Teaching Cause and Effect to Budding Baby Scientists

Teaching Cause and Effect to Budding Baby Scientists

All babies are born scientists.1,2 As you’ve heard time and time again, babies come into a brand new world knowing nothing about their surroundings, the people in it (except for moms, whom they begin to listen to during the last 10 weeks in the womb3), and the objects and actions that make up life as we know it. However, once they come into the big world, babies have a built-in need and interest to explore everything around them in order to learn and understand their new life. Through your her Sensory Exploration and growing ability to experiment with Cause and Effect, your 6- to 9-month-old child will start making sense of all that she sees, feels, hears, tastes, and smells by seeking out new experiences and examining things closely and then organizing what she’s learned in her mind.2

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Cause and Effect is the relationship between an action and an outcome4 (e.g. If you do this, then that happens). Though your baby started off with a blank slate at birth, right away she began gathering information from her many experiences and forming new theories to build and understand that knowledge. Since she knows that her different actions produce different results, she will begin to test these different actions during playtime so that she can change and build her growing knowledge base.5,6

Her experiments also require muscle strength and ability. By 9 months, she’ll have developed the Active Coordinated Movement skills and fine motor muscle strength necessary to let her “perform one action in order to create the conditions under which [she] will be able to perform a second, independent action.”7 In other words, she will do one action (the cause) in order to see what will happen (the effect).

As you have probably witnessed time and time again, infants do a lot of sensory exploration by putting all kinds of objects, edible or not, into their mouths. They do this because they have more sensory receptors in their mouths than anywhere else on their bodies, but they can’t tell the difference between what they taste and what they feel at this age.8

In the beginning, your baby may pick up an object and purposely put it into her mouth to learn about it. She will gradually evolve into more advanced cause-and-effect activities by using her hands, such as banging on different objects to make sounds, dropping objects from her high chair to see what happens, turning a toy wheel to watch it spin, and pulling on the edge of a blanket to bring it closer.9,10 And as she reaches 9 months old, she will be able to focus on toys in her hand for longer periods of time so that she can scrutinize and explore their meaning.

Play Tips:

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

  1. Provide a wide variety of cause-and-effect toys and objects to play with. Your baby wants to make things happen now, whether it’s causing an object to fall, squeak, light up, or play sweet tunes, so offer her a variety of tactile toys and objects she can explore with her hands or drop on a whim, such as pie tins, large wooden beads, and plastic blocks. Make sure to “[w]atch, but don’t interrupt, when [your] baby is busy exploring toys or other objects”11 to give her a chance to figure things out on her own.
  2. Offer your baby pull toys and activity centers to explore.1 While we don’t want to expose our children to too many toys with all the bells and whistles, it’s good to give them the opportunity to make things happen with a push of a button or crank of a wheel to develop their understanding of Cause and Effect. If you want to find causal learning opportunities around the house, try showing your baby how to turn on a light with a switch or use a bathroom sink faucet. Let her examine these objects and experiment with her ability to turn things on and off.
  3. Blow bubbles in the air.10 Introduce bubbles to your baby and point them out as they float through the air and fall to the ground. Try catching a few bubbles in the air to pop in front of her.

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Developmental Milestones:

Has your baby achieved the following Cause and Effect developmental milestones yet? If yes, check off all the skill(s) he 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 with hands and mouth.
  • Watches objects as they fall.


1Gopnik, 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 http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_videos.jsp?cntn_id=125575&media_id=73192.

2Nugent, Kevin and Morell, Abelardo (2011). Your Baby is Speaking to You. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

3Mann, Denise (2013). Babies Listen and Learn While in the Womb. WebMD. Retrieved on March 3, 2014, from http://www.webmd.com/baby/news/20130102/babies-learn-womb.

4Davis, G.A. and Keller, J.D. (2010). A Child’s World of Cause and Effect. Education.com. Retrieved on March 4, 2014, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/child-world-cause-effect/.

5Piaget, Jean (1983). Piaget’s Theory. In P. Mussen (Ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology, Volume 1 (4th ed.) (pp. 103-128). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

6Piaget, Jean (1952). Logic and Psychology. In Howard E. Gruber and J.. Jacques Voneche (Eds.), The Essential Piaget (pp. 445-477). New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc.

7Baillargeon, Renee; Spelke, Elizabeth; and Wasserman, Stanley (1985). Object Permenance in 5 Month Old InfantsCognition, 20, 191-208.

8Gellens, Suzanne R. (2013). Building Brains. St. Paul: Redleaf Press.

9District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (2008). District of Columbia Early Learning Standards for Infants and Toddlers.

10Maryland State Department of Education (2010). Healthy Beginnings: Supporting Development and Learning from Birth through Three Years of Age.

11First Things First and Arizona Department of Education. Arizona’s Infant and Toddler Developmental Guidelines.

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Education Team at Playful Bee
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