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Learning, Play, and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old

Your child has gone from tiny newborn to curious infant, reaching out and exploring his or her surroundings. That curiosity and readiness to learn will continue as your baby becomes more mobile during these next few months.

What Is My Baby Learning?

Your little one will make great strides in learning. Play will take on a new dimension as language emerges. During these next few months, your baby's babbling will start to morph into words like "mama," "dada," and "baba." These will emerge randomly at first, but your baby will soon learn to associate them with mom, dad, and bottle.

Your baby will begin to follow simple commands like "give me the toy" and understand "no!" He or she will use gestures, like pointing and waving "bye-bye."

Your child can move around more and is interested in exploring. Babies learn to crawl during this stage. Some will develop other ways of getting around, like creeping on their bellies, scooting on their bottoms, or rolling to where they want to go. It doesn't matter so much how babies get around as long they can move their arms and legs well and coordinate both sides of the body.

Babies also become better at changing positions. They can quickly move from lying to sitting, then pull themselves to stand. Holding on to furniture and or your hand, your infant will take those shaky first steps. Some infants may stand alone or take their first steps without holding on.

As hand–eye coordination improves, your baby will explore objects in greater detail, also learning their functions: you use a brush on your hair, you talk on the phone.

Stranger anxiety and separation anxiety also can start now. Your baby may get upset when a stranger approaches or you try to leave, whether you're going into the next room for a few seconds or leaving your child with a sitter for the evening. Your baby may cry, cling to you, and resist attention from others. This is normal in this stage of development. It might increase in the next few months, then slowly ease as your child learns that the separation from you isn't permanent.

How Can I Help My Baby Learn?

Your baby's ability to get around and never-ending curiosity boost learning now. So give your baby chances to safely explore. Your baby may enjoy playing with egg cartons, blocks, balls, stacking toys, and push-pull toys. When your baby is in the bath, provide squeeze toys and cups and containers to splash around with.

Introduce simple words by naming familiar objects and let your baby try to imitate you. Reinforce the words by repeating them. Encourage your child's language by waiting for a response when you are having a "conversation."

Continue reading from books with large, colorful illustrations. Point to the pictures and say what's in them to create associations between the things your child sees and the words that describe them. Encourage your child to point to pictures in the book ("where is the cat?").

Some Other Ideas

Here are some other ideas for encouraging your 8- to 12-month-old to learn and play:

  • Help your baby get into the crawling position on hands and knees. Place a favorite toy out of reach and encourage your baby to move toward it.
  • Let your baby feed himself or herself. Finger feeding promotes fine motor skills, hand–eye coordination, and independence
  • Continue to play games like peekaboo, but vary it a bit by hiding your face with a blanket and letting the baby pull it off, hiding around the corner, and showing your baby how to cover his or her own face with the hands.
  • Continue to play hide and seek and test your child's understanding of object permanence. Let your baby watch you hide a toy — first partially hidden, then covered completely — and let him or her find it.
  • Teach your baby action songs, like "Pat-A-Cake," "This Little Piggy," "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," and "Pop Goes the Weasel." Babies love to hear and learn these songs and anticipate the accompanying movements.

Keep in mind that babies develop at different rates, and there is a wide range of normal development. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your baby's development

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2019