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What Babies Learn Through Play

4 to 7 months

Babies this age begin to use all their senses to explore and learn about their world. They'll pick up things with their hands, then put them in their mouths to get more information. Around 4 or 5 months, an infant will start to understand the concept of cause and effect -- that what she does can elicit a response from or a change in things and people around her.

Shaking it up
Put an empty thread spool, dry rice, or beans in a small plastic bottle, and seal it tightly so that it won't come apart when your baby plays with it. Of course, you can always buy rattles at the toy store, but by making your own, you can experiment with different containers and contents to create a variety of sights and sounds that'll delight your eager learner.
Benefit: As your baby reaches for and grasps a rattle, she practices eye-hand coordination and hones fine motor skills. When she shakes it, she strengthens the muscles in her arms. But the best benefit noisemakers provide may be psychological: "It's a great ego builder," says Hughes. "Babies learn that they can have an impact on the world -- when they cry out, Mom comes to pick them up; when they gurgle, it makes Dad laugh." And shaking a rattle makes a great noise!

Musical pots
Give her a wooden spoon and some pots or pans. With very little coaching, she'll soon be banging her new toys on her high-chair tray, the floor, or any surface that lets her make a nice racket. (For a quieter game, hand over something soft and lightweight, such as a clean pair of socks rolled into a ball; it's easy to grasp, safe to explore by mouth, and "reacts" to a baby by changing shape as she grabs and squeezes it.)
Benefit: As with shaking homemade rattles, banging or squishing things is another self-esteem-building game that teaches an infant how simple actions can have big results -- and get a lot of attention.

Feeling fun
Let your baby touch several objects of varying textures -- a piece of fine sandpaper, a velvety pillow, a stuffed animal. Alternate a silky scarf with a scratchy, woolen one. Give her a wooden block, and then a mushy stuffed toy.
Benefit: Allowing an infant to experience a variety of sensations encourages her to explore and appreciate differences -- an important skill in learning about the world.