
language. For example, one early study
reported that caregivers who responded
to infants’ vocalizations had children
who tended to vocalize more ‡uently to
a toy than did children with less respon-
sive caregivers. Kathleen Bloom, Allan
Russell, and Karen Wassenberg (1987)
found that caregiver responsiveness helps
to instill conversational rhythm in babies.
When an adult experimenter responded
to three-month-old infants’ vocaliza-
tions and maintained a turn-taking or
“speak–listen” pattern, babies tended to
pause between their own vocalizations.
These babies also tended to produce
more mature speechlike sounds than did
a group of babies whose sounds were
mostly ignored. Also, Michael Goldstein,
Jennifer Schwade, and Marc Bornstein
(2009) found that infants’ own vocalizing
depended on feedback from caregivers.
All these were experimental studies with
results from the laboratory. However,
they demonstrate that infants and young
children are sensitive to the reactions

of others, concluding, as research such
as that of Luigi Girolametto and Elaine
Weitzman (2002) showed, that infants are
sensitive to their child care providers and
not just to their parents.

How powerful is caregiver respon-
siveness? Tamis-LeMonda and Born-
stein (2002) looked at flve language
milestones, including when children
understood their flrst word, spoke their
flrst word, reached a vocabulary of 50
words, put two words together, and talked
about the past. Children whose moth-
ers were more responsive reached these
developmental milestones as much as
six months earlier than children of less
responsive mothers. At the same time,
caregiver responsiveness is selective. The
two investigators also compared mothers’
responsiveness to their children’s play
versus mothers’ responsiveness to their
children’s language. Responsiveness to
children’s play improved children’s play
but not their language, whereas respon-
siveness to children’s language improved
children’s language but not their play.
Maternal responsiveness is robust and
speciflc in its effects on child develop-

Leila Beckwith and Saralee Cohen
(1989) studied responsiveness in the
caregivers of preterm infants and found
similar positive effects. Infants who were
more skillful at nine months in sensori-
motor tasks (such as searching for a hid-
den object, using one object as a means
to obtain another, or inventing a solution
to a problem) at one month of age had ex-
perienced more mutual caregiver–infant
gazing (that is, looking intently at one an-
other); at three months, more interchanges
of smiling during mutual gazing and more
responsiveness; and at eight months,
greater levels of social interaction, includ-
ing more responsiveness. As additional


evidence of the long-term effects of being
responsive to infant vocalizations, Beck-
with and Cohen followed their families
over time. Those mothers who were more
verbally responsive to preterm children’s
nondistress vocalizations, when the chil-
dren were eight months and 24 months
of age, had children who tended to have
higher IQ scores at 12 years of age.

In addition, responsiveness appears
to exert similar effects across different
cultures. Bornstein and his colleagues
Kazuo Miyake, Hiroshi Azuma, Catherine
S. LeMonda, and Sueko Toda conducted a
study (1990) with mothers and children in
Sapporo, Japan. Japanese children whose
mothers were more responsive to them
when they were four to flve months old
scored higher on a standardized mental
achievement test at two and one-half
years of age than did children with less
responsive mothers. Leila Paavola and

her colleagues (2005) in Finland also
found that maternal responsiveness dur-
ing the prelinguistic stage of children’s
communicative competence predicts their
early communicative and linguistic skills.

Of course, many people had sus-
pected (mostly on account of studies of
infants reared in institutions) that chil-
dren deprived of social responsiveness
normally fare poorly in development; but
factors apart from responsiveness were
also thought to undermine the possible
happy futures of these children. Such
babies tend to be undernourished and
understimulated too. However, a study
conducted by Craig Ramey and his col-
leagues (1975) pointed to responsiveness
as a signiflcant factor. He gave one group
of failure-to-thrive infants a nutritional
supplement and a comparable group the
same nutritional supplement plus weekly
responsive stimulation. The second group
subsequently performed better than the
flrst group on a learning task. On this
basis, Ramey and his colleagues (1975)
suggested that the quality of both nutri-
tion and social responsiveness can reduce
the effects of development al retardation.

Ramey also noticed something else
intriguing about the children in the study:
they showed a marked change in their
social and emotional demeanor. Instead
of being apathetic, children appeared alert
and responsive. Ramey (1975) could only
speculate on the cause, but they suspected
that responsive stimulation played a part.
In the time since, numerous studies have
shown that being responsive to a child has
positive effects on the child’s social and
emotional life, an action that in turn can
create a better environment for children’s

Some domains of social–emotional de-
velopment in children are closely related
to their cognitive development. For ex-


ample, having a conscience and possess-
ing social skills (such as reading others’
emotions) depend on cognitive develop-
ment. Both in turn depend on experience
the child has with a responsive caregiver.
Laura Steelman, Mike Assel, Paul Swank,
Karen Smith, and Susan
Landry (2002) found that
early maternal responsive-
ness predicted children’s
development of social
skills. More speciflcally,
Grazyna Kochanska, David
Forman, Nazan Aksan, and
Stephen Dunbar (2005)
learned through their
research that early mother–
child mutual responsive-
ness was a pathway to
children’s moral emotions,
conduct, and conscience.
Parenting that is responsive
is credited with fostering
many valued developmental outcomes,
including emotional security, social facil-
ity, symbolic competence, verbal ability,
and intellectual achievement.

How Does Responsiveness Work?

Research studies have shown that
responsiveness exerts beneflcial effects in
development, but how it does so is not al-
ways clear. On this aspect researchers are
more tentative and speculative. But, as
seen from the discussion thus far, respon-
siveness might have an effect through
several possible mechanisms.
1. Caregiver responsiveness might em-

power children by instilling in them
feelings of control and effectance;
that is, children might learn that they
have a positive effect on their en-
vironment. This discovery, in turn,
might increase children’s motivation
to learn and their confldence in suc-

cessfully solving problems. Infants
who have prior experience with
stimulation within their control learn
more competently and efflciently in
new situations than do infants with-
out such experience.

2. Responsive caregiving might pro-
mote self-regulation in children,
which facilitates their attention and

3. Responsive caregiving might pro-
vide caregivers and children with
closely shared opportunities to learn
about one another and thereby assist
children’s learning.

4. Responsiveness may elevate a
child’s mood, making the child more
open to learning.

5. Last but by no means least, respon-
siveness may promote caregiver–
infant attachment, which in turn
determines the degree to which the
infant feels secure to explore and
learn about his or her world.

The point here is that it is not sim-
ply that responsive mothers have chil-


dren who are more advanced; mothers
and their babies do share genes. Karen
Hardy-Brown and Robert Plomin (1985)
found that mothers’ verbal responses to
the vocalizations of their adopted one-
year-olds predict children’s communica-
tive development. This flnding pinpoints
the effectiveness of responsiveness and
separates it from alternative interpreta-
tions based on shared genetics between
parent and child. The research also means
that the mechanism of action of respon-
siveness does not depend on the caregiver
being biologically related to the child.
The responsiveness of children’s caregiv-
ers is what matters the most to children’s

Where Does Caregiver
Responsiveness Come From?

Because of the important role that
responsiveness seems to play in child
development, it is reasonable to ask why
some caregivers are more responsive
than other caregivers. Some believe
that caregiver responsiveness represents
purely biological functioning; others, that
caregiver responsiveness develops from
experience. Some believe that women
are naturally more responsive than men;
others, that all members of the human
community—men, women, and children
alike—are responsive but in different

The Nobel Prize–winning ethologist
Konrad Lorenz hypothesized that re-
sponsiveness is an unlearned instinct in
adults, one that is deeply embedded in the
psyche and automatically excited by key
physical features of an infant, such as the
infant’s large head in relation to the size
of the rest of the body, bulbous forehead,
soft elastic skin, and cry. Lorenz (1943,
1971) thought that those traits spontane-
ously and involuntarily “release” inborn

emotional and motor reactions in adults.
Indeed, that is why Lorenz asserted that
human beings feel so strongly not only
about human babies but about kittens,
pups, and animal babies in general,
because the very young of many species
share the same “babyish” attributes.

There is also growing evidence that
hormones play a role in the expression of
human responsiveness (Feldman 2012).
For example, the neurohormone oxytocin
predicts mothers’ sensitive behavior with
newborn babies and how they coordinate
with the newborn state. Fathers’ higher
levels of prolactin are associated with
more alert and positive responses to
infant cries, and their lower levels of tes-
tosterone explain their affective responses
to infant cries (Fleming and others 2002).

Biology aside, it is clear that caregiv-
ers in the same culture and from different
cultures vary in the degree to which they
are responsive. At one end of the spec-
trum, maternal responsiveness is essen-
tially nonexistent in some cultural groups
(villages in Guatemala and New Guinea,
for example). Although responsiveness
exists in most cultures, caregivers in some


cultures are regularly more responsive
than caregivers in other cultures. So, at
the other end of the responsiveness spec-
trum, Kung San (in Botswana) caregivers
respond almost immediately to almost
every infant signal. By contrast, Gusii (in
Kenya) caregivers reportedly respond to
fewer than 10 percent of infants’ vocaliza-
tions. Overall, American mothers respond
to between 50 percent and 80 percent of
a variety of infants’ and young children’s
actions; in Western societies (Australia,
Western Europe, and North America),
responsiveness still varies considerably.

Many factors play a role in whether
and how caregivers behave responsively
(Bornstein 1989). They include charac-
teristics of the caregiver (for example, an
empathic and adaptable individual may
be more responsive); the circumstances
under which the caregiver is functioning
(for example, a caregiver with just a few
children in his or her charge may be able
to be more responsive than a caregiver
with many children); and characteristics
of the child (for example, a child who
is irritable and difflcult to soothe alters
caregiver responsiveness). Postpartum
depression is common—it appears after
12 percent of births—and depressed
mothers are less responsive to their
infants. Nanmathi Manian and Marc
Bornstein (2009) studied the effects of
mothers’ nonresponsiveness on their
infants÷ development. By flve months,
infants of depressed mothers already
show different patterns of social inter-
action and ability to regulate their own
behavior. Many factors determine the
responsiveness of a caregiver to a child.

One variable that has been found to
have an effect on the expression of re-
sponsiveness is experience with children.
The amount of experience a caregiver
has with children helps to determine the

degree of responsiveness to an infant’s
noncry vocalizations. For example, Ole
Wasz-Höckert and his colleagues (1964)
some time ago showed experimentally
that experienced women (regardless of
parental status) identifled types of cries
better and that men with child-rearing
experience performed better than men
without experience in identifying speciflc
types of cries. Holder (1988) also studied
the role of experience in responding to in-
fant cries and found experienced nonpar-
ents equally good as parents at decoding
the meaning of cries.

Accumulating experience with a
particular child makes a difference. A
group of mothers watched an assessment
administered to their infants, received an
explanation of the assessment scale, and
learned about their infants’ performance
on the assessment. Later, mothers in this
group showed signiflcantly enhanced
responsiveness while interacting with
their infants as compared with a control
group who had simply learned about
children’s toys and furnishings. In turn,
the increased responsiveness of mothers
was re‡ected in infants÷ own responsive-
ness. Babies whose mothers had learned
about their behavior showed gains in
alertness, positive affect and mood, and
visual responsiveness to their mothers. It
seems that getting to know children can
help caregivers become more attuned to
children’s needs, knowledge that appar-
ently leads to more alert and responsive

How Can a Caregiver Become
More Responsive?

To become responsive, a caregiver
must be able to perceive an infant’s
signals, understand their meaning, and
then respond contingently, appropriately,
and promptly. The flrst step, perceiving,


is straightforward. Caregivers have to
be available and attentive. They should
also know something about what they
are looking at and listening for. To some
degree, this knowledge comes with
experience. Also, reading books on child
development and ways to care for chil-
dren is certainly helpful.

Interpreting what is perceived is a little
harder: Is the baby crying because he is
hungry, overstimulated, or needs to be
held? Finding the answer to this ques-
tion comes not just from learning about
babies generally, but from learning about
the particular baby being cared for and
the caregiving context. Each child comes
to every setting with her own tempera-
ment, daily rhythm, likes, and dislikes.
By carefully watching the child, over time
and in different contexts, a caregiver will
come to understand that child’s person-
ality and will then be able to decipher
that child’s messages better and respond
more effectively. Jan Karrass and Julia
Braungart-Rieker (2003) found that chil-
dren’s temperament plays a role, along
with responsive parenting, as agents in
children’s early language development.

The flnal step“being able to respond
contingently, appropriately, and prompt-

ly—is just an extension of understanding
what the child needs. Once a caregiver
understands the message, the response
should follow suit. If a child looks at
a caregiver with a big, broad smile, he
probably would like the caregiver to smile
back and maybe engage in social play. If
the child then changes mood and starts

to avert the caregiver’s
gaze, he is probably say-
ing, “I’m tired; I think I’ve
had enough for now” and
would like some quiet time.
A toddler who moves from
object to object, pointing
with her index flnger and
glancing over to the care-
giver, probably wants him
to name each item. And
when the toddler looks at
a caregiver and says “Ba,”
the child probably would
like the caregiver to look at
her and say “Ba” back. A

toddler who points to a ball and says “Ba”
might like it if the caregiver said “ball” or
better yet expand and say “Yes, it’s a ball.
See how high it bounces.”

As caregivers get to know each child,
they learn to flne-tune their responses.
For some children, social interaction
might call for tickling or other rough-
and-tumble play; other children might
prefer quiet verbal games in response.
If a caregiver is attentive and receptive
to children’s signals, those signals will
tell her what the children need and want,
when they would like stimulation and
when they do not, when they need to be
held, when they want more freedom to
explore, when they are happy, and when
they are sad. The more caregivers can
communicate to children that they have
heard the message and understand, the
more responsive caregivers will be.


Is it always the case that an important
caregiving practice such as responsive-
ness is “better” insofar as it occurs more
often? Perhaps less is more, or some is
more. Bornstein and his colleague Nan-
mathi Manian (2012) studied mothers’
responsiveness to infants in relation to
global judgments of their parenting sensi-
tivity. They discovered that mothers who
were not responsive enough and moth-
ers who were always responsive were
rated less sensitive to infants. Mothers
who were responsive at moderate levels
were judged most sensitive. Clinically
depressed mothers are unresponsive to
infant signals and fail to provide infants
with contingent, appropriate, and prompt
stimulation. Children of depressed moth-
ers are at risk for poor development, in
part because of their mothers’ unrespon-
sive parenting. By contrast, overrespon-
siveness may be both overstimulating
to children and developmentally inap-
propriate. Consequently, overcontingent
parenting fails to instill a child with the
confldence and ability to self-regulate and
explore and prevents or inhibits the child
from developing coping skills. Mothers
who are overresponsive and underrespon-
sive are rated as less sensitive, whereas
mid-levels of maternal responsiveness are
rated as optimally sensitive.

What Has Been Learned from
Research About Responsiveness?

Findings from research converge in
showing the powerful role that respon-
siveness plays over the development of a
broad range of children’s competencies.
Responsiveness is a central parenting
construct that is a common characteristic
of caregiving around the world. Caregiv-
ers need to display the contingent, ap-
propriate, and prompt reactions typically
associated with responsiveness. Persistent

child-rearing practices are often credited
with changing the course of child de-
velopment. To be responsive, caregivers
need to know the children in their care
by developing a close relationship and
being attentive and receptive to a child’s

Responsiveness is a deceptively un-
complicated concept. Hidden, however,
are the telling and powerful consequences
responsiveness portends—not only for
the infant’s survival but also for the
child’s positive development of social
self-confldence and intellectual capability.


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Learning During the Early Months

J. Ronald Lally and Elita Amini Virmani

ver the past 40 years, develop-
mental psychologists and child de-
velopment researchers have begun
to discover many of the remark-

able capacities of young infants. Far from
John Locke’s seventeenth-century con-
ceptualization of babies as “tabula rasa,”
we now know with a great deal of cer-
tainty that babies are not blank slates to
be written on by knowing adults or even
empty vessels to be fllled up with knowl-
edge. Rather, babies come into the world
with skills, competencies, and motivation
to learn. Right from birth they are trying
to flgure out the way the world works.
What we have recently found out is that
a great deal of early learning happens
through the give-and-take of everyday
interactions with their primary caregiv-
ers. Research on the brain suggests that

infants arrive in the world curious, wired
to connect with others and to use those
connections for learning.

Even before a baby is born, hundreds
of billions of brain cells have formed and
start connecting with each other. By the
time babies are eight months old, they
will have produced about 1,000 trillion
connections—synapses—many more than
they will end up with in adulthood. As the
baby goes through life, depending on the
types of experiences he or she will have,
about half of these synapse connections
will die off while others will grow strong
and efflcient. By starting with an over-
abundance of connections, babies’ brains
are ready to be shaped by the experiences
they will encounter. The focus of this
chapter is on just how, during the earli-
est months of life, positive connections
are maintained and strengthened and how
primary caregivers can best support early

Recent Neuroscience

Of interest to neuroscientists, particu-
larly those studying the brains of babies
since the year 2000, is the in‡uence that
early experience has on the development
of the early maturing right brain. During
the last trimester of the prenatal period,
and through the end of the second year
of life, the right hemisphere—which is
largely responsible for emotional and
social functioning—undergoes a growth
spurt (Schore 2001, 2003, 2005). Siegel



(2001) proposes that during this period
early social and emotional exchanges
between infants and caregivers directly
impact the brain circuits related to the
infant’s capacity to cope with stress and
deal with novelty. Greenspan (1990)
contends that a baby÷s flrst motivation is
to get his or her emotional needs met, an
that this motivation drives skill develop-
ment not only for emotional and social
development but also for intellectual and
language development. According to
Greenspan, “It is the pleasure and deligh
that babies get from interaction with
people that drive them to relate to people
more frequently and more skillfully”
(Greenspan 1990, 17). Recent neuro-
science has validated Greenspan’s clinica
flndings with hard science showing that a
baby’s emotional need to build, sustain,
and use relationships drives communica-
tion and motivates language use (Schore
2005, 2001). What recent research tells
us about early learning is that the inter-
actions babies have with their principal
caregivers positively or negatively impact
the developing brain, both in terms of
the brain’s structure and overall function
(Schore 2001). The brain gets shaped
through babies’ interactions with those
who care for them. Speciflcally, the qual-
ity of the care babies receive from their
primary caregivers in‡uences the babies÷
ability to successfully or unsuccessfully
attach to other human beings (Sroufe
1996), regulate their impulses, learn how
to communicate with others, and search
for an intellectual understanding of the
world into which they are born.

The avenue for shaping the brain is
the relationship. The information com-
municated through the emotional interac-
tions in these early relationships is what
shapes the brain (Siegel 2001). What is
now understood is that early exchanges

with primary caregivers, both parents and
teachers, play a particularly important
role in building the foundation for future
learning. The information that gets pro-
cessed in those exchanges, together with
the emotional quality of the exchanges,
in‡uences the establishment of neuronal

The Importance of Early
Relationships for Early Learning

We are coming to view the brain as
much more than the home of the intel-
lect. We now understand that the brain
is a “social brain,” dependent on a rich
social and emotional environment for
growth and development (Brothers 1990).
Cognitive capacity grows as part of this
social brain through babies’ participation
in early social–emotional exchanges. For
example, in a back-and-forth exchange,





a baby will develop (intellectual) strate-
gies to prolong the feeling of pleasure
(emotions) experienced and learn ways
of acting (intellectual) to trigger particu-
lar types of emotional responses from
his or her caregiver. Cognitive skills and
language skills develop as the baby builds
and uses relationships.

Additionally, secure relationships pro-
vide safety for exploration. For the young
baby to truly take advantage of learn-
ing opportunities that arise, both physi-
cal and emotional safety are necessary.
When young infants have internalized the
sense that their parent or teacher will be
available to help them calm down when
too frustrated or too upset, babies are
more able to explore new things and new
people in the environment. When a baby’s
emotional expectations are violated (e.g.,
caregiver does not respond when expect-
ed to), it can trouble the baby so much
that opportunities for cognitive growth
are shut down. When babies receive the
emotional help they expect when they
need it, they will be more likely to be
open to learning from the novel and even
moderately stressful events that occur
each day. Secure relationships with caring
adults are the context in which infants
become confldent enough to intellectually
explore the people and objects in their

Unique Aspects of Baby Learning

Learning in infancy is different from
how older children or adults learn. Alison
Gopnik, a leading researcher in the fleld
of infant cognition, states, “Babies aren’t
trying to learn one particular skill or set
of facts; instead, they are drawn to any-
thing new, unexpected, or informative”
(Gopnik 2009). To beneflt from the expe-
rience of exploring new and unexpected
things in their environment, infants must

have the social and emotional foundation
to do so. Often this is the kind of invis-
ible part of early learning that we take
for granted. While seemingly simple,
the research suggests that in addition to
establishing a secure relationship with the
infant, the best thing a caregiver can do
is to talk to, play with, and pay close at-
tention to infants and to their exploration
of the world (Gopnik, Meltzoff, and Kuhl
1999). Infant learning is not taught in the
same adult-directed way as one might
imagine in teaching a child how to read or
how to learn multiplication tables. Infant
learning is about discovery and ensuring
that the physical and social environment
is set up for the process to happen in a
way that the infant feels safe to take on
new challenges.

Although cognitive development and
social–emotional development often
happen in concert with each other, how
babies react to situations is not the same.
Babies are wired to seek and form rela-
tionships, send signals of need, and pur-
sue nurturance. They expect their messag-
es to be heard, understood, and responded
to adequately (National Research Council
& Institute of Medicine 2000; Belsky,
Spritz, and Crnic 1994; Honig 2002;
Sroufe 1996). When their expectations
are violated—when they do not receive
the expected response—they fall apart.
Ed Tronick’s (2005) still-face experiment
with babies is a classic example of this
flnding. Mothers whom he instructed to,
only for a brief period of time, not re-
spond to a child’s signals can cause great
emotional distress. Babies expect their
signals to be read and understood; if that
does not happen, it is deeply disturbing to
them. In the area of social–emotional de-
velopment, when children’s expectations
are not met, they are thrown off course
and have little interest in doing anything


else but establishing a relationship that
works for them. Little time is spent in
independent discovery of the environment
and objects in it if their emotional needs
are not met.

With cognitive development, the ex-
perience of having expectations violated
is not negative; instead, it motivates the
child to see why his or her expectations
are violated. Violated expectations trigger
curiosity and motivate the child to flgure
out why something is not acting the way
he or she thinks it should. For instance, if
a ball drops at a much faster speed than
usual, an infant will look surprised or
pause as if to say, “Huh? That didn’t hap-
pen the way I expected it to.”

As another example, consider an infant
who is lying on his stomach and bats at a
toy in front of him. The infant presumes,
If I make contact with the ball, then it will
move. If the ball moves, then the infant’s
hypothesis has been conflrmed and little
new learning takes place. However, if
the ball does not move, this violates the
infant’s intellectual expectation, which
allows for the process of discovery and
hypothesis testing to begin. Discovery
happens when babies expect one thing to
happen, yet something else happens, and
they are puzzled.

Experiences in which a baby recog-
nizes that the same thing happens again
and again become expected by the baby
and soon become of little interest to her.
It is the novel experiences, however, that
infants enjoy and flnd interesting. Repeat-
ed, positive emotional experiences are
pleasurable to the baby and are pursued
with great interest. By understanding this
difference in a baby’s reaction to cogni-
tive and social–emotional experiences,
we go a long way toward understanding
the role of an infant care teacher or parent
during the early months.

The Role of Infant Care Teachers
in Early Learning

What infant care teachers need to un-
derstand is that they must simultaneously
meet the social–emotional expectations
of their babies while creating interesting
environments and experiences in which
babies can test out their intellectual ex-
pectations. Understanding that the baby is
both emotionally vulnerable and intellec-
tually competent leads teachers to set up
intellectual challenges that take place in
the context of secure relationships. Infant
care teachers make learning possible
by flrst handling the babies÷ emotional
vulnerability and then taking the time to
observe them as they try out their knowl-
edge and skills to see if what they know
about the world holds true. Teachers make


learning possible by being present to sup-
port infant engagement in this process. In
this way, curiosity is stirred and discovery
happens because the baby is emotionally
ready for engagement. Yet rich cogni-
tive learning can happen only when these
new events are not stressful experiences.
The infant care teacher needs to think of
the emotional context needed for baby
learning. A key way infant care teachers
promote infant cognitive development
is by being available to modulate infant
states in response to novel experiences.
They may have to use subtle gestures, fa-
cial expressions, touch, and their voice to
help an infant calm down when the infant
is emotionally aroused by a new experi-
ence or setting. In other cases, when an
infant is not engaged in discovery, the
infant may need the infant care teacher
to stimulate positive emotional states and
exhibit an intellectual curiosity of his or
her own using the relationship to fuel the
child’s exploration of the novel environ-
ment (Raikes 1993, 1996; Raikes and
Edwards 2009). The teacher who is atten-
tive to the infant’s process of discovery
develops an understanding of the way the
infant learns, knowing that different types
of exchanges are a part of infant learning.
During this process, infants connect both
the cues and supports they receive from
their teacher with the joy of discovery.

Skills that are crucial to success later in
life, including the ability to inhibit one’s
urges (inhibition), the ability to hold some
information in mind while attending to
something else (working memory), and
the ability to switch attention or mental
focus (cognitive ‡exibility), are being de-
veloped and shaped through the give-and-
take of relationships in which the baby
is engaging during the flrst two years of
life (Thompson 2009). The PITC deflnes
being “in tune” as responding to emo-

tional and cognitive needs and reading
babies’ cues appropriately. Teachers who
are “in tune” can do quite amazing things
to help babies learn; through comforting
interactions, these teachers can minimize
an infant’s negative states, and through
interactive play they can stimulate both
positive emotional states and intellectual
curiosity (Raikes 1993, 1996; Raikes and
Pope Edwards 2009). The context of a se-
cure relationship with a caring adult who
understands and respects both the baby’s
emotional vulnerability and intellectual
competence is where meaningful learning
takes place.


Belsky, J., B. Spritz, and K. Crnic. 1994.
“Infant Attachment Security and Affec-
tive–Cognitive Information Processing
at Age 3.” Psychological Science 7 (2):


Brothers, L. 1990. “The Social Brain: A
Project for Integrating Primate Be-
havior and Neurophysiology in a New
Domain.” Concepts in Neuroscience

Gopnik, A. 2009. “Your Baby Is Smarter
Than You Think.” The New York
Times, August 16, WK10.

Gopnik, A., A. N. Meltzoff, and P. K.
Kuhl. 1999. The Scientist in the Crib:
Minds, Brains, and How Children
Learn. Fairfleld, NJ: William Morrow.

Greenspan, S. I. 1990. “Emotional De-
velopment in Infants and Toddlers.” In
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Social–Emotional Growth and Social-
ization, edited by J. R. Lally, 15–18.
Sacramento: California Department of

Honig, A. S. 2002. Secure Relationships:
Nurturing Infant/Toddler Attachment in
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National Association for the Education
of Young Children.

National Research Council & Institute
of Medicine. 2000. From Neurons to
Neighborhoods: The Science of Early
Childhood Development, edited by J. P.
Shonkoff and D. A. Phillips, Board on
Children, Youth, and Families; Com-
mission on Behavioral and Social Sci-
ences and Education. Washington, DC:
National Academies Press.

Raikes, H. 1993. “Relationship Duration
in Infant Care: Time with a High-
Ability Teacher and Infant Teacher At-
tachment.” Early Childhood Research
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———. 1996. “A Secure Base for Babies:
Applying Attachment Concepts to the

Infant Care Settings.” Young Children
51 (5): 59–67.

Raikes, H., and C. Pope Edwards. 2009.
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Schore, A. 2001. “The Effects of a Secure
Attachment Relationship on Right
Brain Development, Affect Regula-
tion, and Infant Mental Health.” Infant
Mental Health Journal 22:7–66.

———. 2003. Affect Dysregulation and
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———. 2005. “Attachment, Affect Regu-
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(6): 204–17.

Siegel, D. 2001. “Toward an Interpersonal
Neurobiology of the Developing Mind:
Attachment Relationships, ‘Mindsight,’
and Neural Integration.” Infant Mental
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Sroufe, L. A. 1996. Emotional Develop-
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Thompson, R. 2009. Doing What Doesn’t
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Tronick, E. 2005. “Why Is Connection
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Supporting Cognitive Development
Through Interactions with Young Infants

Tiffany Field

ery young infants (from birth
to six months of age) are fasci-
nated by the world around them.
They notice sights, sounds,

smells, touches, and movements. When
something catches their attention, they
often want to flnd out more about it.
If something happens once, they often
enjoy seeing or hearing it happen again.
Of greatest interest to them—what they
want to learn most about—is their adult
caregivers. Young infants focus intently
on the actions of their caregivers. Facial
expressions, smiles, sounds, touches, and
gestures from the caregiver often delight
them. Through innate responses, such as
smiles, coos, and raised eyebrows, young
infants communicate to their caregiver
what interests them. Through playful

exchanges of such behaviors as coos,
facial expressions, and smiles with an
adult who understands their messages,
they learn how to take turns and how to
interact with a partner.

The intellectual development of young
infants depends on their ability to orga-
nize their behavior for interaction with
their caregivers. To help young infants
organize their behavior, caregivers need
to know how to determine when young
infants are ready to interact and learn
from social exchanges and how to adjust
to each child’s individual rhythm and
style during interaction. This chapter be-
gins with an overview of the importance
of the young infants’ social behaviors and
biological rhythms in their development.
The second part of the chapter focuses on
responses and actions from the caregiver
that enable very young infants to learn
from social interaction.

Early Behaviors and Interaction

The young infant is capable of commu-
nicating to the caregiver through a host
of signals. The primary means through
which the infant communicates are look-
ing behavior, facial expressions, vocaliza-
tions, and body movements.

During the early months of infancy, the
primary skill of infants is looking behav-
ior. Young infants can look at a person
or thing, look away, close their eyes, and



turn their heads. Looking behavior is the
only system over which infants have a
considerable degree of control and the
only system that can be turned on or off.
Caregivers spend virtually all of their
one-to-one interaction time looking at the
infant (Stern 1974). However, whether
the infant looks at the caregiver’s face
seems to depend on the infant’s state of
alertness and the type of stimulation the
caregiver is providing (Field 1977a). The
young infant seems to look away from the
caregiver’s face to process the stimulation
he or she is receiving.

Because the infant can use visual be-
havior to tune in and tune out of sources
of stimulation, the infant’s gazing (both
looking at and looking away from the
caregiver) becomes an important signal to
the caregiver. The caregiver’s reactions to
an infant’s gazing appear to play a critical
role in engaging the infant in eye-to-eye
contact. Consequently, T. Berry Brazel-
ton and others (1974) have suggested
that one of the most important skills for
the caregiver to learn is sensitivity to the
infant’s capacity for attention and inatten-
tion. Being sensitive to a young baby’s
looking behavior means stopping stimu-

lating activity (touches,
smiles, coos, and so forth)
when the infant becomes
inattentive or looks away.
In effect, the infant is say-
ing, “For right now, I’ve
had enough cooing, smil-
ing, laughing, and tickling.
Give me some time to settle
down.” After a while, if the
baby calms down and looks
at you with bright eyes,
he or she is saying, “I am
ready for some action. Let’s
be playful.”

Thus, gaze alternation,
or looking at and looking away, is natu-
ral behavior that is affected by the type,
amount, and timing of stimulation (Stern
1974). The infant (like the adult) needs
periods of looking away to process the
stimulation he or she received during
the previous looking period or simply to
calm down (Field 1981). When the adult
fails to respect the infant’s looking-away
periods and interprets them as the infant’s
need for a break from conversation, the
interaction becomes difflcult or disturbed
(Brazelton, Koslowski, and Main 1974;
Field 1977a). With too much stimulation
and no chance to settle down, a young
baby can easily become overexcited and
perhaps fussy. In such a state, the infant is
no longer able to interact in an organized

Although looking at and looking away
during interaction with the caregiver is
typical behavior for young infants, some
infants, at a very early stage, persistently
avert their gaze (always look away) even
with sensitive caregivers. In some cases,
such avoidant behavior may be due to the
infant’s temperament. Some infants may
react strongly to bright lights, noise, or
touch; as a result, these infants may avoid


stimulation from caregivers. In addition,
caregivers may have difflculty interacting
with infants whose innate temperaments
are characterized by low levels of alert-
ness, cuddliness, consolability, or visual
attentiveness. For more detailed infor-
mation on temperament and its effects
on interactions with infants, see “Tem-
peraments of Infants and Toddlers,” a
chapter by Stella Chess, in Infant/Toddler
Caregiving: A Guide to Social–Emotional
Growth and Socialization, and the DVD
Flexible, Fearful, or Feisty: The Temper-
aments of Infants and Toddlers (Califor-
nia Department of Education 1990).

Infants’ smiling and laughter are
behaviors that delight caregivers. During
early interactions such behaviors seldom
occur spontaneously except when they
are elicited by tickling or game play-
ing (Sroufe and Wunsch 1972). A facial
expression that occurs relatively often
is the raised eyebrow, a kind of curios-
ity expression. The infant’s pout-and-cry
faces are very familiar to caregivers. Be-
cause these expressions often look quite
adultlike, they are easy to interpret as
signals of discontent. Pout-and-cry faces
typically signal the end of
a face-to face interaction.
Similarly, crying, arching
of the back, and general
squirming typically precede
the end of an interaction.
Sometimes this behavior
means that the infant is
tired; sometimes, that the
caregiver is overstimulating
the child; and sometimes,
that the infant is uncom-
fortable in the face-to-face

Activity Rhythms and Interaction

The very young infant’s biological
rhythms affect when the child is ready
to interact with an adult; for example,
from being awake to falling asleep, from
being active to becoming inactive, and
from being attentive to becoming inatten-
tive. When preparing for interaction, the
caregiver needs to give special attention
to two aspects of biological rhythms:
namely, the young infant’s state of alert-
ness and pauses in activity.

State of Alertness

An infant interacts best with a care-
giver when the infant is awake and alert.
At the beginning, the young infant moves
from a sleeping state to an awake state
frequently and stays awake for only short
periods of time. During the next several
weeks and months, the young infant
becomes increasingly organized so that
most of the sleep time is consolidated
at nighttime, and periods of alertness
become longer. The increasingly longer
sleep–wake cycle is a biological rhythm
consisting of several phases. Infants who
are awake experience ‡uctuating periods
of alertness; within those periods, infants


become attentive and inattentive. If the
caregiver interacts with an infant who is
awake but not fully alert or ready for in-
teraction, the infant will often try to avoid
the stimulation from the caregiver; or the
infant may quickly become inattentive or
even fussy. In contrast, by waiting for an
optimal state of alertness, the caregiver
can help the infant sustain attention or
moments of alertness for interaction.

In general, as the infant learns to orga-
nize his or her various activity rhythms
(for example, sucking, gaze alternations,
and limb movements), interactions can
become more prolonged. Caregivers can
facilitate this development by being sensi-
tive and adapting to the infant’s rhythms
and other signals of interaction and
thereby support a rhythmic turn-taking

Biological rhythms become more
stabilized during the flrst few months; for
example, sleep–awake periods become
more prolonged (Thoman 1975). Yet in-
fants and adults have to adjust continually
to each other’s rhythms. An example of
this process of adjustment comes from a
study of interactions between a caregiver
and an infant during bottle-feeding. Adult
stimulation was found to be typically
reserved for pauses in the sucking activity
or for times when the infant could interact
freely because he or she was not preoccu-
pied with sucking (Field 1977b).

Role of the Adult Partner

The caregiver’s role in early learning
is both multifaceted and quite special.
Designing, maintaining, and changing the
environment; keeping the daily sched-
ule and the environment organized; and
providing interesting stimulation are large
tasks in themselves. On top of that list,

the caregiver needs to be a sensitive, re-
sponsive interaction partner who offers a
variety of interesting games to the infant.
Face-to-face interaction is extremely criti-
cal to the overall development of the very
young infant, including the learning of
early social skills, such as facial expres-
sions and turn-taking.

Face-to-face interaction can take place
when the infant is on the caregiver’s lap,
in an infant seat, or lying on his or her
back on the ‡oor. In any of these situa-
tions, the head of the caregiver should
be lined up approximately with that of
the infant at about 15 inches from the
infant’s face so that the infant can clearly
see the caregiver’s face. Being placed in a
face-to-face position with the caregiver is
typically popular with infants for at least
the flrst eight months of life. After that
age, the infant becomes more interested in


manipulating objects and moving around
while learning to crawl.

Behaviors of adult caregivers are, of
course, much more developed than the in-
fant’s. Much of what the caregiver needs
to do has been described as “infantized”
behavior (Field 1978).

Ways to simplify or infantize behavior
include slowing down and exaggerating
speech in a manner referred to as baby
talk or “motherese” (Stern 1974). Facial
expressions are also exaggerated, slowed
down, and prolonged. When a caregiver
interacts with a young infant, the slowed-
down speech and exaggerated facial
expressions help the infant to process
or understand the caregiver’s behaviors.
Thus, when a caregiver infantizes behav-
ior during interaction, the infant is better
able to follow what the caregiver is doing
and become more effective at turn taking.

As described by Bornstein in this
guide, contingent responses occur within
seconds of the infant’s behavior and ei-
ther meet the infant’s communicated need
or are similar to the infant’s behavior.
Several researchers have suggested that
contingent or prompt responses similar to
the infant’s action are necessary so that
the infant can feel that he or she has some
in‡uence on the interaction (Ainsworth
and Bell 1974; Goldberg 1977; Lewis
and Goldberg 1969; Watson 1967). If the
caregiver’s response is appropriate and
given within a few seconds of the infant’s
behavior, the infant will more likely per-
ceive that the caregiver’s behavior is a di-
rect response to his or her own behavior.
Research studies have shown that adults
view infant behaviors such as smiling,
cooing, and eye-to-eye contact as posi-

tive responses. Such responses encourage
adults to continue the game. For ex-
ample, infants’ smiling and vocalizing are
frequently followed by similar behaviors
from adults (Gewirtz and Gewirtz 1969;
Lewis and Wilson 1972).

Research studies have shown that a lot
of caregiving behavior is imitative. Adults
probably imitate the infant’s behavior so
that the infant may more easily under-
stand his or her own behavior. Infants
enjoy being imitated and are more able
to imitate caregivers’ imitations of their
own behaviors (Field, Guy, and Umbel
1985). Thus, when interacting in a one-
to-one situation with an infant, caregiv-
ers typically imitate the most frequently
occurring infant behaviors—for example,
grimaces more than laughter in the very
young infant and laughter more than
grimaces in the slightly older infant. Very
soon after birth, infants are able to imitate
simple behaviors such as sticking out
their tongues and making happy, sad, and
surprised faces (Field and others 1982;
Meltzoff and Moore 1977).

Repetition of actions is another way
to help infants understand the interaction
partner more easily. Repetition gives the
infant multiple opportunities to connect
his or her actions with those of the adult.

A frequent behavior of caregivers
is called “highlighting” of the infant’s
behaviors. Caregivers frequently give
a running commentary or describe and
label aloud the infant’s behaviors as they
happen. For example, if the infant has
hiccups, the caregiver will say, “Oh, you


have the hiccups” or “Sweet baby, you
always spit up when you get happy.”

Caregivers also play a number of
games that have been observed around
the world and labeled infant games. They
include Peek-a-boo, So Big, Tell Me a
Story, Crawling, Itsy-Bitsy Spider, and
Pat-a-cake (Field 1979). These games in-
variably lead to smiling and laughter from
the infant but should be played when the
child is at the appropriate age. When a
caregiver tries to play age-inappropriate
games (for example, playing Pat-a-cake
with a six-week-old rather than with a
three-month-old infant), the interaction
will be disrupted. A six-week-old infant
will be unable to follow a game such
as Pat-a-cake and may become upset or
inattentive if the caregiver initiates such
a game. In contrast, the typical three-
month-old infant will be able to follow
the caregiver’s movements during Pat-
a-cake and will usually remain attentive
and enjoy the game. Sensitivity to the
baby’s signals will help the caregiver to

know whether a game is appropriate or
inappropriate for an infant. Infants’ games
also provide opportunities for turn tak-
ing or responsive give-and-take with an
infant. One of the most popular games of
the young infant is Tell Me a Story. The
words are provided by the caregiver, who
treats the infant’s vocalizations as if they,
too, are words. For instance, in playing
the game, the caregiver asks, “Do you
want to tell me a story?” The infant coos;
the adult responds, “Oh, yeah? And then
what happened?” The infant coos again,
and the adult replies, “Oh, that’s funny.”
The infant smiles, coos, and sometimes
laughs; and the caregiver then responds
by playing more of the same game. When
the infant no longer responds content-
edly to the game, it is a signal to move on
to still another game or “conversation”
or perhaps to give the child a chance to
become organized for more interaction,
have private time, or take a rest.


The very young infant’s development
in general and intellectual development in

particular depend on a
caregiver who:
• waits until the infant

is in a quiet, attentive
state of alertness be-
fore interacting with
the infant;

• responds promptly
when the child ex-
presses an interest or

• “infantizes” or slows
down, exaggerates,
and repeats behav-


• responds by imitating or highlighting
the infant’s behaviors;

• takes turns and does not interrupt the

• plays games that are interesting and
age-appropriate; and

• respects the infant’s occasional breaks
from the interaction.

Becoming a sensitive interaction part-
ner makes caregiving fun because the in-
fant enjoys and appreciates such care. At
the same time, sensitive and responsive
caregiving provides the infant with the
experiences he or she needs to understand
and learn about the world.


Ainsworth, M. D. S., and S. M. Bell.
1974. “Mother–Infant Interaction and
the Development of Competence.” In
The Growth of Competence, edited by
K. J. Connolly and J. S. Bruner. New
York: Academic Press.

Brazelton, T. B., B. Koslowski, and M.
Main. 1974. “The Origins of Reciproc-
ity: The Early Mother–Infant Interac-
tion.” In The Effect of the Infant on Its
Caregiver, edited by M. Lewis and L.
Rosenblum. New York: John Wiley
and Sons.

California Department of Education.
1990. Flexible, Fearful, or Feisty:
The Different Temperaments of Infants
and Toddlers. Sacramento: California
Department of Education. DVD, 29

Field, T. 1977a. “Effects of Early Separa-
tion, Interactive Deflcits, and Experi-
mental Manipulations on Infant–Moth-
er Face-to-Face Interaction.” Child
Development 48 (3): 763–71.

———. 1977b. “Maternal Stimulation
During Infant Feeding.” Developmen-
tal Psychology 13 (5): 539–40.

———. 1978. “The Three Rs of Infant
Adult Interactions: Rhythms, Reper-
toires, and Responsivity.” Journal of
Pediatric Psychology 3:131–36.

———. 1979. “Games Parents Play with
Normal and High-Risk Infants.” Child
Psychiatry and Human Development

———. 1981. “Gaze Behavior of Normal
and High-Risk Infants During Early
Interactions.” Journal of the American
Academy of Child Psychiatry 20:308–

Field, T., L. Guy, and V. Umbel. 1985.
“Infants’ Responses to Mothers’ Imita-
tive Behaviors.” Infant Mental Health
Journal 6:40–44.

Field, T., R. Woodson, R. Greenburg,
and D. Cohen. 1982. “Discrimination
and Imitation of Facial Expressions
by Neonates.” Science 218 (4568):

Gewirtz, H. B., and J. L. Gewirtz. 1969.
“Caretaking Settings, Background
Events, and Behavior Differences in
Four Israeli Child Rearing Environ-
ments: Some Preliminary Trends.”
In Determinants of Infant Behavior,
edited by B. Foss, vol. 4. London:

Goldberg, S. 1977. “Social Competence
in Infancy: A Model of Parent–Infant
Interaction.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly
23 (3): 163–77.

Lewis, M., and S. Goldberg. 1969.
“Perceptual–Cognitive Development
in Infancy: A Generalized Expectancy


Model as a Function of the Mother
Infant Interaction.” Merrill-Palmer
Quarterly 15 (1): 81–100.

Lewis, M., and C. D. Wilson. 1972.
“Infant Development in Lower-Class
American Families.” Human Develop-
ment 15:112–27.

Meltzoff, A. N., and M. K. Moore. 1977.
“Imitation of Facial and Manual Ges-
tures by Human Neonates.” Science
198 (4312, October 7): 75–78.

Sroufe, L. A., and J. P. Wunsch. 1972.
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First Year of Life.” Child Development
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Stern, D. N. 1974. “Mother and Infant at
Play: The Dyadic Interaction Involving
Facial, Vocal, and Gaze Behaviors.” In
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giver, edited by M. Lewis and L. A.
Rosenblum. New York: John Wiley
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Thoman, E. B. 1975. “Early Development
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demic Press.

Watson, J. S. 1967. “Memory and ‘Con-
tingency Analysis’ in Infant Learning.”
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Do not print this


Section Two:

Culture and Cognitive


The Connection between Culture
and Cognitive Development
Lucía Alcalá and Barbara Rogoff

hildren learn and develop by
expanding on what they already
know, building on their prior
knowledge (Bransford, Brown,

and Cocking 1999). One of the most im-
portant sources of children’s prior knowl-
edge is their cultural experience (Rogoff
2003; Vygotsky 1978). Infants and young
children learn from their day-to-day
activities with other people in cultural
communities that promote practices that
are often supported by the members of
families and communities (Whiting and
Whiting 1975).

Communities are organized in ways
that give young children access to cer-
tain activities and not to others. As a
result, children are likely to know how
to engage in activities that they experi-
ence in their communities. For example,

C if children have the opportunity to ride along in canoes and to maneuver a small canoe, they may learn to do so at an early age (Wilbert 1979). If the households of
a community have an open flreplace for
cooking, children may be discouraged
from crawling and may be slower to learn
to crawl—but not necessarily slower to
learn to walk (Hewlett 1991). If children
never experience stairs, they may initially
have difflculty with them (Super 1981).

As we live our lives, we develop
familiar repertoires of cultural practices
through our immersion in everyday
events and routines of the varied com-
munities in which we participate. Taking
part in these events and routines allows
us to develop a wide range of cognitive
skills, such as ways for understanding
the physical and social world, learning


abstract concepts, knowing subtle rules of
communication, understanding number
systems, and learning how to adjust our
approaches to different situations.

To understand the cognitive abilities of
infants and children, we need to consider
cultural variation in children’s experience
with different cultural practices—their
repertoires of cultural practices—because
any particular situation may call for dif-
ferent approaches depending on chil-
dren’s cultural experience. For example,
determining whether an infant realizes
that objects continue to exist even if they
go out of sight (Piaget’s concept of object
permanence) involves practices that may
hold different meaning for children from
various cultural backgrounds. If an adult
jingles keys in front of a baby and then
hides them under a cloth, and the baby
reaches for the hidden keys, the adult
may conclude that a child has object
permanence. However, in a Mayan town
in Guatemala, infants often might not
reach for the attractive object under such
circumstances. But it would be risky to
conclude that children lack a sense of
object permanence—if even very young
children learn a form of consideration that
precludes grabbing other people’s things
(such as the keys). So if infants do not
reach for the keys, we cannot conclude
that it is because they lack object perma-
nence. Within their repertoire of practice,
the situation may call for politely not
grabbing the keys.

Children’s repertoires of practice
expand rapidly within the flrst few years
of life. Infants and young children learn
many skills, values, beliefs, and expecta-
tions of their communities even before
the age of two. As they have the opportu-
nities to become involved in new activi-
ties, they can learn the practices of other
communities as well. Ideally, these would
amplify their repertoires of practices, not

replace what they already know and do.
In this chapter we examine important

cultural differences in young children’s
ways of attending to what is going on
around them, their skills in contributing
to community activities and participating
in particular forms of adult–child interac-
tion, their knowledge of how aspects of
the world work, and their ‡exibility in
adapting their skills and knowledge in to
speciflc situations.

Developing Keen Attention to
Surrounding Events

One important way that infants’ and
young children’s cognitive develop-
ment relates to their cultural experience
is the development of keen attention to
surrounding events. Keen attention is a
critical aspect of infants’ cognitive devel-
opment; they learn a vast amount of infor-
mation by observing others around them
(Akhtar 2005; Rogoff 2003).

Cultural differences in attention show
up among infants and toddlers. Guate-
malan Mayan toddlers (like their moth-
ers) were found to be more likely to pay
attention to surrounding events than were


middle-class European American tod-
dlers (and their mothers), who tended to
pay attention more narrowly (Chavajay
and Rogoff 1999; Rogoff et al. 1993). For
example, one Mayan twelve-month-old
was so alert that he skillfully and simul-
taneously paid attention to his mother’s
request to blow on a whistle, his sister’s
help with a toy he was handling, and
a truck that was passing by. Similarly,
three- to flve-year-old Mayan children
tended to be alert to the activities of their
mothers and younger siblings and other
nearby events, whereas middle-class
European American children tended to
pay attention only to their own activi-
ties (Silva, Shimpi, and Rogoff 2009).
Relatedly, among middle-class European
American infants, joint visual attention
does not reliably appear until about eight
to ten months of age (Corkum and Moore
1998), but Mexican Mayan infants as
young as six months were reported to
orient their gaze together with their care-
giver when they heard the caregiver greet
a neighbor passing by, participating in
greeting interactions with skilled attention
and growing awareness of others’ inten-
tions (de Leon 2000). In this community
and other indigenous communities of the
Americas, young children seem to be
especially inclined to attend skillfully to
ongoing events (Gaskins 1999; Magazine
and Ramírez Sánchez 2007).

Where might such cultural differences
in keen attentiveness to ongoing events
come from? These young children’s daily
lives differ in ways that are likely to
promote different approaches to paying
attention. The Mayan infants and chil-
dren mentioned before were included in a
wide range of activities of their families
and communities, and they were ex-
pected to pay attention and begin to help
out as they became able. For example,

Guatemalan Mayan three-year-olds were
more often in the presence of adult work,
with the opportunity to observe, than
were middle-class European American
three-year-olds (Morelli, Rogoff, and
Angelillo 2003). Mayan parents empha-
sized to young children to be observant
in everyday activities and expected them
to learn through observation. It was not
uncommon for parents to scold children
for missing something the children could
have seen: “What are your eyes for?”
(Chavajay 1993, 165).

In contrast, middle-class European
American children spent more of their
time segregated from the range of com-
munity activities and often focused their
attention more narrowly (Morelli, Rogoff,
and Angelillo 2003; Rogoff et al. 1993).
In many family and child care settings,


and eventually in schools, middle-class
European American children’s attention is
often managed by adults (Paradise et al.
2007). Adults may urge them not to pay
attention to surrounding events, requir-
ing them to just pay attention to what the
children themselves or the adult is doing,
such as by calling out “One, two, three;
eyes on me” and requiring children to
respond “One, two; eyes on you.”

Thus very young children of differing
backgrounds have the opportunity to learn
very different preferences for attention.
Infants and toddlers seem to already have
learned the distinct patterns of their com-

Developing Skills for Everyday
Community Life and for Child-
Directed Situations

Differences in young children’s every-
day skills are associated with children’s
inclusion in the range of activities of their
community or segregation into settings
designed for children. Their learning is
channeled by opportunities to observe and
engage in different activities and by the
attitudes of those around them. Children
learn situationally valued ways to solve
problems, interact, and approach new
situations. The differences in skills may
be related to distinct views of what young
children are capable of.

Early childhood in some communities,
such as in indigenous communities of the
Americas, is seen as a period of produc-
tive contributions to the family and com-
munity. In such communities, infants and
young children are considered community
members from the day of their birth, even
if they are not yet making real contri-
butions to their community (Ramírez Sán-
chez 2007). They are included in work,
ceremonial events, social events, church,
and other community events (Corona and

Perez 2007; Rogoff 2003). During these
activities, children can learn important
cognitive skills, and their contributions to
family work are formative for them (Al-
calá et al. 2009; Magazine and Ramírez
Sánchez 2007).

In communities where infants are
seldom included in community events,
adults often create child-specialized
settings that provide infants and young
children with particular toys and activi-
ties. Young children are often restricted
to certain areas, limiting their mobility
and access to adults’ activities for protec-
tion of the children as well as of adults’
activities, rather than treated as capable of
engaging in the broader activities of the
community. When they are involved in
social interaction, infants and toddlers are
often spoken to in a specialized one-on-
one, face-to-face model with simplifled
baby talk (Ochs and Schieffelin 1984).

Children whose days are spent in child-
specialized activities learn to engage in
child-specialized activities. For example,
these toddlers learn how to take their
part in interactions designed by adults to
elicit talk, such as games labeling body
parts: “Where is your belly button?”
These forms of interaction are not actual
requests for information about where the
body part is, but games that are special-
ized for infants and young children.

Participating in such known-answer
questions closely resembles the kind of
quizzing that often happens in preschool
and school, such as “What color is this?”
or “How many legs does a spider have?”
Differing levels of familiarity with the
routines used in testing may be an im-
portant basis of the school “achievement
gap” across ethnic groups in the United
States. Young children who are familiar
with known-answer questions can engage
with little trouble, but when those who


have little such experience flrst encounter
such forms of interaction, they may be
puzzled and have difflculty knowing how
to respond. Similarly, young children may
be interrupted and criticized by teachers
during “sharing time” if the teachers are
unfamiliar with the valued structure of
narrative in children’s home communi-
ties (Michaels 1981). But, of course, with
some experience and assistance, children
can learn how to take part in new situa-
tions (and adults can learn about cultural
practices that are new to them).

Children who have little experience in
situations that are designed by adults for
young children often have other experi-
ences that promote other skills. If they are
included as contributors to a wide range
of community activities, they have the
opportunity to become quite skilled in
the activities of importance that surround

Extensive research documents the
skills of young children in many parts of
the world to contribute to their family’s
activities. By age three, a child may be
able to care for a younger child (under
supervision), cook a meal on a flre, sweep
the house, run errands, and take produce
they have grown themselves to the market
to sell, contributing to the family income
(Hewlett 1991; Rogoff 2003; Watson-
Gegeo 1990; Whiting and Edwards 1988).
For example, three-year-old children in
Japan help change and feed infants, take
toddlers to the restroom, help them go up
or down the stairs, and carry them to the
playground, “adopting” a younger child
as their special charge and visiting the
nursery several times during the day to
help (Tobin, Wu, and Davidson 1989).

If children have the opportunity to be
included in both school-like and house-
hold/community activities, their reper-
toire of practices can expand to include

both the skills that are commonplace in
schooling and those that are valued in
household and community events. For
example, Bella, a two-year-old girl of
Mexican heritage, has been included
since birth in a range of academic activi-
ties as her mother, a graduate researcher,
brought Bella to many academic activi-
ties such as lab meetings, lectures, and
professional conferences. Bella knows
how to sit quietly and listen when others
are doing so and when it is appropriate to
chat. From her flrst year of life, she ”took
notes,” scribbling as others wrote. When
she was eight months old, Bella picked
up a pen from the ‡oor during a gradu-
ate seminar and started “writing” in her
mother’s notebook.

At the same time, having the oppor-
tunity to help at home and be around ex-
tended family members has allowed Bella
to develop other skills and knowledge.


Bella is always around her parents when
they do chores around the house. By
helping out with activities such as picking
up trash, sorting laundry, and preparing
meals, this two-year-old has learned, for
example, the colors of the rainbow and to
count to 10. She has also learned impor-
tant self-care skills as well as a sense
of responsibility from her family’s and
community’s practice of allowing young
children to contribute to ongoing activi-

One day, after playing with sand, Bella
noticed that her hands were dirty and
decided to go wash them. When she was
done washing her hands, she noticed that
her shirt was wet and dirty, so she took
off her shirt and started to wash it in the
bathroom sink. Because water spilled
on the ‡oor, she got the mop and started
cleaning the ‡oor. At that point, her socks
got wet from the water that had spilled
and so she decided to wash her socks too.

General Knowledge of Events

From their participation in daily activi-
ties, children create general knowledge
about how the world works (Hudson,
Shapiro, and Sosa 1995). Routine activi-
ties serve as contexts for developing a
cognitive understanding of the structure
of events, such as what is involved in go-
ing to a restaurant, milking a cow, tending
a baby, going to school, or doing adult
work. For example, toddlers in the United
States whose parents worked at home
had the opportunity to observe, showed
understanding of their parents’ work, and
started to contribute to the work with sim-
ple and then more complex tasks (Beach
1988). Similarly, middle-class European
American toddlers who helped adults in
household tasks sometimes started before
the parent began, showing an understand-
ing of the goal of the activity and often

carrying out appropriate actions that were
not modeled by the adults in that moment
(Rheingold 1982). Likewise, Bella, by
being part of the daily activities at home,
learned the sequence of events that usu-
ally take place when something is dirty
and the steps needed to flx that problem.
Young children who have the chance to
help younger children may show the same
sort of understanding of skills and even
an understanding of others’ intentions
and mental states that is expected of older
children in communities where children
have little contact with and responsibility
for younger children (Rogoff 2003). Thus
children’s cultural experience gives them
understanding of how the world works.

It is sometimes difflcult to consider
the different background experiences of
children when differences are noticed in
their knowledge. It is easy to assume that
unfamiliarity with knowledge familiar to
everyone is an indicator of lack of intelli-
gence. Instead, unfamiliarity should be in-
terpreted in terms of a child’s background
experience. For example, a little girl who
was unfamiliar with soft drinks before the
age of three, because her parents tried to
prevent her from gaining this knowledge,
might be seen as ignorant if an observer
did not know the child’s background
experience. On the other hand, the same
child had learned unusual medical names
of body parts by playing the Where Is
Your Belly Button? game—to be funny,
her parents included unusual body parts
in the game, such as the popliteal fossa
(the space at the back of the knee). When
this toddler told her pediatrician that her
popliteal fossa was itchy, the doctor was
unduly impressed.

These individual examples underline
the importance of taking children’s back-
ground experience into account. Cultural
differences in children’s background


experience are more crucial and difflcult
to consider. Flexibility in interpreting
different cultural ways of learning and
knowing is essential in caring for children
of diverse cultural backgrounds. In fact,
another key cognitive skill“‡exibility
in adaptation of skills and approaches
according to different situations—is
important for infant/toddler care teachers’
as well as infants’ and young children’s

Young children have the ability to
expand their repertoire of practice as they
participate in new situations. In addition,
they need to learn how to flt their skills to
the circumstances, and they are good at
doing it. For example, infants and chil-
dren who grow up in bilingual households
learn quickly to switch from one com-
munication system to the other, depend-
ing on the circumstances, such as which
parent they are talking to and whether the
children are at home or at school. They
can also learn when to attend widely or
focus narrowly, when to use their every-
day skills related to school or to use their

skills related to responsible contributions
in their family, which aspect of their gen-
eral knowledge of events is relevant to the
present situation, and many other cogni-
tive approaches.

When to use which approach is a com-
plex cognitive skill and is one of the most
important cognitive skills for children
to develop. Adults in some communities
help children learn to distinguish which
approach to use in which circumstance.
For example, Japanese preschool teachers
and mothers help young children notice
the boundaries between ways of doing
things at home versus at school (Ben-Ari
1996; Lebra 1994).

Developing ‡exible repertoires of prac-
tices is also key for adults who care for
children of different backgrounds. Teach-
ers and caregivers in the United States are
commonly taught about cultural styles of
learning that are presented as rigid ste-
reotypical categories. Sometimes teach-
ers are encouraged to treat children of
one background in one way and children
of another background in another way,
based on presumed cultural styles. For
example, people from some backgrounds
are regarded as more likely to collaborate
or more likely to learn holistically, rather
than analytically. But the idea of “cultural
styles” can be restrictive if we do not
recognize that young children, as well
as adults, can expand their repertoires of
practice and learn new ways (Gutiérrez
and Rogoff 2003).

Focusing on people’s repertoires of
practice is a more open, ‡exible ap-
proach. Although people with various
cultural experiences are likely to differ
in what they know and how they prefer
to do things, their knowledge and ways


of doing things are not built into their
ethnicity, race, or national background.
Adults using an open-minded approach—
trying to understand people’s likely
practices without pigeonholing people
into static categories—can help children
expand beyond practices of the home and
know which approach is appropriate for a
particular setting.

If different cultural practices are seen
as incompatible, this juxtaposition in
children’s lives may result in a mismatch
of practices—between the ways things are
done at home and at school. An unfortu-
nate result of treating different cultural
practices as incompatible, rather than
viewing them simply as different ways
that can be part of a repertoire, is that
children may be forced to choose between
their home practices and school practices.
Delgado-Gaitan (1990, 63) reported that
“As Spanish-speaking children moved
up the academic ladder and learned more
English, parents were distanced from
them and the schooling process. Some
parents reported that by the time the child
reached junior high school, they felt as if
they were ‘living with a stranger.’”

Infant/toddler care teachers who are
alert to the potential for differences
among young children based on the chil-
dren’s cultural experiences can be helpful
by ‡exibly guiding young children (not
pigeonholing or judging them) when
introducing the children to new experi-
ences. These infant/toddler care teachers
realize that what feels “natural” may sim-
ply re‡ect their own more familiar way of
doing things. They can help children learn
new practices in addition to the cultural
practices that the children are already
familiar with from their homes.

It would be ideal if an infant/toddler
care teacher could understand all the cul-
tural practices that the children they care
for are familiar with. But teachers are

already overburdened with responsibili-
ties, and learning about cultural practices
is a long process. In the meantime, teach-
ers can make progress in understanding
different cultural ways of the children
they serve by having an open mind and an
interest in learning.

A good way for infant/toddler care
teachers to learn more is to consult with
children’s family members to better
understand the children’s cultural experi-
ence. If teachers focus on children’s ac-
tual life experiences rather than children’s
ancestry, teachers may gain insights into
fostering children’s learning and develop-
ment. Teachers can try to flnd some regu-
larities in communities’ ways of doing
things while treating ideas about cultural
practices in a community as only guesses
about students’ familiar practices. Then
teachers can look, with an open mind, to
see whether particular individuals have
experience with the practices common
in the cultural communities suggested
by their ethnicity or race or community
(Gutiérrez and Rogoff 2003). Such an
open attitude allows teachers to learn
more about the repertoires of practice


that cultural groups or individual students
have developed in their lives. Infant/tod-
dler care teachers can learn about differ-
ent repertoires of practice along with the
children and families—not to “educate”
families as if they were ignorant, but
rather to recognize them as contributors
and collaborators in the development of
their children.

Infant/toddler care teachers can expand
their own repertoire of practices as they
help children expand their repertoire
to successfully navigate through life.
Openness to the idea that children can
be taught, develop, and learn effectively
in more than one way allows teachers to
learn ways that are different from their
own. This openness can lead to expanded
repertoires of practices for both teachers
and the young children in their care.


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Cognitive Development

“The last two decades of infancy re-
search have seen dramatic changes in the
way developmental psychologists char-
acterize the earliest stages of cognitive
development. The infant, once regarded
as an organism driven mainly by simple
sensorimotor schemes, is now seen as
possessing sophisticated cognitive skills
and even sophisticated concepts that
guide knowledge acquisition” (Madole
and Oakes 1999, 263).

“What we see in the crib is the greatest
mind that has ever existed, the most pow-
erful learning machine in the universe”
(Gopnik, Meltzoff, and Kuhl 1999, 1).

The term cognitive development refers
to the process of growth and change
in intellectual/mental abilities such as
thinking, reasoning and understanding.
It includes the acquisition and consoli-
dation of knowledge. Infants draw on
social-emotional, language, motor, and
perceptual experiences and abilities for
cognitive development. They are at-
tuned to relationships between features of
objects, actions, and the physical environ-
ment. But they are particularly attuned to
people. Parents, family members, friends,
teachers, and caregivers play a vital role
in supporting the cognitive develop-
ment of infants by providing the healthy
interpersonal or social-emotional context
in which cognitive development unfolds.

Note: Reprinted from the California Infant/Toddler
Learning & Development Foundations, pages 59–86,
with permission from the California Department of

Caring, responsive adults provide the
base from which infants can fully engage
in behaviors and interactions that pro-
mote learning. Such adults also serve as a
prime source of imitation.

Cultural context is important to young
children’s cognitive development. There
is substantial variation in how intelligence
is deflned within different cultures (Stern-
berg and Grigorenko 2004). As a result,
different aspects of cognitive functioning
or cognitive performance may be more
highly valued in some cultural contexts
than in others. For example, whereas pro-
cessing speed is an aspect of intelligence
that is highly valued within the pre-
dominant Western conceptualizations of
intelligence, “Ugandan villagers associate
intelligence with adjectives such as slow,
careful, and active” (Rogoff and Chavajay
1995, 865.). Aspects of intelligence that
have to do with social competence appear
to be seen as more important than speed
in some non-Western cultural contexts
(Sternberg and Grigorenko 2004). Cer-
tainly, it is crucial for early childhood
professionals to recognize the role that
cultural context plays in deflning and
setting the stage for children’s healthy
cognitive functioning.

Research has identifled a broad range
of cognitive competencies and described
the remarkable progression of cognitive
development during the early childhood
years. Experts in the fleld describe infants
as active, motivated, and engaged learners
who possess an impressive range of cog-


nitive competencies (National Research
Council and Institute of Medicine 2000)
and learn through exploration (Whitehurst
and Lonigan 1998). Infants demonstrate
natural curiosity. They have a strong drive
to learn and act accordingly. In fact, they
have been described as “born to learn”
(National Research Council and Institute
of Medicine 2000, 148).


Everyday experiences—for example,
crying and then being picked up or wav-
ing a toy and then hearing it rattle—pro-
vide opportunities for infants to learn
about cause and effect. “Even very young
infants possess expectations about physi-
cal events” (Baillargeon 2004, 89). This
knowledge helps infants better understand
the properties of objects, the patterns of
human behavior, and the relationship
between events and the consequences.
Through developing an understanding of
cause and effect, infants build their abili-
ties to solve problems, to make predic-
tions, and to understand the impact of
their behavior on others.

Spatial Relationships

Infants learn about spatial relationships
in a variety of ways; for example, explor-
ing objects with their mouths, tracking
objects and people visually, squeezing
into tight spaces, fltting objects into open-
ings, and looking at things from different
perspectives (Mangione, Lally, and Signer
1992). They spend much of their time ex-
ploring the physical and spatial aspects of
the environment, including the character-
istics of, and interrelationships between,
the people, objects, and the physical
space around them (Clements 2004).
The development of an understanding
of spatial relationships increases infants’
knowledge of how things move and flt in

space and the properties of objects (their
bodies and the physical environment).

Problem Solving

Infants exhibit a high level of interest
in solving problems. Even very young
infants will work to solve a problem,
for example, how to flnd their flngers in
order to suck on them (National Research
Council and Institute of Medicine 2000).
Older infants may solve the problem of
how to reach an interesting toy that is out
of reach by trying to roll toward it or by
gesturing to an adult for help. Infants and
toddlers solve problems by varied means,
including physically acting on objects,
using learning schemes they have devel-
oped, imitating solutions found by others,
using objects or other people as tools, and
using trial and error.


Imitation is broadly understood to
be a powerful way to learn. It has been
identifled as crucial in the acquisition of
cultural knowledge (Rogoff 1990) and
language. Imitation by newborns has been
demonstrated for adult facial expressions
(Meltzoff and Moore 1983), head move-
ments, and tongue protrusions (Melt-
zoff and Moore 1989). ”The flndings of
imitation in human newborns highlighted
predispositions to imitate facial and
manual actions, vocalizations and emo-
tionally laden facial expressions” (Bard
and Russell 1999, 93). Infant imitation
involves perception and motor processes
(Meltzoff and Moore 1999). The very
early capacity to imitate makes possible
imitation games in which the adult mir-
rors the child’s behavior, such as sticking
out one’s tongue or matching the pitch
of a sound the infant makes, and then the
infant imitates back. This type of interac-
tion builds over time as the infant and the

Cognitive Development


adult add elements and variations in their
imitation games.

Infants engage in both immediate imi-
tation and delayed imitation. Immediate
imitation occurs when infants observe and
immediately attempt to copy or mimic be-
havior. For example, immediate imitation
can be seen when an infant’s parent sticks
out his tongue and the infant sticks out his
tongue in response. As infants develop,
they are able to engage in delayed imita-
tion, repeating the behavior of others at a
later time after having observed it. An ex-
ample of delayed imitation is a child reen-
acting part of a parent’s exercise routine,
such as lifting a block several times as if
it were a weight. Butterworth (1999, 63)
sums up the importance of early imitation
in the following manner: “Modern re-
search has shown imitation to be a natural
mechanism of learning and communica-
tion which deserves to be at centre stage
in developmental psychology.”


The capacity to remember allows
infants and toddlers to differentiate be-
tween familiar and unfamiliar people and
objects, anticipate and participate in parts
of personal care routines, learn language,
and come to know the rules of social in-
teraction. The infant’s memory system is
quite remarkable and functions at a higher
level than was previously believed (Howe
and Courage 1993). Although age is not
the only determinant of memory function-
ing, as infants get older they are able to
retain information for longer periods of
time (Bauer 2004). Infants exhibit long-
term recall well before they are able to
articulate their past experiences verbally
(Bauer 2002b).

The emergence of memory is related
to the development of a neural network
with various components (Bauer 2002b).

Commenting on the different forms and
functions of early memory development,
Bauer (2002a, 131) states: “It is widely
believed that memory is not a unitary
trait but is comprised of different systems
or processes, which serve distinct func-
tions, and are characterized by funda-
mentally different rules of operation.”
Bauer (2002a, 145) later adds that recent
research counters earlier suggestions that
preschool-aged children demonstrate little
memory capacity and to speculations
that younger children and infants demon-
strate little or no memory capacity. Bauer
(2002a, 145) concludes: “It is now clear
that from early in life, the human organ-
ism stores information over the long term
and that the effects of prior experience are
apparent in behavior. In the flrst months
of life, infants exhibit recognition memo-
ry for all manner of natural and artiflcial

Number Sense

Number sense refers to children’s
concepts of numbers and the relationships
among number concepts. Research flnd-
ings indicate that infants as young as flve
months of age are sensitive to number and
are able to discriminate among small sets
of up to three objects (Starkey and Coo-
per 1980; Starkey, Spelke, and Gelman
1990). Infants demonstrate the ability
to quickly and accurately recognize the
quantity in a small set of objects without
counting. This ability is called subitizing.

According to one theoretical perspec-
tive, infants’ abilities to discriminate
among numbers, for example, two versus
three objects, does not re‡ect ”number
knowledge.” Rather, this early skill ap-
pears to be based on infants’ perceptual
abilities to “see” small arrangements of
number (Clements 2004; Carey 2001), or
on their ability to notice a change in the

Cognitive Development


general amount of objects they are seeing
(Mix, Huttenlocher, and Levine 2002).
The alternative view is that the infant’s
early sensitivity to number is numerical
in nature. In other words, infants have a
capacity to distinguish among numbers
and to reason about these numbers in
numerically meaningful ways (Wynn
1998; Gallistel and Gelman 1992). In
some sense, they know that three objects
are more than one object. Whether early
number sensitivity is solely perceptual
in nature or also numerical in nature,
developmental theorists agree that it sets
the foundation for the later development
of children’s understanding of number
and quantity.

As children’s understanding and use of
language increases, they begin to assimi-
late language based on number knowl-
edge to their nonverbal knowledge of
number and quantity (Baroody 2004). Be-
tween 18 and 24 months of age, children
use relational words to indicate “more”
or “same” as well as number words. They
begin to count aloud, typically starting
with “one” and continuing with a stream
of number names (Fuson 1988; Gel-
man and Gallistel 1978), although they
may omit some numbers and not use
the conventional number list (e.g. “one,
two, three, seven, nine, ten”). Around the
same age, children also begin to count
small collections of objects; however,
they may point to the same item twice
or say a number word without pointing
to an object. And they begin to construct
an understanding of cardinality (i.e., the
last number word is used when counting
represents the total number of objects).

Classiflcation refers to the infant÷s de-
veloping ability to group, sort, categorize,
connect, and have expectations of objects

and people according to their attributes.
Three-month-olds demonstrate that they
expect people to act differently than ob-
jects (Legerstee 1997). They also demon-
strate the ability to discriminate between
smiling and frowning expressions (Bar-
rera and Maurer 1981). Mandler (2000)
distinguishes between two types of cat-
egorization made by infants: perceptual
and conceptual. Perceptual categorization
has to do with similarities or differences
infants sense, such as similarities in visual
appearance. Conceptual categorization
has to do with grouping based on what
objects do or how they act. According to
Mareschal and French (2000, 59), “the
ability to categorize underlies much of
cognition.‘ Classiflcation is a funda –
mental skill in both problem solving and
symbolic play.

Symbolic Play

Symbolic play is a common early
childhood behavior also called “pre-
tend play, make-believe play, fantasy
play . . . or imaginative play” (Gowen
1995, 75). Representational thinking is
a core component of symbolic play. At
around eight months of age, infants have
learned the functions of common objects
(for example, holding a play telephone
to “hear” Grandma’s voice). By the time
children are around 18 months of age,
they use one object to stand for, or repre-
sent, another. For example, an 18-month-
old may pretend a banana is a telephone.
At around 36 months, children engage in
make-believe play in which they repre-
sent an object without having that object,
or a concrete substitute, available. For
example, they may make a “phone call”
by holding their hand up to their ear.

As children approach 36 months of
age, they increasingly engage in pre-
tend play in which they reenact familiar

Cognitive Development


events. Make-believe play allows older
infants to try to better understand social
roles, engage in communication with
others, and revisit and make sense of
past experiences. Research suggests that
engaging in pretend play appears to be
related to young children’s developing
understanding of other people’s feelings
and beliefs (Youngblade and Dunn 1995).
Outdoor environments, such as sandboxes
(Moser 1995) or play structures, offer
rich opportunities for symbolic play or
pretending. Although outdoor play areas
are often considered most in terms of mo-
tor behavior or physical activity, they also
offer special opportunities for symbolic
play (Perry 2003). For example, children
playing outside may pretend to garden or
may use a large wheeled toy to reenact
going on a shopping trip.

Attention Maintenance

Attention maintenance has been
described as a form of cognitive self-reg-
ulation. It refers to the infant’s growing
ability to exercise control over his atten-
tion or concentration (Bronson 2000).
Attention maintenance permits infants to
gather information, to sustain learning
experiences, to observe, and to problem-
solve. Infants demonstrate attention
maintenance when they attend to people,
actions, and things they flnd interesting
even in the presence of distractions. The
ability to maintain attention/concentra-
tion is an important self-regulatory skill

related to learning. There is signiflcant
variability in attentiveness even among
typically developing children (Ruff and
Rothbart 1996).

Understanding of Personal Care

Personal care activities are a routine
part of the young child’s daily life. They
also present signiflcant opportunities for
learning in both child care settings and at
home. Infants’ growing abilities to antici-
pate, understand, and participate in these
routines represent a signiflcant aspect of
their cognitive functioning, one related to
their abilities to understand their relation-
ships with others, their abilities to take
care of themselves, and their skills in
group participation. At flrst, young infants
respond to the adult’s actions during these
routines. Then they begin to participate
more actively (O’Brien 1997). Under-
standing the steps involved in personal
care routines and anticipating next steps
are skills related to the cognitive founda-
tions of attention maintenance, imitation,
memory, cause-and-effect, and problem
solving. The cultural perspectives of the
adults who care for infants are related
to their expectations for the degree of
independence or self-initiation children
demonstrate during personal care rou-
tines. Depending on their cultural experi-
ences, children may vary greatly in their
understanding of personal care routines.

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Cause-and-Effect
The developing understanding that one event brings about another

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, chil- At around 18 months of age, children At around 36 months of age, children
dren perform simple actions to make combine simple actions to cause demonstrate an understanding of
things happen, notice the relation- things to happen or change the way cause and effect by making predic-
ships between events, and notice the they interact with objects and people tions about what could happen and
effects of others on the immediate in order to see how it changes the
environment. outcome. to happen. (California Department of

Education [CDE] 2005)

For example, the child may: For example, the child may:

For example, the child may:

• Shake a toy, hear the sound it • Try to wind the handle of a popup • Communicate, “She misses her
makes, and then shake it again. toy after not being able to open the mommy” when a child cries after her
(5.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 58) top. (15 mos.; Brazelton 1992, 161) mother leaves in the morning.

• Loudly bang a spoon on the table, • Drop different objects from various • Make a prediction about what will
notice the loud sound, and do it heights to see how they fall and to happen next in the story when the
again. (By 7 mos.; American Acad- hear the noise they make when they infant care teacher asks, “What do
emy of Pediatrics 2004, 210; 8 mos.; land. (12–18 mos.; Ginsburg and you think will happen next?”
Meisels and others 2003, 21) Opper 1988, 56) • Answer the infant care teacher when

• Watch the infant care teacher wind • Build a tower with the big cardboard she asks, “What do you think your
up a music box and, when the music blocks and kick it over to make it fall, mom’s going to say when you give
stops, touch her hand to get her to then build it again and knock it down her your picture?”
make it start again. (5–9 mos.; Parks with a hand. (18 mos.; Meisels and • See a bandage on a peer’s knee
2004, 58) others 2003, 37) and ask, “What happened?”

• Splash hands in water and notice • Use a wooden spoon to bang on • Push the big green button to make
how his face gets wet. (4–10 mos.; different pots and pans, and notice the tape recorder play. (By 36 mos.;
Ginsburg and Opper 1988, 43) how the infant care teacher re- American Academy of Pediatrics

sponds when the child hits the pans • Push a button on the push-button 2004, 308)
harder and makes a louder noise.
(18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, • Walk quietly when the baby is sleep-(6–9 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003)
37) ing.

• Put objects into a clear container,
turn it over and watch the objects fall

Meisels and others 2003, 21)

• Clap hands and then look at a par-
ent to get her to play pat-a-cake.
(8 mos.; Meisels and others 2003,

Chart continues on next page.

Cognitive Development



Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

• Hear a loud noise and turn head
in the direction of the noise. (3.5–5
mos.; Parks 2004, 37)

• Explore toys with hands and mouth.
(3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

• Move body in a rocking motion
to get the infant care teacher to
continue rocking. (4–5 mos.; Parks
2004, 57; Birth–8 mos.; Lerner and
Dombro 2000)

• Kick legs in the crib and notice that
the mobile up above jiggles with
the kicking movements. (4–5 mos.;
American Academy of Pediatrics
2004, 209)

• Attend to a toy while exploring it with
the hands. (Scaled score for 9 for
5:16–6:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 55)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

• Hold a block in each hand and bang
the blocks together. (8.5–12 mos.;
Parks 2004)

• Keep turning an object around to

or the open side of a nesting cup.
(9–12 mos.;

Parks 2004, 65)

• Cry and anticipate that the infant
care teacher will come to help.
(9–12 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo

• Drop an object repeatedly from the

or to get the infant care teacher to
come pick it up. (9–12 mos.; Parks
2004, 65)

• Watch the infant care teacher
squeeze the toy in the water table to
make water squirt out, then try the
same action. (Scaled score of 10 for
13:16–14:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 61)

• Hand a toy car to a family member
after it stops moving and the child

move again. (12–15 mos.; Parks
2005, 59)

• Close eyes and turn face away from
the water table before splashing with
hands. (12 mos.; Meisels and others
2003, 28)

• Continue to push the button on a toy
that is broken and appear confused
to frustrated when nothing happens.
(12 mos.; Meisels and others 2003,

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

• Roll cars of different sizes down
the slide. (18–24 mos.; Lerner and
Ciervo 2003)

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Spatial Relationships
The developing understanding of how things move and flt in space

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, At around 18 months of age, children At around 36 months of age, children
children move their bodies, explore use trial and error to discover how
the size and shape of objects, and move in space without having to try
observe people and objects as they mos.; Parks 2004, 81) out every possible solution, and show
move through space. understanding of words used to de-

scribe size and locations in space.

For example, the child may: For example, the child may: For example, the child may:

• Use vision or hearing to track the • Go around the back of a chair to • Hand the big truck to a peer who
path of someone walking by. (5.5–8 get the toy car that rolled behind it asks for the big one. (Scaled score
mos.; Parks 2004, 64; birth–8 mos.; instead of trying to follow the car’s of 10 for 28:16–30:15 mos.; Bayley
Lally and others 1995, 78–79) path by squeezing underneath the 2006, 95)

chair. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004 67; • Watch a ball roll away after acciden- • Use words such as big and little.
8–18 mos.; Lally and others 1995, tally knocking it. (5.5–8 mos., Parks (25–30 mos.; Parks 2004, 82; 36
78–79)2004, 64) mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 73)

• Use two hands to pick up a big • Hold one stacking cup in each hand. • Put together a puzzle with three to
truck, but only one hand to pick up a (6.5–7.5 mos.; Parks 2004, 50) four separate pieces. (By 36 mos.;
small one. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004, American Academy of Pediatrics • Put toys into a clear container, dump 81) 2004, 308; 30–36 mos.; Parks 2004,

• Put a smaller nesting cup inside a 68)up again. (8 mos.; Meisels and oth-
larger cup after trying it the other ers 2003, 21) • Get the serving spoon off the tray
way around. (12–18 mos.; Parks when the infant care teacher asks
2004, 81) for the big spoon, even though there

• Choose a large cookie off the plate are small spoons on the tray. (30–36
instead of a smaller one. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 83)
mos.; Parks 2004, 81) • Stack rings onto a post with the

• Put the child-sized hat on his head biggest ring on the bottom and the
and the larger hat on the infant care smallest ring on the top, without
teacher’s head. (12–18 mos.; Parks much trial and error. (30–36 mos.;
2004, 81) Parks 2004, 83; 24–36 mos.; Engag-

ing Young Children 2004, 44)• Stack three nesting cups inside one
another, after trying some combina- • Point to a peer’s stick when the
tions that do not work. (12–19 mos.; infant care teacher asks which stick
Parks 2004, 82) is longer. (33–36 mos.; Parks 2004,

83; 24–36 mos.; Engaging Young • Put one or two pegs into the peg-
Children 2004, 53)board. (14:16–15:15 mos.; Bayley

2006, 62) • Understand requests that include
simple prepositions; for example, • Roll a ball back and forth with the in-
“Please put your cup on the table” or fant care teacher. (18 mos.; Meisels
“Please get your blanket out of your and others 2003, 38)
back pack.” (By 36 mos.; Coplan

• Fit pieces into a puzzle board. (18 1993, 2; by 36 mos.; American
mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 39) Academy of Pediatrics 2004; 24–36

mos.; Engaging Young Children •

• Move around an obstacle when
2004, 82) going from one place to another.

(24–36 mos.; American Academy of
Pediatrics 2004, 303)

Chart continues on next page.
Cognitive Development


Spatial Relationships
Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Look at her own hand. (Scaled score
of 9 for 4:06–4:15 mos.; Bayley
2006, 53)

• Reach for a nearby toy and try to
grasp it. (4.5–5.5 mos.; Parks 2004;
scaled score of 10 for 4:16–4:25
mos.; Bayley 2006, 54)

• Explore toys with hands and mouth.
(3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)
Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Roll a car back and forth on the

• Dump toys out of a container. (9–11
mos.; Parks 2004, 64)

• Turn a toy to explore all sides to

Parks 2004, 65)

• Throw or drop a spoon or cup from
the table and watch as it falls. (9–12
mos.; Parks 2004, 65)

• Take rings off a stacking ring toy.
(10–11 mos.; Parks 2004, 65)

• Move over and between cushions

American Academy of Pediatrics
2004, 234)

• Crawl down a few carpeted stairs.
(Around 12 mos.; American Acad-
emy of Pediatrics 2004, 234)

• See a ball roll under the couch and
then reach under the couch. (12–13
mos.; Parks 2004, 66)

• Stack one block on top of another
one. (12–16 mos.; Parks 2004, 66)

• Put one or two rings back onto the
post of a stacking ring toy. (13–15
mos.; Parks 2004, 66)

• Put the circle piece of a puzzle into
the round opening, after trying the
triangle opening and the square
opening. (Scaled score of 10 for
15:16–16:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 63)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Complete a puzzle of three separate
cut-out pieces, such as a circle,
square, and triangle. (Scaled score
of 10 for 19:16–20:15 mos.; Bayley
2006, 66)

• Fit many pegs into a pegboard.
(Scaled score of 10 for 21:16–22:15
mos.; Bayley 2006, 68)

• Turn a book right-side up after real-
izing that it is upside down. (18–24
mos.; Parks 2004)

• Fit four nesting cups in the correct
order, even if it takes a couple of
tries. (19–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 82)

• Assemble a two-piece puzzle; for

into two pieces. (Scaled score of 10
for 23:16–24:15 mos.; Bayley 2006,

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Problem Solving
The developing ability to engage in a purposeful effort to reach a goal

or flgure out how something works

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, At around 18 months of age, chil- At around 36 months of age, children
children use simple actions to try to dren use a number of ways to solve solve some problems without having
solve problems involving objects, problems: physically trying out pos- to physically try out every possible
their bodies, or other people. solution and may ask for help when

works; using objects as tools; watch- needed. (By 36 mos.; American
ing someone else solve the problem Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 308)
and then applying the same solution;
or gesturing or vocalizing to someone
else for help

For example, the child may: For example, the child may: For example, the child may:

• Shake, bang, and squeeze toys • Pull the string of a pull toy to get it • Ignore the stick that is much too
repeatedly to make the sounds closer even when the toy gets mo- short to reach a desired object and
happen again and again. (5.5–8 mentarily stuck on something. (18 choose a stick that looks as if it may
mos.; Parks 2004, 58; by 12 mos.; mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 38) be long enough.
American Academy of Pediatrics • Use the handle of a toy broom to • Stack only the cubes with holes in
2004, 243) dislodge a ball under the bookshelf. them on the stacking post, ignor-

• Reach for a ball as it rolls away. (8–18 mos.; Lally and others 1995, ing the cube-shaped blocks without
(5.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 64) 78–79) holes that got mixed into the bin.

(18–36 mos.; Lally and others 1995, • Vocalize to get the infant care • Bring a small stool over to reach a
78–79)teacher’s attention. (6.5–8 mos.; toy on top of a shelf, having ob-

Parks 2004) served the infant care teacher do it. • Place the triangle piece into the
(8–18 mos.; Lally and others 1995, • Pull the string on a toy to make it
78–79) in the round or square hole. (By 36 come closer. (8 mos.; Meisels and

mos.; American Academy of Pediat-others 2003, 21) • Look at a plate of crackers that is
rics 2004, 306)out of reach and then at the infant • Focus on a desired toy that is just

care teacher, and communicate • Ask the infant care teacher for help out of reach while repeatedly reach-
“more.” (Scaled score of 10 for with the lid of a jar of paint. (36 ing for it. (5–9 mos.; Parks 2004, 49)
16:16–17:15 mos.; Bayley 2006; mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 75)

• Turn the bottle over to get the nipple 14–20 mos.; Parks 2004) • Ask a peer to help move the train in his mouth.
• Hand the infant care teacher a tracks over so that the child can

• Lift up a scarf to search for a toy that puzzle piece that the child is having
is hidden underneath. (By 8 mos.; trouble with. mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 75)
American Academy of Pediatrics

• Ask or gesture for the infant care 2004, 244)
teacher to help tie the child’s shoe-
lace. (36 mos.; Meisels and others
2003, 75)

Chart continues on next page.
Cognitive Development


Problem Solving
Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:
• Explore toys with hands and mouth.
(3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

• Reach for a second toy when al-
ready holding on to one toy. (5–6.5
mos.; Parks 2004, 49)

• Hold a toy up to look at it while
exploring it with the hands. (Scaled
score of 9 for 5:16–6:15 mos.; Bay-
ley 2006, 55)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Crawl over a pile of soft blocks to
get to the big red ball. (8–11 mos.;
Parks 2004)

• Figure out how toys work by repeat-
ing the same actions over and over
again. (9–12 mos.; Lerner and
Ciervo 2003)

• Pull the blanket in order to obtain the
toy that is lying out of reach on top
of the blanket. (8–10 mos.; Parks

• Crawl around the legs of a chair
to get to the ball that rolled behind
it. (9–12 mos.; Parks 2004, 50; 18
mos.; Lally and others 1995, 78–79)

• Keep turning an object around to

ror or the open side of a nesting cup.
(9–12 mos.; Parks 2004, 65)

• Try to hold on to two toys with one
hand while reaching for a third
desired toy, even if not successful.
(Scaled score of 9 for 10:16–11:15
mos.; Bayley 2006, 58)

• Unscrew the lid of a plastic jar to get
items out of it. (Scaled score of 10
for 14:16–15:15 mos.; Bayley 2006,

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Use a stick to dig in the sandbox

(17–24 mos.; Parks 2004)

• Use a tool to solve a problem, such
as using the toy broom to get a car
out from under the couch, using a
wooden puzzle base as a tray to
carry all the puzzle pieces to another
place, or using the toy shopping cart
to pick up the wooden blocks and
move them to the shelf to be put
away. (17–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 52)

• Move to the door and try to turn the
knob after a parent leaves for work
in the morning. (21–23 mos.; Parks
2004, 53)

• Imitate a problem-solving method
that the child has observed some-
one else do before. (Scaled score
of 10 for 20:16–21:15 mos.; Bayley
2006, 66)

• Tug on shoelaces in order to untie

• Complete a puzzle with three sepa-
rate cut-out pieces, such as a circle,
square, and triangle, even though
the child may try to put the triangle

it in the triangle opening. (Scaled
score of 10 for 19:16–20:15 mos.;
Bayley 2006, 66)

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Imitation
The developing ability to mirror, repeat, and practice

the actions of others, either immediately or later

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around 8 months of age, children At around 18 months of age, children At around 36 months of age, children
imitate simple actions and expres- imitate others’ actions that have more reenact multiple steps of others’
sions of others during interactions than one step and imitate simple ac- actions that they have observed at

tions that they have observed others an earlier time. (30–36 mos.; Parks
doing at an earlier time. (Parks 2004;

2004, 29)


For example, the child may: For example, the child may: For example, the child may:

• Copy the infant care teacher’s • Imitate simple actions that she has • Reenact the steps of a family cel-
movements when playing pat-a-cake observed adults doing; for example, ebration that the child attended last
and peek-a-boo. (Coplan 1993, 3) take a toy phone out of a purse and weekend. (29–36 mos.; Hart and

say hello as a parent does. (12–18 Risley 1999, 118–19)• Imitate a familiar gesture, such as
mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003)clapping hands together or patting • Pretend to get ready for work or

a doll’s back, after seeing the infant • Pretend to sweep with a child sized school by making breakfast, packing
care teacher do it. (7–8 mos.; Parks broom, just as a family member lunch, grabbing a purse, and com-
2004) does at home. (15–18 mos.; Parks municating good-bye before heading

2004, 27) out the door. (30–36 mos.; Parks • Notice how the infant care teacher
2004, 29)makes a toy work and then push • Rock the baby doll to sleep, just as

the same button to make it happen a parent does with the new baby.
again. (6–9 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo (15–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 27)
2003) • Imitate using the toy hammer as a

parent did. (18 mos.; Meisels and
others 2003, 38)

Chart continues on next page.
Cognitive Development


Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Listen to the infant care teacher talk
during a diaper change and then
babble back when she pauses.
(5.5–6.5 mos.; Parks 2004, 125)

• Copy the intonation of the infant
care teacher’s speech when bab-
bling. (7 mos.; Parks 2004)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Shrug shoulders after the infant care
teacher does it. (9–11 mos.; Parks
2004; by 12 mos.; American Acad-
emy of Pediatrics 2004, 243)

• Imitate sounds or words immediately
after the infant care teacher makes
them. (9 mos.; Apfel and Provence
2001; 12–18 mos.; Hulit and Howard
2006, 122; 17 mos.; Hart and Risley
1999, 84)

• Copy the infant care teacher in
waving “bye-bye” to a parent as he
leaves the room. (12 mos.; Meisels
and others 2003, 26)

• Copy an adult’s action that is unfa-
miliar but that the child can see her-
self do, such as wiggling toes, even
though it may take some practice
before doing it exactly as the adult
does. (9–14 mos.; Parks 2004, 32)

• Watch the infant care teacher
squeeze the toy in the water table to
make water squirt out, then try the
same action. (Scaled score of 10 for
13:16–14:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 61)

• Imitate the hand motion of the infant
care teacher. (Scaled score of 10
for 14:16–15:15 mos.; Bayley 2006,

• Point to or indicate an object, pay
attention as the infant care teacher
labels the object, and then try to
repeat the label. (11–16 mos.; Hart
and Risley 1999, 82)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Repeat the most important word of a
sentence the infant care teacher has
just communicated. (17–19 mos.;
Parks 2004)

• Imitate the last word or last few
words of what an adult just said; for
example say, cup or a cup after the
infant care teacher says, “That’s
a cup” or say, “Daddy bye-bye”
after the mother says, “Daddy went
bye-bye.” (22 mos.; Hart and Risley
1999, 99; 17–19 mos.; Parks 2004,

• Copy several actions that the child
cannot see himself doing, such as
wrinkling the nose. (17–20 mos.;
Parks 2004, 32)

• Say, “beep, beep, beep, beep” after
hearing the garbage truck back up
outside. (18-21 mos.; Parks 2004)

• Act out a few steps of a familiar rou-

bathe a baby doll, and dry the doll.
(18–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 28)

• Imitate words that the adult has
expressed to the child at an earlier
time, not immediately after hearing
them. (24–27 mos.; Parks 2004;
19–28 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999,

• Imitate two new actions of the infant
care teacher; for example, put one
hand on head and point with the
other hand. (26:16–27:15 mos.;
Bayley 2006, 71)

• Imitate the way a family member
communicates by using the same
gestures, unique words, and intona-

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Memory
The developing ability to store and later retrieve information about past experiences

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around 8 months of age, children At around 18 months of age, children At around 36 months of age, chil-
recognize familiar people, objects, remember typical actions of people, dren anticipate the series of steps in
and routines in the environment and the location of objects, and steps of familiar activities, events, or routines;
show awareness that familiar people routines. remember characteristics of the
still exist even when they are no environment or people in it; and may
longer physically present.

or act them out. (24–36 mos.; Seigel
1999, 33)

For example, the child may: For example, the child may: For example, the child may:

• Turn toward the front door when • Get a blanket from the doll cradle • Communicate, “Big slide” after a trip
hearing the doorbell ring or toward because that is where baby blankets to neighborhood park. (24–36 mos.;
the phone when hearing the phone are usually stored, after the infant Seigel 1999, 33)
ring. (8 mos.; Meisels and others care teacher says, “The baby is • Tell a parent, “Today we jumped in
2003, 20) tired. Where’s her blanket?” (15–18 the puddles” when picked up from

mos.; Parks 2004, 67)• school. (Siegel 1999, 34)
steps out of the child care room dur- • Anticipate and participate in the • Recall an event in the past, such as
ing drop-off in the morning. (8 mos.; steps of a nap routine. (18 mos.; the time a family member came to
Meisels and others 2003, 20) Fogel 2001, 368) school and made a snack. (18–36

• Watch the infant care teacher plac- mos.; Siegel 1999, 46)
ing a toy inside one of three pots • Identify which child is absent from
with lids and reach for the correct lid school that day by looking around
when the teacher asks where the toy
went. (8–18 mos.; Lally and others is missing. (18–36 mos.; Lally and
1995, 78–79) others 1995, 78–79)

• Continue to search for an object • Act out a trip to the grocery store by
even though it is hidden under getting a cart, putting food in it, and
something distracting, such as a soft paying for the food. (24 mos.; Bauer
blanket or a crinkly piece of paper. and Mandler 1989)

• See a photo of a close family mem- • Get her pillow out of the cubby, in
ber and say his name or hug the anticipation of naptime as soon as

• Go to the cubby to get his blanket
that is inside the diaper bag.

Chart continues on next page.
Cognitive Development


Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:
• Explore toys with hands and mouth.
(3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

• Find a rattle hidden under a blanket
when only the handle is showing.
(4–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 42)

bottle falls off table. (Scaled score
of 10 for 5:06–5:15 mos.; Bayley
2006, 55; 8 mos.; Meisels and oth-
ers 2003, 20; birth–8 mos.; Lally and
others 1995, 72)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Ask for a parent after morning drop-
off. (9–12 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo

• Reach in the infant care teacher’s
pocket after watching him hide a toy
there. (11–13 mos.; Parks 2004, 43)

• Look or reach inside a container of
small toys after seeing the infant
care teacher take the toys off the
table and put them in the container.
(Scaled score of 10 for 8:16–9:15
mos.; Bayley 2006, 57; birth–8 mos.;
Lally and others 1995, 78–79)

• Lift a scarf to search for a toy after
seeing the infant care teacher hide it
under the scarf. (By 8 mos.; Ameri-
can Academy of Pediatrics 2004,
244; 8 mos.; Kail 1990, 112)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Say “meow” when the infant care
teacher points to the picture of the
cat and asks what the cat says.
(12–24 mos.; Siegel 1999, 32)

• Give another child an object that
belongs to her. (12–24 mos.; Siegel
1999, 32)

• Remember where toys should be
put away in the classroom. (21–24
mos.; Parks 2004, 318)

• Find a hidden toy, even when it is
hidden under two or three blankets.
(By 24 mos.; American Academy of
Pediatrics 2004, 273)

• Express “mama” when the infant
care teacher asks who packed the
child’s snack.

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Number Sense
The developing understanding of number and quantity

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, At around 18 months of age, children At around 36 months of age, chil-
children usually focus on one object demonstrate understanding that there dren show some understanding that
or person at a time, yet they may at are different amounts of things. numbers represent how many and
times hold two objects, one in each demonstrate understanding of words
hand. that identify how much. (By 36 mos.;

American Academy of Pediatrics
2004, 308)

For example, the child may: For example, the child may: For example, the child may:

• Hold one block in each hand, then • Communicate “more” and point to • Pick out one object from a box or
drop one of them when the infant a bowl of apple slices. (18 mos.; point to the picture with only one of
care teacher holds out a third block Meisels and others 2003, 37) something. (Scaled score of 10 for
for the child to hold. (6.5–7.5 mos.; 35:16–36:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 97; • Shake head “no” when offered more
Parks 2004, 50) 24–30 mos.; Parks 2004)pasta. (18 mos.; Meisels and others

• Watch a ball as it rolls away after 2003, 37) • Reach into bowl and take out two
hitting it with her hand. (5.5–8 mos.; pieces of pear when the infant • Make a big pile of trucks and a little
Parks 2004, 64) care teacher says, “Just take two.” pile of trucks.

(30–36 mos.; Parks 2004)• Explore one toy at a time by shak- • Use hand motions or words to indi-
ing, banging, or squeezing it. (5.5–8 • Start counting with one, sometimes
mos.; Parks 2004, 58; 8 mos.; pointing to the same item twice (12–19 mos.; Parks 2004, 122)
Meisels and others 2003, 21; birth–8 when counting, or using numbers
mos.; Lally and others 1995, 78–79) • Put three cars in a row. out of order; for example, “one, two,

Engag-• Notice when someone walks in the
ing Young Children 2004, 178)room.

of items. (around 36 mos.; Coplan
1993, 3)

• Look at a plate and quickly respond
“two,” without having to count, when
the infant care teacher asks how
many pieces of cheese there are.
(36 mos.; Engaging Young Children
2004, 178)

“Show me two” or “How old are
you?” (36 mos.; Engaging Young
Children 2004, 178; by 36 mos.;
American Academy of Pediatrics
2004, 308)

• Identify “more” with collections of
up to four items, without needing
to count them. (36 mos.; Engaging
Young Children 2004, 31 and 180)

• –
nicate how many, such as a little or
a lot. (Hulit and Howard 2006, 186)

Chart continues on next page.
Cognitive Development


Number Sense
Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:
• Explore toys with hands and mouth.
(3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

• Reach for second toy but may not
grasp it when already holding one
toy in the other hand. (5–6.5 mos.;
Parks 2004, 49; scaled score of 10
for 5:16–6:15 mos.; Bayley 2006,

• Transfer a toy from one hand to the
other. (5.5–7 mos.; Parks 2004)

• Reach for, grasp, and hold onto a
toy with one hand when already
holding a different toy in the other
hand. (Scaled score of 10 for
6:16–7:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 56)

• Track visually the path of a moving
object. (6–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 64)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Try to hold onto two toys with one
hand while reaching for a third
desired toy, even if not successful.
(Scaled score of 9 for 10:16–11:15
mos.; Bayley 2006, 58; 8–10 mos.;
Parks 2004, 50)

• Hold a block in each hand and bang
them together. (8.5–12 mos.; Parks

• Put several pegs into a plastic
container and then dump them into a
pile. (12–13 mos.; Parks 2004, 65)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Get two cups from the cupboard
when playing in the housekeeping
area with a friend. (21 mos.; Mix,
Huttenlocher, and Levine 2002)

• Look at or point to the child with
one piece of apple left on his napkin
when the infant care teacher asks,
“Who has just one piece of apple?”
(24–30 mos.; Parks 2004, 74)

• Give the infant care teacher one
cracker from a pile of many when
she asks for “one.” (25–30 mos.;
Parks 2004; scaled score of 10 for
28:16–30:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 73)

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Classification
The developing ability to group, sort, categorize, connect, and have

expectations of objects and people according to their attributes

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, At around 18 months of age, children At around 36 months of age, chil-
children distinguish between familiar show awareness when objects are in dren group objects into multiple
and unfamiliar people, places, and some way connected to each other, piles based on one attribute at a
objects and explore the differences match two objects that are the same, time, put things that are similar but
between them. (Barrera and Mauer and separate a pile of objects into not identical into one group, and
1981) two groups based on one attribute. may label each grouping, even

(Mandler and McDonough 1998) though sometimes these labels are
overgeneralized. (36 mos.; Mandler
and McDonough 1993)

For example, the child may: For example, the child may: For example, the child may:

• Explore how one toy feels and then • Look at the crayons before choosing • Identify a few colors when they are
explore how another toy feels. color. (12-18 mos.; Parks 2004, 77) named; for example, get a red ball

from the bin of multicolored balls • Stare at an unfamiliar person and • Choose usually to play with the blue
when the infant care teacher asks move toward a familiar person. ball even though there I a red one
for the red one. (Scaled score of 10 just like it. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004,
for 34:16–36 mos.; Bayley 2006, 97; 77)
33 mos.+; Parks 2004, 79)

• Make three piles of tangrams in vari-with toy dishes. (15–18 mos.; Parks

ous shapes, such as a circle, square 2004, 77)
and triangle. (30–36 mos.; Parks

• Pack the baby doll’s blanket, brush, 2004, 79)
bottle, and clothes into a backpack.

• Pick two big pears from a bowl con-(15–19 mos.; Parks 2004, 77)
taining two big pears and two small

• Match two identical toys; for ex- pears, even if the big pears are dif-
ferent colors. (Scaled score of 10 for

the infant care teacher asks, “Can 30:16–33;15 mos.; Bayley 2004, 74)

• Sort primary-colored blocks into (15-19 mos.; Parks 2004, 77)
three piles; a red pile, a yellow pile,

• Place all toy cars on one side of the and a blue one. (33 mos.+; Parks
rug and all blocks on the other side. 2004, 79; 32 mos.; Bayley 2006.)
(15–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 77)

• Point to different pictures of houses
in a book even though all of the
houses look different. (30–36 mos.;
Parks 2004, 79)

• Put all the soft stuffed animals in
one pile and all the hard plastic toy
animals in another pile and label the
piles “soft animals: and “hard ani-
mals.” (18–36 mos.; Lally and others
1995, 78-79)

• Call all four-legged animals at the
farm “cows,” even though some are
actually sheep and others horses.
(18-36 mos.; Lally and others 1995,

Chart continues on next page.
Cognitive Development



Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:
• Explore toys with hands and mouth.
(3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

• Bang a toy on the table. (5.5–7
mos.; Parks 2004, 25)

• Touch different objects (e.g., hard or
soft) differently.

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:
• Roll a car back and forth on the

Parks 2004, 26)

• Use two items that go together; for
example, brush a doll’s hair with a
brush, put a spoon in a bowl, or use
a hammer to pound an object. (9–15
mos.; Parks 2004, 26–27; by 12
mos.; American Academy of Pediat-
rics 2004, 243)

• Put the red blocks together when
the infant care teacher asks, “Which
blocks go together?”

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Point to or indicate the realistic-look-
ing plastic cow when the infant care
teacher holds up a few toy animals
and says, “Who says ‘moo’?” (18–22
mos.; Parks 2004, 85)

• Sort three different kinds of toys;
for example, put the puzzle pieces
in the puzzle box, the blocks in the
block bin, and the toy animals in the
basket during clean-up time. (19–24
mos.; Parks 2004, 77)

• Show understanding of what familiar
objects are supposed to be used
for, such as knowing that a hat is
for wearing or a tricycle is for riding.
(Scaled score of 10 for 23:16–25
mos.; Bayley 2006, 93)

• Pick a matching card from a pile
of cards. (Scaled score of 10 for
24:16–25 mos.; Bayley 2006, 70)

• Point to or indicate all the green
cups at the lunch table. (26 mos.;
Bayley 2006)

• Call the big animals “mama” and
the small animals “baby.” (27 mos.;
Bayley 2006)

• Help the infant care teacher sort
laundry into two piles; whites and
colors. (28 mos.; Hart and Risley
1999, 95)

• Put the red marker back in the red
can, the blue marker back in the
blue can, and the yellow marker

coloring. (Scaled score of 10 for
26:16–28:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 71)

• Match one shape to another shape.
(26-29 mos.; Parks 2004, 78; 26–29
mos.; Parks 2004)

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Symbolic Play
The developing ability to use actions, objects, or ideas to represent

other actions, objects, or ideas

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around 8 months of age, children At around 18 months of age, children At around 36 months of age, children
become familiar with objects and ac- use one object to represent another engage in make-believe play involv-
tions through active exploration. Chil- object and engage in one or two ing several sequenced steps, as-
dren also build knowledge of people, simple actions of pretend play. signed roles, and an overall plan and
action, objects and ideas through sometimes pretend by imagining an
observation. (Fenson and others object without needing the concrete
1976; Rogoff and others 2003) object present. (30–36 mos.; Parks

2004, 29)
For example, the child may: For example, the child may: For example, the child may:

• Cause toys to make noise by shak- • Pretend to drink from an empty cup • Assign roles to self and others when
ing, banging and squeezing them. by making slurping noises and say- playing in the dramatic play area
(5.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 58; by 12 (for example, “I’ll be the daddy, you
mos.; American Academy of Pediat- 39) be the baby”), even though the child
rics 2004, 243) may not stay in her role throughout • Begin to engage in pretend play

the play sequence. (30–36 mos.; • by using a play spoon to stir in the
Parks 2004, 29; 24 mos.; Segal (6–11 mos.; Parks 2004, 26) kitchen area. (12–18 mos.; Lerner
2004, 43)and Ciervo 2003)

• Line up a row of chairs and com-• Pretend that the banana is a tele-
municate “All aboard! The train is phone by picking it up, holding it to
leaving.” (36 mos.; Vygotsky 1978, the ear, and saying, “Hi!” (12–18
111)mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003)

• Use two markers to represent • Laugh at an older brother when he
people in the dollhouse by moving puts a bowl on his head like a hat.
them around as if they are walking. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 317
(36 mos.; Vygotsky 1978, 111)

• Imitate a few steps of adult behavior
• Stir “cake batter” while holding an during play; for example, pretend to

imaginary spoon or serve an invis-feed the baby doll with the toy spoon
ible burrito on a plate. (30–36 mos.; and bowl. (15–18 mos.; Parks 2004,
Parks 2004, 29; Scaled score of 10 27)
for 27:16–29:15 mos.; Bayley 2006,

• Use a rectangular wooden block as 69)
a phone. (18–24 mos.; Parks 2004,

• Communicate with self during pre-28)
tend play to describe actions to self;
for example, “Now I stir the soup.”
(Hart and Risley 1999, 125)

• Plan with other children what they
are going to pretend before start-
ing to play; for example, “Let’s play
doggies!” (Segal 2004, 39; 36 mos.;
Meisels and others 2003, 74)

• Pretend to be a baby during dra-
matic play because there is a new
baby at home. (36 mos.; Meisels
and others 2003, 73)

• Build a small town with blocks and

mos.; American Academy of Pediat-
rics 2004, 309)

Chart continues on next page.
Cognitive Development


Symbolic Play
Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Explore toys with friends and mouth.
(3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Use two items that go together; for
example, brush a doll’s hair with
brush, put a spoon in a bowl, or
use a hammer to pound an object
through a hole. (9–15 mos.; Parks
2004, 26-27)

• Use objects in pretend play the way
they were intended to be used; for
example, pretend to drink coffee or
tea from play coffee cup. (Scaled
score of 10 for 15:16–16:15 mos.;
Bayley 2006, 62)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Use the stuffed animals to play “vet-
erinarian” one day and then to play
“farmer” the next day. (18–24 mos.;
Lerner and Ciervo 2003)

• Communicate “Time for night-night”
to a doll while playing house. (22–24
mos.; Parks 2004, 133)

• Complete three or more actions in
a sequence of pretend play so the
actions have a beginning, middle
and end, such as giving the baby
doll a bath, putting his pajamas on,
and putting him to sleep. (24–30
mos.; Parks 2004, 28; by 36 mos.;
American Academy of Pediatrics
2004, 309; scaled score for 10 for
29:16–30:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 73)

• Pretend that the doll or stuffed
animal has feelings, such as making
a whining noise to indicate that the
stuffed puppy is sad. (24–30 mos.;
Parks 2004, 28)

• Make the stuffed animals move, as if
they were alive, during pretend play.
(24–30 mos.; Parks 2004, 28)

• Engage in extended pretend play
that has a theme, such as birthday
party or doctor. (24–30 mos.; Parks
2004, 29)

• Use abstract things to represent
other things in pretend play; for
example, use dough or sand to rep-
resent a birthday cake and sticks or
straws to represent candles. (24–30
mos.; Parks 2004, 29; scaled score
of 10 for 24:16–25:15 mos.; Bayley
2006, 70; Segal 2004, 39)

Cognitive Development


Foundation: Attention Maintenance
The developing ability to attend to people and things while interacting with

others and exploring the environment and play materials

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age,
children pay attention to different
things and people in the environment

2000, 64)

For example, the child may:

• Play with one toy for a few minutes
before focusing on a different toy.
(6–9 mos.; Parks 2004, 12 and 26; 8
mos.; American Academy of Pediat-
rics 2004, 241)

• Focus on a desired toy that is just
out of reach while repeatedly reach-
ing for it. (5–9 mos.; Parks 2004, 49)

• Show momentary attention to board
books with bright colors and simple

• Attend to the play of other children.

• Put toy animals into a clear contain-

container up again. (8 mos.; Meisels
and others 2003, 21)

• Stop moving, to focus on the infant
care teacher when she starts to
interact with the child.

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Remain calm and focused on
people, interesting toys, or interest-
ing sounds for a minute or so. (1–6
mos.; Parks 2004, 9)

• Explore a toy by banging, mouthing,
or looking at it. (Scaled score of 9 for
3:26–4:05 mos.; Bayley 2006, 52)

At around 18 months of age, children
rely on order and predictability in the
environment to help organize their
thoughts and focus attention. (Bron-
son 2000, 191)

For example, the child may:

• Expect favorite songs to be sung the
same way each time and protest if
the infant care teacher changes the

• Insist on following the same bedtime
routine every night.

• Nod and take the infant care teach-
er’s hand when the teacher says, “I
know you are sad because Shanti
is using the book right now, and you
would like a turn. Shall we go to the

read together?”

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Pay attention to the infant care
teacher’s voice without being dis-
tracted by other noises in the room.
(9–11 mos.; Parks 2004; 12)

• Focus on one toy or activity for a
while when really interested. (By 12
mos.; American Academy of Pediat-
rics 2004, 241)

At around 36 months of age, children
sometimes demonstrate the ability to
pay attention to more than one thing
at a time.

For example, the child may:

• Realize, during clean-up time, that
he has put a car in the block bin and
return to put it in the proper place.

and ask the infant care teacher to
read it.

• Pound the play dough with a ham-
mer while talking with a peer.

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Play alone with toys for several min-
utes at a time before moving on to
different activity. (18–24 mos.; Parks
2004, 15)

• Sit in a parent’s lap to read a book
together. (Scaled score of 10 for
21:16–22:15 mos.; Bayley 2006)

Cognitive Development

Foundation: Understanding of Personal Care Routines
The developing ability to understand and participate in personal care routines

8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age,
children are responsive during the
steps of personal care routines. (CDE

For example, the child may:

• Turn head away as the infant care
teacher reaches with a tissue to
wipe the child’s nose. (8 mos.;
Meisels and others 2003, 20)

• Kick legs in anticipation of a diaper
change and then quite down as the
parent wipes the child’s bottom.
(CDE 2005)

• Pay attention to her hands as the
infant care teacher holds them under
running water and helps rub them
together with soap. (CDE 2005)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (4 to 7 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Anticipate being fed upon seeing the
infant care teacher approach with a

• Hold onto the bottle while being fed
by the infant care teacher. (4 mos.;
Meisels and others 2003, 14)

At around 18 months of age, children
show awareness of familiar personal
care routines and participate in the
steps of those routines. (CDE 2005)

For example, the child may:

• Go to the sink when the infant care
teacher says that it is time to wash
hands. (Scaled score of 10 for
17:16–18:15 mos.; Bayley 2006,
90; 12–18 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo
2003; 12 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; by
24 mos.; American Academy of Pe-
diatrics 2004; 24 mos.; Meisels and
others 2003, 46)

• Gets a tissue when the infant care
teacher says, “Please go get a tis-
sue. We need to wipe your nose.”
(18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003,

• Move toward the door to the play-
ground after seeing the infant care
teacher put his coat on. (18 mos.;
Meisels and others 2003, 38)

• Put snack dishes in the sink and the
bib in the hamper after eating.

• Have trouble settling down for a nap
until the infant care teacher needs
a story, because that is the naptime
routine. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004,

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (9 to 17 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Cooperate during a diaper change
by lifting her bottom. (10.5–12 mos.;
Parks 2004)

• Grab the spoon as the infant care
teacher tries to feed the child. (12
mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 31)

• Raise arms when the infant care
teacher tries to put a dry shirt on the
child. (12 mos.; Meisels and others

At around 36 months of age, children
initiate and follow through with some
personal care routines. (CDE 2005)

For example, the child may:

• Go to the sink and wash hands after
seeing snacks being set out on the
table. (CDE 2005)

• Get a tissue to wipe own nose or
bring the tissue to the infant care
teacher for help when the child feels
that his nose needs to be wiped.
(CDE 2005)

• Take a wet shirt off when needing to
put on a dry one. (36 mos.; Meisels
and others 2003, 76)

• Help set the table for lunchtime (36
mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 77)

Behaviors leading up to the
foundation (19 to 35 months)
During this period, the child may:

• Drink from a cup without spilling
much. (24 mos.; Meisels and others
2003, 52)

• Try to put on own socks. (24 mos.;
Meisels and others 2003, 52)

• Pull her shoes off at naptime. (24
mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 52)

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