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Smart Babies

Lise Eliot
How smart are babies? For years both doctors and parents debated the ability of infants to understand complex concepts and wondered whether babies are capable of understanding anything beyond the simplest forms of sensation. However, recent research has shown that our babies might be smarter than we think.

Studies by infancy researchers over the last few decades have revealed some remarkable abilities: babies understand mathematical concepts such as quantity and addition, physical principles such as gravity and momentum, and are astutely aware of the people in their lives. With our new understanding of infant intelligence, parents can see how important it is to begin introducing activities that help babies investigate the world and people around them.

Researchers have learned all this by measuring eye movement and “looking-time” of babies. In one experiment, babies as young as five months old were shown two puppets, and then a curtain was dropped to hide the puppets. While the puppets were hidden, a researcher secretly planted a third puppet. When the curtain was lifted to reveal three puppets, the babies stared a long time, as if perplexed about how two objects could suddenly turn into three (More precisely, the babies stared longer at these puppets than in a control experiment, where they actually got to watch the researcher placing the third puppet behind the screen). In other words, studies like this have shown that young infants can count, up to about five objects. This is much younger than we previously thought children were capable of keeping track of numbers of objects.

As you can see, it’s never too early to begin promoting learning for your baby. Here are some tips you can use to get started:

Early Math Skills
Based on such studies, we now know babies less than a year old can do simple math using objects. Parents can try the same experiment with their own infants using tennis balls or stuffed animals and a small blanket for hiding them. Or, for another way to help your little one develop his or her math skills, try VTech's Counting Fun Elephant. This toy is great because it dispenses colorful balls through a fun air popper, allowing you to count aloud with your baby as he or she watches them fly. It also promotes spatial skills by allowing your child to follow the trajectory of the ball under the force of gravity.

Social-emotional Intelligence
Another surprise in recent research is the depth of babies’ understanding about other people. Even at birth, newborns instinctively prefer the human voice and face to inanimate, non-social sights and sounds. By nine months of age, they can tell the difference between people who are being helpful to others compared to those who are selfishly trying to hinder others. And the good news is, most toddlers prefer to play with someone they saw act helpfully, as compared to selfishly. Parents can help their child develop positive social skills by demonstrating sharing with siblings or stuffed animals.

Research and parenting
Learning begins at birth, and babies absorb much more than we used to realize from their moment-to-moment interactions with the world around them. Early on, babies reveal themselves to be thinking, feeling, engaged little people. As parents and caregivers we are the main source of babies’ learning, so our new understanding of their intelligence can help us bring out the best in every child. Try to keep this in mind while selecting playthings to share with your baby. Check out the VTech Kids website for toys that are great for your newborn, and will grow with him or her over those important first few years.
Meet VTech's Expert Panel
Deborah Sharp Libby
Early Childhood Language and Reading Expert
Eric Klopfer
Platform Learning Expert
Lise Eliot
Early Childhood Mental Development Expert
Carla C. Johnson
Science and STEM Expert
Francis (Skip) Fennell
Mathematics Expert
VTech Mom