Link copied to clipboard

Babies are so sweet and helpless. It takes a very long time before they can do anything, figure things out, or think thoughts. Right? Not quite.

Babies come ready to do a lot of things we don’t give them credit for. Here is a short list.

  1. Three-year-olds remember people they met just once when they were only a year old. And the meeting doesn’t have to have been scary or otherwise especially memorable. Keep in mind that they will probably forget this person entirely before they are seven, since early memories mostly disappear. But those one-year-olds are paying attention!
  2. By a year old, babies can tell a cartoon of a real human being from a cartoon of a monkey and from a cartoon of a person with non-human eyes. In fact, even three-month-old infants look longer at human faces and human bodies than they do at faces and bodies of other primates. Even tiny babies who don’t recognize themselves in the mirror know what people are supposed to look like.
  3. By nine months old, babies are sensitive to the emotional quality of music and can tell the difference between “happy” music and “sad” music. Researchers haven’t established if babies this young have learned to associate happiness and sadness to a tune’s key and tempo, but they can distinguish between the two.
  4. By nine months old, babies can recognize the artistic style of different painters. They grow bored looking at a series of paintings by the same artist but perk up when a painting by an artist working in a different style is introduced.
  5. One-year-old babies can predict what an adult is going to do. Research has demonstrated that, as a grown up puts toys into a bucket one at a time, year-old children’s eyes jumped ahead to the bucket before the toy arrived there, although babies just six-months-old stayed focused on the toy itself.
  6. Babies younger than nine months can hear every speech sound in every language around the world and back in time. Older babies, children, and adults have lost this ability, since their brains have become customized to focus only on the language (or languages) they experience in everyday conversations.
  7. Babies practice saying words long before they can speak them. Brain scans reveal that the motor cortex – the part of the brain necessary to say words but not needed to just hear them or understand them – is active as early as seven months of age, even though children won’t speak for another six months or more.
  8. Babies as young as five months old have expectations for how solids and liquids behave and use cues to decide if a particular substance is solid or liquid. They seem to have an inborn understanding of how the world works.
  9. Five-month-old children understand number and can tell when the wrong number of objects is displayed. In one study, babies were shown a toy that was then placed behind a screen, then shown another object, which was also placed behind the screen. When the screen was removed, babies showed surprise if the number of toys revealed was different from the total number of toys they saw.

This is cool but what does it mean for you? Two things:

First, don’t underestimate the importance of the early weeks and months and years of your child’s life. Learning doesn’t begin in preschool. Babies come ready to learn and ready to engage the world.

Second, the way babies learn this stuff is through experience. They play with things, they watch other people do things, they have expectations of how things should happen because of daily experience with interesting ideas.

Make certain your baby has a rich and interesting day, every day. If your child goes to daycare, make certain that care is stimulating and warmly supportive. Don’t think a baby isn’t paying attention. He is!


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at