It’s the holiday season and everyone is doing last minute shopping for babies and children.  How might the latest research on early infant and child development guide us as we decide upon those last minute gifts for the cute, loveable, and smart babies and kids on our shopping lists?

Several infant and child development research findings in 2011 focused on motor and action development in infancy and early childhood.   One of my favorite studies was reviewed by Dr. Petra Hauf who is a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Development at St. Francis Xavier University.  Dr. Hauf writes, “The world is full of a variety of objects with many different properties, so infants must learn to determine these properties quickly.  Luckily, the world has many regularities that help infants learn.”  In the article, “Infants use of material properties to guide their actions with differently weighted objects” published in Infant and Child Development, Dr. Paulus and Dr. Hauf investigate the ways that babies guide their actions based on the weights of objects.  Needless to say, babies must learn about weight and other properties of objects such as size and shape.  How do babies learn? “Allowing your infant lots of time to play with a variety of objects will help them learn more about their world!” writes Dr. Hauf at

We often don’t think about how objects may help babies to learn about material properties such as weight.  I often like to give babies and young children wooden puzzles because these objects may scaffold attention, motor development, and even communication between infants and adults.  

When a puzzle is too difficult for an infant to figure out on his/her own they might look to adults for clues and even imitate an adult’s actions.  Puzzles not only scaffold motor development, but might also be a tool to help foster social development.   “It is natural for adults to imitate infants.  Imitative games with your baby may be one way to bond and to help your baby to learn about new actions and the link between own and other’s actions” explains Dr. Vincent Reid, Professor of Psychology at Durham University England in the summary “Action and Babies” at

Think about when you were a kid and you got one of those puzzles with 1,000 pieces… You probably wanted mom and dad to put it together with you.  It works the same way for babies who may just be dealing with a few puzzle pieces.  When you are wondering what toys to get a baby or child this holiday season, consider a puzzle or an object that encourages attention, motor coordination and communication.

About the Author

Tricia Striano, Ph.D.

Tricia Striano, Ph.D., is an expert in infant and child learning and a professor of psychology at Hunter College in New York.

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