Learning and Development: Infants Birth to 12 Months

Babies grow and develop faster in the first year than any other year. During the first six months of life, babies gradually gain information about the world around them. Babies younger than six months depend mainly on their caregivers for their daily experiences. The best way to help infants grow into curious, confident, able learners is to give them warm, consistent care so that they can from secure attachments to their caregivers and begin to develop relationships. Find out more about developmental milestones and learning goals associated with brain development for infants in each area below:

Physical Characteristics

  • Responds to sound and touch
  • Follows moving object with eyes by 3 months
  • Sucks and grasps objects
  • Moves first by rocking, twisting, pivoting, then crawls, scoots, and/or walks
  • Can hold and bang objects as pincer (thumb and forefinger) grasp develops
  • Puts everything in mouth
  • Learns to transfer things from one hand to the other hand

Learning Goals for Physical Development (Brain Development)

  • Develop awareness of own body
  • Develop small and large motor skills by learning to control body muscles and learning to pick up things and hold them
  • Develop awareness of own environment

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Mobiles on the crib or mirrors, musical toys, colored pictures at baby’s eye level, toys in the room - all provide stimulation
  • Teething rings, sucking toys, rattles, things to reach and grab, squeeze toys to stimulate sucking, grasping, and motor skills
  • Push and pull toys, riding equipment, bouncing gently on caregiver’s lap, rolling on vinyl mat provide exercise for arms and legs and develop gross motor skills
  • Containers to put things into and take out of, large cubes to crawl into
  • Carrying baby around to different parts of the room or child care area increases awareness of environment

Cognitive/Language Characteristics

  • Learns through five senses and through reflexes
  • Develops object permanence (knows objects exist out of sight and searches for them)
  • Begins to be aware that certain behaviors bring same responses (cause and effect)
  • Actively uses hands to explore environment
  • Language begins with cooing and vowel sounds
  • Will imitate the sounds of others
  • Older infant distinguished sounds as words and makes consonant sounds

Learning Goals for Cognitive/Language Development (Brain Development)

  • Learn that certain behaviors bring same responses (cause and effect)
  • Realize that objects not seen still exist (the beginning of reason)
  • Use of positive responses by adults when a new skill is performed helps baby gain confidence in ability to learn
  • Learn by interactions with caregiver and through activities going on nearby
  • Two-way communication teaches that words have meaning and that people will respond to baby’s sounds (baby-talk)

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Pay attention to baby’s moods, responding to cries/sounds
  • Mimic the sound baby makes
  • Peek-a-boo, patty cake, hide and seek
  • Nesting or interlocking toys that can be taken apart and put back together
  • Toys with sound and visual effects
  • Talking, singing, reading on a daily basis to baby
  • Use cardboard picture books with large illustrations, puppets, a variety of music, finger plays
  • Expand on sounds, maintain eye contact, and use gestures as well as words to communicate

Social/Emotional Characteristics

  • Develops sense of trust and attachment
  • Recognizes familiar objects and people
  • Expresses affection for others
  • Explores environment in presence of caregiver
  • Copies simple motions, like clapping

Learning Goals for Social/Emotional Development (Brain Development)

  • Become socially interactive and competent
  • Develop trust, love and security
  • Develop and maintain trusting relationship with primary caregiver

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Be consistent and responsive to baby
  • Hold, cuddle, hug, smile, laugh
  • Talk, sing, and read to baby frequently, especially during feeding and diaper changes
  • Imitate and respond appropriately to baby’s sounds
  • Develop predictable routines, familiar songs and personal games for baby
  • Keep familiar objects around

Self-Help Characteristics

  • Younger baby’s needs are met by caregiver
  • Older baby eats with fingers
  • Begins to hold bottle and can later grasp a cup
  • Holds arms out to be held
  • Learns to sit up, reach for things, pull up

Learning Goals (Brain Development)

  • Develop trust and security if needs are met consistently
  • Older baby begins to develop self-esteem and independence

Suggested Activities/Materials

  • Encourage older babies to feed self and drink from cup with a top
  • Meet the needs of baby consistently (feeding, diapering, sleeping, nurturing)
  • Encourage exploration so that baby can experience new things


  • Eating area with a place for younger babies to be held and older babies to sit
  • Play area with materials, toys, and activities
  • Diaper changing area
  • Rooms should not be overheated
  • Caregivers should wash hands often. Always wash hands before feeding a child and after each diaper change.
  • Because babies put anything in their mouths, extreme care must be taken to keep toys and floors clean. Keep toys with small pieces, plastic bags and other possibly harmful objects out of reach
  • Take babies outside each day, weather permitting. The outdoor area should have shady and sunny areas, grass, or soft ground cover. Infant swings and low structures to crawl onto should be provided
  • Individual attention, close supervision, and responsive caregiving are critical to future development