*Info from zerotothree.org, endorsed by the AAP
LANGUAGE: Babies learn language from hearing it – hundreds of hours of conversation between them and their parents/others shape the brain’s developing language areas. At birth, babies can perceive many more speech sounds than adults – too many, in fact. The more you talk to babies, the better they become at focusing only on the sounds of their native language. That’s because the experience of hearing speech sounds strengthens some neural pathways at the expense of others. Between 6-12 months, a baby’s ability to detect differences in the speech sounds of a foreign language decreases.
MOVEMENT: When infants are born, the areas of the brain that control and coordinate voluntary movements are not yet well developed. These motor areas mature in a head-to-toe sequence, starting with the muscles in the head and neck, followed by the arm and trunk, and by 6-12 months the trunk and leg muscles, which are critical to most of the gross motor milestones of this period.
COGNITION & LEARNING: Babies at this age repeat “experiments” with objects and people because it is the best way babies learn about their physical and social environment. For example, when a baby repeatedly drops her spoon, you repeatedly pick it up, she learns about gravity as well as about you. She learns that you will respond to her and enjoy these shared games.
SOCIAL EMOTIONAL: Social interaction is far and away the most important form of stimulation a baby receives. A sensitive caregiver is able to stimulate all of a baby’s senses as well as build feelings of trust and emotional security. The ways in which you touch, hold, feed, talk to and look at a baby all provide important input to his developing brain. Remember, children also need time out from stimulation (like winding down for nap time). The most significant emotional milestone during the second six months (and perhaps in all of child development) is the onset of attachment: babies’ powerful bond to the most significant person in their lives (usually Mom/Dad). Stranger anxiety is the counterpoint to attachment: Once babies recognize and prefer their primary caregivers, they become wary of unfamiliar adults. By 7 or 8 months, most babies begin to show signs of “separation protest,” such as fussing when Mom/Dad leaves their sight, or “stranger fear,” a shy or anxious response when approached by someone unfamiliar.
What you can do: Keep background noise to a minimum, and turn off the TV and radio (they are poor at distinguishing sounds in a noisy environment). It doesn’t need to be completely quiet for the infant – the natural noise of children and the sounds of the room are okay. When your baby is calm, look at and read a picture book. Encourage, but don’t rush, motor development. Allow infants to develop at their own pace. Make a small obstacle course out of pillows or cushions to climb over, around, and through. Make sure your environment has enough safe challenges that encourage movement and allow the infant to explore space. Put fun toys inside boxes to encourage infants to stretch, reach, and crawl toward and into safe places. Clean cardboard boxes make great toys! Allow baby to lay on her back and encourage movement to the side by providing interesting things within her field of vision to move toward, if she doesn’t like to be on her stomach. Put things in containers that an infant can dump and fill. While you’ll probably have to fill it, the process of dumping over and over and over again is a way she learns about what she is able to do with objects. Allow for messy experiences. Many infants love to touch their food and explore with their fingers. Use your body and his body to point out body part words and point out names for items in his immediate environment (use the real thing whenever possible since using all their senses and actively exploring helps them learn best). Read simple board books together to introduce the baby to objects not in your immediate environment. Keep enough interesting things to touch and smell and which can be safely put in a child’s mouth. Provide babies with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to use as a security object. Have fun with your baby. Helping a baby laugh and feel good promotes more positive feelings.