How Do Infants Learn?

Babies do more than eat and sleep. They are soaking up knowledge. Parents are a baby’s first teacher. Babies see and hear everything you are doing. Therefore, there are many things you can do to help your child learn and grow.

Path to improved learning

Babies learn through sensory experiences (see, touch, smell, listen), talking, repetition, and play. These experiences help them learn to sit, crawl, walk, talk, eat, problem-solve, interact with others, and more.


Give your baby every opportunity to see, touch, smell, and hear what’s going on in their environment.

  • Show your baby pictures, colors, and even words. These images will leave a lasting mark in their brains. This can come from books, room decorations, fabrics, etc. You can develop your baby’s early language by showing them sign language. Pick a few simple signs for concepts, such as “more” and “please.” Model the gesture with the word. For example, if your baby wants another spoonful of baby food, you sign and say the word “more.” Then you give your baby another bite.
  • This is an important method of teaching your baby concepts. Such concepts include hard, soft, rough, smooth, hot, cold, and more. Keep the experience safe. Don’t allow your child to put something unsafe in his or her mouth. Don’t allow your child to burn his or herself by touching something hot.
  • We associate a lot with our sense of smell. There are plenty of opportunities to let your child smell his or her food. Watch your child’s face when he or she smells an orange, a lemon, or cinnamon. Even crayons and play dough have a certain smell. Avoid exposing your child to harmful smells, such as chemicals and cleaners.
  • Sounds, such as sirens, singing, music, bells, and more will provide learning opportunities for your baby. This will teach your baby how to react with emotion. And in other instances, it will convey a sense of calm (such as when a mom or dad sings to a crying baby).


With every experience, remember to match the word with the experience. For example, if you are looking at colors, say the color. If you are touching something cold, say the word cold. Also, tell your baby what you are doing. If you are cooking dinner, tell him or her you are “cutting the carrots.” When you bathe your baby, tell him or her that you are washing their arm. Sometimes it’s helpful to make up little songs to describe what you are doing. Songs also are helpful for routine tasks. For example, make up a song for cleaning up toys. Sing it every time you clean up (even your baby is too young to help). Your baby will associate routines tasks with that song. It will teach responsibility.


There’s no better way to teach your baby new things than through play. Here are some ways to work play into your baby’s routine:

  • Use “tummy time” as an opportunity to look at picture cards or touch different toys and objects. Tummy time is a time when your child is awake and playing on the floor with supervision.
  • Sing as often as you can. This will help with your baby’s language and vocabulary, as well.
  • Read a book and talk about the pictures you see.
  • Teach your child to take turns when playing with mom and dad. Use the words “your turn” to teach the concept. It’s an important concept to know as they get older.
  • Make stuffed animals talk. Stuffed animals can be very helpful in teaching concepts, colors, numbers, letters, and more.


Repetition is an important part of learning. Very few people learn new things by doing it just once. It takes practice to learn something new. For example, if you are teaching your baby to say “mama,” say it every time you talk about yourself. Say daddy when you point to pictures of dad. Tell your baby that “mama and daddy love you.” That’s how babies know who to call mama and daddy.

Another way to teach your baby new concepts or language is to mimic (copy) what he or she says. If your baby says cold when touching something cold, you mimic him or her by repeating the word. This reinforces that they are correct. Even before a baby says his or her first word, you can mimic the baby’s coos and babbling. You can even mimic your baby’s smile.

Things to consider

As parents, the first thing we say when we don’t want our baby to do something is “no.” However, it’s important to offer an alternative behavior when you say no. For example, if you want your baby to stop hitting, you say, “Don’t hit. Use soft touches.” As a child grows, if you don’t want them to run, you say, “Stop running. Walk please.”

Be consistent with your child and expose them to new things. That is the best way to help a baby learn.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How do you know if your baby has sensory issues?
  • What does it mean if your baby reacts negatively to something?
  • Should I give my baby choices?
  • Should I be concerned if my baby is not making eye contact during our time together?