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Thinking Development



Birth-3 Months

Newborns begin right away to use and integrate their senses to explore their world. Most infants can:

  • See clearly within 13 inches
  • Focus on and follow moving objects, including human faces
  • See all colors and distinguish hue and brightness
  • Distinguish the pitch and volume of sound
  • Discriminate sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes
  • Respond with facial expressions to strong stimuli (like odors)
  • Prefer high contrast items and geometric shapes
  • Begin to anticipate events​
  • Recognize faces
  • Differentiate between different people based on the way they look, sound or feel
  • React to and imitate the facial expressions of others
  • Respond to familiar sounds​

3-6 Months

Babies perceptual abilities improve rapidly. At this age, they are able to:

  • Stare longer at "impossible" events (like ordinary objects suspended in midair)
  • Distinguish between inanimate and animate objects, and understand that inanimate objects must be propelled into motion by an external force
  • Distinguish among pictures that show ​different numbers of items
  • Use the relative size of objects as a clue to how close or how far away they are

Using ingenious research methods, scientists have found that babies begin very early to have glimmers of how the world works. Even very young babies have been found to:

6-9 Months

As they grow, children continue to explore how the world works and build on the conceptual leaps described above. At this age, most babies can:

9-12 Months

  • Understand that an object still exists even when it's not in view
  • Respond to simple directions and questions with gestures, sounds and perhaps words
  • Imitate gestures and actions
  • Experiment purposefully with the physical properties of objects, for example, by seeing how objects fit into a container or what happens if the container is turned over
  • Enjoy looking at picture books​

1-2 Years

Children at this age spend much of their time intently observing and imitating the actions of adults. Most can:

  • Respond to simple directions
  • Choose picture books, name pictured objects, and identify several objects within one picture
  • Group objects by category
  • Stack rings on peg in order of size
  • Identify themselves in the mirror, saying "baby" or their own name
  • Relate what they are doing to others
  • Observe and imitate more complex adult actions (for example, housekeeping play)​

A lot of learning is done through a child's own exploration, and this really takes off at this age. Most children can:

2-3 Years

  • Understand concepts like grouping and matching (for example, recognizing and matching colors)
  • Organize materials on their own, for example, by stacking blocks or rings in order of size
  • Identify parts of a whole, like a slice of pie
  • Draw, name, and briefly explain somewhat recognizable pictures that are meaningful to them
  • Actively seek information through why and how questions
  • Tell you their full name and age
  • Attend to an activity for a longer stretch of time (between 5 and 15 minutes)
  • Learn both by observing and listening to adults' explanations
  • Show awareness of past and present​

As children have more experiences in the world, their analytic powers grow. For some time, they have been observing and mentally "sorting" objects according to their physical properties. Now most children can:

3-4 Years

  • Play with words, mimicking and creating sounds, and make rhymes
  • Point to and name many colors
  • Understand order and process
  • Draw a person with detail
  • Draw, name, and describe pictures
  • Count to 5
  • Tell you their street and town​

At this age, children actively seek information and new experiences from the people in their environment. Most can:

4-5 Years

  • Imitate adults' actions and language
  • Understand words and commands and respond appropriately
  • Begin to match similar objects
  • Recognize and identify familiar objects in storybooks with adult assistance
  • Distinguish between "you" and "me"​

Infants were once thought of as passive and unknowing. It was commonly believed that until they mastered language, young children were incapable of thinking or forming complex ideas. Today, we know otherwise. From the very start, young children are aware of their surroundings and interested in exploring them. Scientists from several fields have shown that from the first weeks of life, babies are active learners. They are busy gathering and organizing knowledge about their world. These milestones highlight young children's progress in developing perceptual and thinking skills.

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