WHY BABIES LOVE MIRRORS
A favorite game for babies of all ages is playtime with a mirror. The baby in the above photo sees her image in the glass door and decides to kiss the reflection. Babies see another very little person when they look into the mirror, and we know babies love to see other babies. Sometimes they look behind the mirror to try and find the person they see in the reflection since they do not understand that they are seeing their own reflection. Mirrors are a novel toy for baby which holds an element of mystery and surprise. “Where is this person and what will happen next?”
DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONE: SELF-RECOGNTION
This sense of independence begins to evolve after the 7th month and is an important cognitive milestone and is often referred to as “self-recognition.” It takes time for baby to learn that the mysterious person they see in the mirror is “me.” Studies were conducted where researchers put rouge on the noses of babies to see if they would learn that the rouge on the nose of the baby in the mirror was also rouge on their nose. The researchers discovered that much of the self-recognition develops between the age of 1 and 2 years.
BABY PLAY WITH A MIRROR
First, remember to practice baby safety. Purchase a mirror that is unbreakable or hold baby in front of a secure wall-mounted mirror such as one in a bathroom above the sink. For young babies you can find small mirror to put near her on the floor so that during tummy-time baby will lift he head and see the sparkle of her moving reflection. Try sitting on the floor with baby on your lap or holding her in your arms in front of a large mirror so she can see her reflection and watch it move as she moves. Much of the fun of mirror play occurs through movement, watching the person move as baby moves. Or, watching mommy move in the mirror. For older babies, use the mirror as a tool for teaching baby a few parts of the body such as “eyes,” “nose,” “ears,” “hair,” and “mouth.” This developmental play is a game that can be played almost anywhere since a mirror can be found in most homes, airport bathrooms, and stores.
Lukits, Ann, “Waving Bye-Bye Linked To Babies’ Development,” Wall Street Journal, 12/3/13.
HOW BABIES LEARN TO WAVE BYE-BYE
Waving “Bye-Bye” is an important social and motor milestone that may be achieved during baby’s first year. Learned through the skill of imitation and by the coordination of visual skill with fine motor skill, this skill is a lot of fun for babies. Think of this skill as a somewhat complex version of grasping and reaching since the arm, hand, and fingers are involved. Some babies wave by moving the wrist up and down and some by turning the hand round and round. Observe the baby in the top video from Brandon Cassidy’s youtube channel. He keeps his arm quite still as he moves his hand from side to side. In the second video from Blanca Anderson’s youtube channel the baby waves by moving both his hand and his arm up and down. This baby appears to be younger than the baby in the first video and the movement of his wave is less refined. In time, he will learn to hold his arm still and move only his hand as the older baby can do in the first video.
RESEARCH STUDY: BABIES LEARN TO WAVE BYE-BYE
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal took a close look at current research regarding this important baby milestone. The article focuses on a recent study in Pediatrics International which found that premature babies learned the skill of waving bye-bye significantly later than full-term babies and they also used different hand and wrist movements. The study compared the skill of waving bye-bye in 597 full-term and 95 premature babies in Japan. Mothers reported the age when baby learned to wave goodbye and the infants’ hand motions were recorded by video camera at well-baby checkups and later analyzed. Researchers present at the check-ups waved bye-bye to the babies to see if they would imitate them. This study highlights the differences between the full term and premature babies in learning this skill.
AT WHAT AGE DO BABIES LEARN TO WAVE
Most full-term babies in the study achieved the milestone of waving bye-bye around the age of 10 months, and all of them achieved it before their first birthday. Premature babies learned the motor skill of waving an average of one month later than the full-term babies and 57% achieved the skill by their first birthday. Learning the milestone of waving occurs as babies coordinate their fine motor skills and their visual ability to imitate an action observed.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE PINCER GRASP
When babies reach the end of their first year milestones, one of the significant fine motor skills to learn is the pincer grasp. This is the skill of picking up something rather small or thin by using the thumb and first finger of the same hand. Often parents feed baby a bowl of cheerios to teach them this skill since baby has to pick up each tiny “O” with their thumb and first finger. One of the challenging aspects of this skill development is letting go of the object. For example, a baby needs to learn how to pick up the cheerio, put it in her mouth and then let go. Sometimes babies learn to pick up coins and drop them into a water bottle. However, coins are small and may be a choking hazard so a baby should only use coins when very closely supervised. In the photo below you can see the size of a real quarter next to the fake coins for this piggy bank. The larger coins are safer and good practice for developing finger dexterity. Soon, parents can closely supervise baby as she tries picking up real coins which will develop even more skill due to their smaller size.
PIGGY BANKS AND BABY DEVELOPMENT
One of the best baby toys to develop the fine motor skills of the pincer grasp and letting go of an object is the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn: Learning Piggy Bank. It is also a great toy to begin teaching baby how to count and colors for toddlers. In the above video from PunkFarter’s youtube channel, the baby is learning to pick up the coin and push it in the slot. It requires a considerable amount of finger dexterity to line up the coin with the opening. When this piggy bank is switched to one of the “on” settings, the pig counts when each coin is deposited, “1……2…….3,” etc. The second of the two settings plays a song which is to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell.” I often encourage parents to do what they have done in the above video which is to either turn the toy off/remove the battery and create the sound effects yourself. Babies love to hear these unexpected sounds and may eventually may try and make the sound themselves!
PIGGY BANKS AND SPATIAL AWARENESS
The clear door on one side of this piggy bank allows baby to see where the coins go as she drops them inside. This is an important concept of spatial orientation. Babies learn the difference between an object being “inside the piggy bank” versus “outside the piggy bank.” When we learn spatial orientation we learn where we are in space and where objects around us are in space. Babies also learn to “open the door” of the piggy bank and to “close the door.” Let’s hope they also learn how to “save” versus how to “spend!”
PIGGY BANKS AND FINE MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Babies love to put coins in a piggy bank. This is an advanced skill that falls into the motor skill of grasping and reaching. It actually grasping, reaching, and letting go. Baby learns to pick up a coin, reach it into the bank or coin slot, and then opens her fingers to let it go. Sometimes babies learn to put the coin into the slot but do not know yet how to let it go. When a baby reaches out to get a toy she must both reach with her arm and grasp with her hand. To place an object into a box or a coin into a slot she must take the object she is grasping (i.e., coin) and reach it into the slot and then let go of the grasp (open her fingers). The 13 month old baby in the above video from Jerry You’s youtube channel has learned this skill quite well. The baby tires at one point and asks the mother to do it for her. The mother gently tells the baby to go ahead and do it herself. The piggy bank provides babies such as the one in the video much time for baby play.
DIY PIGGY BANKS FOR BABIES
Simple piggy banks can be made at home with everyday objects. An empty water bottle is often used in large mommy and me classes. The opening fits a penny easily. Just place the coin in the narrow opening at the top and watch it fall down to the bottom. Another option is to use an empty carton from something such as milk. A lid can be made from a paper plate which is cut to size and has a large slot cut out of it. Tape this to the top of the carton and sit it on the ground while baby puts coins into the opening. When traveling, on vacation, at the museum, etc., show baby how to drop coins into a fountain or the donation box near the exit. Pay close attention so the coins do not go into her mouth!
WHAT IS “SOCIAL REFERENCING?”
As a baby develops motor skills of crawling and walking that allow her to move around and explore, she soon begins to look back at mom to see if it is OK to play with unfamiliar objects or to go around new corners. In child development this behavior of looking back to a parent to see if something new or unfamiliar is OK is called “social referencing.” Babies and children look to the adults they trust to provide them with clues to safely guide their explorations. The clues often come from the parent’s non-verbal behavior, in particular the facial expression.
THE VISUAL CLIFF EXPERIMENT
Joseph Campos of the University of California at Berkeley conducted the now classic baby experiment that investigated the role of facial expressions in providing infants with the clues of whether or not to proceed when faced with the unfamiliar. Using an experimental strategy developed in the 1950s called the Visual Cliff, he created a situation that was unfamiliar and somewhat frightening for the babies. Infants between 9 and 12 months are placed one at a time on a plexiglass table with a checkered pattern. In the middle of the table is a visual drop off which is created by replacing the checkered pattern table top with a strip of clear plexiglass. This created the appearance of a sudden drop in the table although the surface is completely uninterrupted. The baby is placed on one side of the table while the mother stands on the other side while holding an appealing toy. When the baby crawls to the center strip where the drop off appears, they sense they change and the potential danger. They look to their mother to see what to do.
FACIAL EXPRESSIONS AND INFANT DEVELOPMENT
In the visual cliff experiment, the mother makes either a fear face or a smile/encouraging face as directed by the experimenter. In most cases the baby responded to the fear face by choosing not to cross the visual cliff. The mothers were trained to make the fear face by raising their eyebrows, widening their eyes, and opening their mouth. When the mother posed a smile or encouraging face the baby confidently crossed the visual cliff to reach the toy. Watch the above video from vooktv’s youtube channel to see the experiment in action.
PARENTING TIPS: BABY CONFIDENCE
Parenting tips learned from this experiment include being clear to make an encouraging face when you child is trying something new that is positive and safe and making a fear face when the child is considering an action not desired or dangerous. Spend some time looking in the mirror and exaggerating these facial expressions so they become very obvious. Observe your baby to see when she looks to you as if to ask, “Is this OK?” Provide clear clues for your baby as she explores the world around her. This gives baby confidence to explore, play with a new object, by held by an unfamiliar relative visiting from out of town, and more.
My baby will soon be crawling. We have wood floors, so I am wondering how to make it easy on his knees/toes and how to soften any falls on his face or chin. Do you have any suggestions or should I not worry about it? Thanks. You have a great website!
BABY CRAWLING AND BABY FALLING
Many mothers ask this question as their precious baby begins to rock back and forth on all fours. The precarious shifts of weight while gaining the strength to crawl forward on the hands and knees may include occasional falls. This is part of the learning process. Many mothers would like the ground to be as soft as possible for those moments where baby begins to crawl and soon falls down. Homes with carpet work just fine as do homes with wood or tile floors. Babies learn to crawl on wood and stone floors all over the world. Just think about the floors in countries with hot climates and where carpeting is not practical such as Mexico, Israel, Italy, and Indonesia. Babies learn all of their motor skills on these hard and often uneven floors. Avoid using baby knee pads which are not great for the development of a baby. If you would like to “soften” the floor a bit, try placing a quilt on the ground or buy some interlocking foam to create a large play mat. It is thick enough to provide some softness yet still firm enough to provide stability. And remember, fortunately the ground is not far away.
BABY FALLS DOWN INTO A FAMILIAR MOTOR SKILL
When baby learns to meet each of his motor milestones, it benefits him when he falls down. Baby will fall out of one movement into another. For example, a baby that walks will fall down and land in the hands and knees crawling position. A baby that is hands and knees crawling will fall down into the belly crawling position. The motor skill of rolling is a pattern that a baby who is walking or crawling may land in after a fall. However, baby will only land in these positons or actions if he has learned them well and repeated them many times. The motor skills that baby has learned become very strong patterns of movement in the brain. These are called movement habits. This means that the body will automatically transition from a quick fall into one of these familiar patterns which include rolling and belly crawling. In the motor milestones of crawling and falling, I suggest that what is most important is not whether or not the floor is too hard, but whether or not baby has mastered the earlier motor skills of rolling and belly crawling.