The Senses and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old

Along with increased mobility, your baby is continuing to develop an understanding of the world through the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures in the environment.

Take the necessary precautions to ensure safety, but also provide your baby with countless ways to explore the world through the senses.

Sight

Your baby's sight has been maturing for several months, and he or she is able to see quite well and even focus on quickly moving objects. Your baby is now putting motor skills together with vision, and it's likely that he or she can spot a toy across the room, focus on it, move to it, pick it up, and explore it in a variety of ways.

Familiar and loving faces are still your baby's favorite thing to look at, but he or she also may enjoy looking at pictures in books, concentrating on familiar images. Your baby may love objects with parts or pieces he or she can move, and will spend lots of time staring at and manipulating these things, perhaps trying to figure out how or why they work.

Take your baby with you to see new and interesting places. Point out the sights and label them by name. You'll be promoting your baby's language development and interest in the surrounding world.

Hearing

Your baby's been listening to you for quite some time and is starting to recognize common words, such as ball, cup, and bottle.

You'll also know you're being heard and understood when you ask "Where's Daddy?" and your baby looks his way; or you say "Go find the ball" and he or she crawls right to it. Your baby should already respond well to his or her own name, and look up (and at least pause) when you say, "NO!"

Labeling simple objects during the course of the day reinforces the message that everything has its own name. Your baby is learning what familiar objects are called and storing this information away until the time when he or she can form the words.

During this period, your baby will be making more and more recognizable sounds, such as "ga," "ba," and "da." By 9 months your baby is putting these sounds together to make words like dada or baba. Soon your baby will make the connection between the sounds and specific objects.

By the end of the first year, your baby should:

  • be responding well to simple requests from you ("Wave bye-bye")
  • have at least one true word in his or her vocabulary in addition to mama and dada
  • be making some valiant babbling attempts at real conversation

Taste and Smell

By this age, your baby is developing food preferences. Continue to offer foods with a variety of tastes and smells, and don’t give up if he or she doesn’t immediately take to it. It can take ten tries or more before a baby learns to like new food. Explore the sense of smell with your baby, too. Use scents to help your baby understand the world further. A trip outside can provide a wide variety, from the sweet scent of flowers to the distinctive smell of recently cut grass.

Label smells and tastes for your baby ("Doesn't this smell sweet?" and "Oh, this tastes so sour!"), and you'll be providing the tools to name them as soon as your baby can form the words.

Touch

Your baby is getting around more independently as he or she learns to scoot, crawl, or walk. This means your baby can go and touch the things he or she wants to touch. After making sure there are no hot, sharp, or other things that can hurt your baby and no small objects that can be put in the mouth, let your baby explore the textures and surfaces of your home and yard.

Let your baby find out how that banana gets mushy on the highchair tray, and that ice cubes feel hard and cold. Find some sandpaper and let your baby rub a hand gently over its coarse surface, then move that hand to the smooth coolness of a stainless-steel sink.

Of course, your loving touch is still the most important touch your baby knows, so give your baby hugs and kisses every chance you get.

Should I Be Concerned?

You've probably addressed any concerns you've had about your baby's eyesight already. But be sure to contact your doctor if you notice any problems, including:

  • eyes that wander in or out consistently or don't move together
  • inability to see or recognize distant objects or people
  • persistent tearing, fluid discharge, crusting, or redness of eyes
  • frequent squinting or sensitivity to light
  • droopy eyelids
  • excessive eye rubbing or scratching

Hearing problems may become more apparent during this stage because of the emergence of speech. Don't hesitate to report any concerns to your doctor, especially if you feel your child is not babbling or responding to you. Special tests can check for hearing loss at any age.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011