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How to Help Your Baby Develop Motor & Cognitive Skills

Watching your baby gain new skills is one of the thrills of parenthood. While babies are hard-wired to learn, the right environment can help your little one develop her ability to think and reason as well as her motor skills. You don't need expensive toys or equipment to assist your baby in meeting developmental milestones — simple objects, time spent with you and the opportunity to practice new skills are all she needs.

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Facilitating Gross Motor Development

Gross motor development -- the ability to roll over, crawl and, finally, walk -- is one area where parents can measure their baby's progress. You can help by giving your baby plenty of floor time, including "tummy time." Lying prone — only when he's awake and you're right there, to lessen the risk of sudden infant death syndrome — helps him develop head and neck muscles, then arm, chest and trunk muscles. Start with three to five minutes at a time as soon as your baby comes home from the hospital and gradually increase the time he spends prone while awake, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

Gaining Fine Motor Skills

Gross motor development is more easily measured, but fine motor development — the ability to use her hands for delicate tasks — is equally important. Encourage fine motor development by giving your baby objects to hold, hanging toys within her grasp and providing toys that make noise when she moves or shakes them. When she's between 7 and 12 months and starting finger foods, allow her to pick up small pieces of cereal or other foods off her tray to eat. Babies this age also enjoy dropping objects such as blocks into containers, pouring them out and putting them in again.

Developing Cognitive Skills

From the time he's born, your baby is learning about his world and thinking and reasoning. You can enhance his ability to understand his world by providing sensory stimulation, including a chance to see, hear, touch, taste and smell different objects. Toys that teach cause and effect encourage him to experiment. Talking, reading or singing to him; giving him toys that he can manipulate and use in different ways, such as blocks; or hanging interesting toys or mobiles for him to look at all help develop cognitive skills.

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Letting Her Learn

Take your cues from your baby and let her learn at her own pace. Avoid overstimulating her. When she's quiet, looking around, not hungry or fussy, she's more receptive and able to learn. If she's turning away or fussing, she might need down time more than stimulation. If your baby is puzzling out how to accomplish a task, such as putting blocks into a container, don't be too quick to rush in and show her how when she shows signs of frustration. One of the hardest balancing acts of parenthood is knowing when to help, so your baby doesn't get too frustrated and give up, and when to let her figure something out on her own.

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