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Your Brilliant Baby in Week 23: Understanding Stable and Unstable Objects

Baby’s Brain in Week 23

Because babies are programmed to survive, they’re continually watching for elements in their environments that will secure their safety and stability, as well as ones that might pose danger. (Case in point, the “Is it OK that that thing moved on its own?” understanding from last week.)

For now, infants mainly judge these scenarios by watching you. But later—when their eye-hand coordination has further developed—they’ll use materials like blocks to conduct various experiments on their own, testing for themselves stable and unstable situations, which will lead to mastery of the concept.

Right now, though, your child is keen enough to notice that skilled grown-ups and older children put objects in the center of a table when they’re looking to secure a stable spot for it. Amazingly, Baby also knows that an object on the edge of a table is in peril: Even at this young age, your child expects that item to fall to the ground, crashing and possibly breaking.

What the Research Shows

Researchers showed five-month-olds a block with a happy face drawn on it, placed on what might be the center of a table. The babies were unconcerned; they knew this situation to be safe. Though the infants didn’t know it, this scenario is what researchers call a predictable stable condition.

But when the babies were shown the same setup with the block sitting on the edge of the table about to fall, the researchers could see concern written all over their faces. The infants seemed to know that the first block setting would stay supported where it was, but the block in the second arrangement would not.

Is it that the babies were responding to novelty—just the newness of this second scenario—rather than an understanding of stable or unstable block arrangements? It’s difficult to be sure. But what we do know is that babies observe their environments, looking for predictable physical phenomena. And when they see an event that’s unusual in regard to gravity or physics, they’ll pay close attention to it until they can understand why and what to do about it. For now, that mostly likely is a worried look or possibly a screech to alert you to any strange or potentially dangerous situations.

Week 23 Brain Booster

Want to entertain your baby? Get out some blocks and build with them where Baby can see. Create arrangements that stand stable and others that topple over. Even though your child can’t actually help you stack yet, she is naturally compelled to figure out the basics of the physics she’s seeing in action. Watch, amazed yourself, as Baby is intrigued by the stability and strength of a pyramid versus the wobbly peril of a singly stacked tall block tower.

Your Week 23 Toolbox

Related skills and topics this week include …

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