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How you can help baby play and learn
Parents can foster problem-solving skills by creating a stimulating environment. Offer your baby an interesting toy; with a little encouragement, baby will become absorbed in the intricacies of a shape sorter or nesting cups. Once your baby seems engaged with the toy, sit back and observe what your child does with it.

Resist the temptation to interfere with baby’s “work.” For example, if you see those chubby little hands trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, resist the urge to demonstrate the “right” way to do it. It’s difficult to watch baby struggle, but consider it an opportunity to see your child learn and develop problem-solving skills that will last a lifetime. Eventually baby will prevail, and you’ll be rewarded with that unmistakable facial expression of “I did it!”

On the other hand, if baby becomes frustrated or overwhelmed, it may be time to step in. Try to find a way to help your child without actually solving the problem. If baby is not ready to crawl but desperate to get to the toy, you might want to move it a little closer so baby can rock back and forth in order to reach. Or your little pre-crawler might surprise you with an innovative solution: pulling the blanket beneath the toy in an effort to pull the toy closer to both of you.

Another way to help is to briefly demonstrate. For example, if baby tries to stack several blocks to create a tower, they may keep sliding off or falling because the top one is slightly askew. Show how you would approach the problem, then give your baby a turn to try it out. After a few tries, you’re bound to see success!

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education