Play-by-Play: How Your Baby Learns

4 - 9 Months: Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Living and Learning: By your baby's fourth month, he'll morph from spectator to active play participant, lifting his head, bringing his hand to his mouth, and grasping toys. "When kids start mouthing, holding, and shaking, it's a way for them to learn about things in the world and whether they're soft, hard, or noisy," says Margret Nickels, PhD, an instructor at the Erikson Institute in Chicago. By shaking a ball and then a rattle, he finds out that the rattle makes noise; after putting a block in his mouth, then a banana, he finds out that the banana tastes good and the block -- not so much. Just ask Elizabeth Matheis from Parsippany, New Jersey: "My 5-month-old enjoys reaching for pretty much anything she can gnaw on." What is it about the mouth that seems to fascinate babies so much? That's where they have the most nerve endings, and by mouthing objects, they're working two senses at once, taste and touch. Plus, it's a movement that comes naturally to them, says Jon Korfmacher, PhD, an associate professor at the Erikson Institute. "Babies have a natural reflex of putting their fingers in their mouth to soothe themselves."

Game Time: Give him a plastic bowl and a couple of wooden spoons and let him bang away.

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