Your Baby Scientist’s Experiments with Cause and Effect

Your Baby Scientist’s Experiments with Cause and Effect

Your 9-12 month old baby is continuing her scientific research, and she has even more tools to go it with! With greater hand-eye coordination and fine motor muscle strength and a growing attention span and understanding of Cause and Effect, she’s expanded the types of experiments she can do.

For example, your baby will begin to take interest in manipulative play. In manipulative play, she uses her fine motor skills to learn how objects work and how they are used together.1 As a result, your baby will really enjoy playing with her blocks, nesting cups, and pull-apart toys in interesting and new ways. Her ability to use this form of play is based on her growing understanding of Cause and Effect, her Small Muscle Movement and Dexterity skills, and her Engagement and Persistence abilities.

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Your baby begins her learning by observing the actions and behaviors of those around her closely.2 Once she sees you do something, she’ll try to copy you to create the same result.As she becomes more confident in her actions and learns that she can make things happen, you’ll find her excited to explore all the objects within her reach, trying to control and change her environment.

First, you’ll find her grasping an object, say a colorful noise box. She’ll examine the toy, paying close attention to the colors, patterns, texture, and any sounds she can make with it. Next, she will start dropping the toy on purpose, eventually throwing it farther and farther to see what will happen to the object.3 You’ll notice that she’ll repeat these actions over and over again in order to find out if the result is always the same.4,5 In essence, she’s a budding scientist who develops hypotheses, or theories, about how things work, experiments with objects for new information, and observes the results to figure out the features and functions of these objects.6 This is the basis to much of her learning during the early years!

As your baby approaches one year old, her fingers will become more coordinated and able to accurately pick things up with her thumb and forefinger (pincer grasp).7 As a result, she will be able to explore and manipulate things more completely and perhaps even pull things apart. Due to her growing fine motor skills, she’ll be able to explore Cause and Effect by handling objects in a variety of ways, including shaking, banging, pushing, pulling, throwing, mouthing, and dropping.4 With her growing curiosity and ability to play with objects on her own, be sure to check over everything within her reach to make sure that she doesn’t get a hold of small objects that can become choking hazards.8

Finally, your 9-12 month old will now be able to stay focused on activities for longer periods of time. During early infancy, your baby’s attention primarily focuses on novel and eye-catching objects and activities. However, as she matures and begins to play with toys and objects with more purpose, she’ll be able to keep her attention on a task long enough to complete simple goals, like stacking blocks, putting a square peg into a shape puzzle, or manipulating an activity center to make sounds and lights.3,4,9

To encourage her attention span and Engagement and Persistence abilities, be sure to offer her activities and objects she’s genuinely interested in,9 appropriately praise her for her efforts no matter how big or small,10and prompt her to stay focused.9 When she’s confronted with a challenging task, point out some clues or model how to do it so that she can either figure it out on her own or watch and successfully copy your actions.

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Play Tips:

Do you want to know how you can support your baby’s development of Cause and EffectSmall Muscle Movement and Dexterity, and Engagement and Persistence skills at this age? It’s easy! Read on for some simple tips to incorporate into your daily play time together.

  1. Offer interesting toys and objects to explore.4,5 Create a safe area for exploration filled with real objects found at home, including child-safe dining utensils, plates, and empty containers.11 To encourage creativity, give your baby objects that can be used in a variety of ways, such as wooden blocks, plastic containers, activity centers, a wooden hammer and peg set, and pull and push toys.
  2. Praise your baby’s efforts to boost persistence and engagement.4 Now is the time to really support desired behaviors and positive actions. Now that your baby is beginning to understand that her actions cause things to happen, you can guide future behavior by praising all of her efforts. Research has shown that parental praise is strongly tied to a child’s ability to focus attention and stay engaged in tasks.10 As she learns to regulate herself by responding to your approval and reactions, be sure to celebrate her work with verbal praise specific to the situation!

Developmental Milestones:

Has your baby achieved the following Cause and EffectSmall Muscle Movement and Dexterity, and Engagement and Persistence developmental milestones yet? If yes, check off all the skill(s) she has already mastered to date using Playful Bee’s developmental milestones tracker. It’s absolutely FREE and easy to use, just click HERE!

  • Explores objects in different ways (e.g. banging, shaking, and throwing objects).
  • Explores cause and effect by performing actions on objects in the environment and observing outcomes.


1Gellens, Suzanne R. (2013). Building Brains. St. Paul: Redleaf Press.

2Bandura, Albert (1971). Social Learning Theory. New York, NY: General Learning Press. Retrieved on February 27, 2014, from

3Ohio Child Care Resource & Referral Association (2006). Ohio’s Infant and Toddler Guidelines.

4Maryland State Department of Education (2010). Healthy Beginnings: Supporting Development and Learning from Birth through Three Years of Age.

5Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. (2007). State of Alaska Early Learning Guidelines: A Resource for Parents and Early Educators.

6Gopnik, Alison (2010). Video: Alison Gopnik of UC Berkeley Spoke with NSF about Her Research on Young Children’s Early Learning. National Science Foundation. Retrieved on January 14, 2014, from

7Shelov, Steven P. (Ed.) (2009). Caring for Your Baby and Young Child – Birth to Age 5 (5th ed.). New York: Bantam Books.

8Children’s Trust of South Carolina. Ways You Can Prevent Choking with Children. Children’s Trust of South Carolina. Retrieved on March 12, 2014, from

9Berk, Laura E. (2011). Infants, Children, and Adolescents (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon, Inc.

10Gaertner, Bridget M,; Spinrad, Tracy L.; and Eisenberg, Nancy (2008). Focused Attention in Toddlers. Infant Child Development; 17(4): 339–363. Retrieved on March 12, 2014, from

11Oklahoma Child Care Services. Oklahoma Learning Guidelines for Infants, Toddlers, and Twos: Ages 0 through 36 Months.

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Education Team at Playful Bee
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