Learning in Infants
Do infants learn?
Do infants learn? The question may catch some people, even parents, by surprise. Although it is common to acknowledge that children are able to learn—and in fact, are sent to school to learn—it is lesson common to think about infants as capable of learning. However, infants are able to learn just as older children are able to learn. What they learn, how fast they learn it, and how they use that knowledge is vastly different than what older children learn, however. For example, while a seven year old child might be starting their first history lessons in school; an eight month old infant is hardly going to be able to recite the names of the kings of England. This does not mean that the eight month old infant is incapable of learning, just that what they learn—and how they use that learning—is different.
Infants primarily learn through two different ways: through other people or interpersonal communication and through their own explorations.
Interpersonal commination is essential in the process of infant learning. International personal communication is not only verbal but physical and emotional as well. For example: When a child cries and a parent responds by picking them up, the infant begins to learn that crying is a way for them to receive assistance from another person—whether that assistance is being hungry or uncomfortable or simply wanting some social interaction.
As infants get older, they are more capable of learning through their own explorations. These explorations can be as simple as the infant looking outside of a window and seeing different objects and colors or learning that the furry animal which their parent calls a ‘cat’ does not like to have their long, furry appendage yanked at.
Types of learning development in infants
The types of learning development in infant can be broken down into several categories. These categories are social development, emotional development, and learning—or cognitive—development. Social development learning is characterized by the development of verbal and physical communication between the infant and other people, the development of play and other social interactions (such as play through games like “peek-a-boo”) as well as other types of social communications. Emotional development learning is characterized by the development of emotional recognition, such as recognizing that a smile means happy—and that when smiles are given, they result in making other people happy as well. Cognitive or learning development is characterized as the development of numerous cognitive functions. These cognitive functions include the ability to tell different objects—such as a bottle or a toy—apart; the ability to cry or verbally communicate in different ways to express different needs or wants; using senses such as taste, smell, touch and hearing; exploring the world through actions and reactions, such as dropping objects out of the crib to see them fall; and more.
Stages of learning development in infants
The stages of learning development in infants are not necessarily equal. An infant who is only 8 weeks old will experience a different type of learning that an infant who is 1 year old. The following are the basic stages of learning development in infants, along with what types of learning development—social, emotional and cognitive—the infant will experience during these stages.
2 months - 4 months
During these early stages of an infant’s life, they will begin to develop socially, emotionally, and cognitively. Social development during this stage is primarily centered on learning that crying is a form of communication; infants will learn that crying results in social interaction, whether it is because they want to eat, need to be changed, are uncomfortable, or simply want to be soothed. Other types of social development that an infant begins to learn during this stage is the desire to be held and touched; smiling in response to other smiles; early forms of verbal communication through babbling.
Emotional development during this stage is usually related to emotional responses to loneliness and fear, such as being left alone for a long period of time or being afraid of something--such as an unknown object or person--which they wish to be soothed by someone they trust.
Cognitive development during this stage is centered on the earliest types of exploration for an infant. Young infants will begin to explore by using their mouth, typically by grasping something with their fingers and bringing it to their mouth. They will also begin to recognize different objects, such as the difference between a bottle and a breast, in addition to enjoying looking at bright objects, such as bright colors or bright lights.
4 months – 12 months
Infants in this stage of their lives will develop emotionally, socially and cognitively. Social development during this stage is fairly rapid; infants will begin to respond to their own names, respond differently between people they trust--such as their parents--and people they don't trust, such as strangers; they will begin to laugh and smile in response to different stimuli; they will be able to recognize the names of different family members, such as "Mom," "Dad," and "Grandpa"; they will also exhibit signs of desiring social interaction, such as raising up their arms in a desire to be held or cuddled.
Emotional development during this stage involves the first exhibitions of fear, such as fear of falling off a high place; anxiety, such as anxiety to being separated from parents or family members; distress, such as if a toy or object is taken away; and joy, such as if they are held or tickled and are experiencing positive emotional interaction.
Cognitive development during this stage is the most rapid. Infants will learn to recognize names, faces and different objects; to explore the world using all of their senses; to learn to focus on different objects, such as toys or books; the ability to pay attention to conversations; understanding that objects have different sizes, such as when playing with toys that can fit inside one another; recognizing different sounds and colors; and so on.