By Raising Children Network
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Between 0 and 12 months, your baby will be increasingly fascinated by the world. At this age, babies’ imaginations expand all the time, and they can see possibilities for play everywhere.

Baby playing with a toy

What to expect

Your baby is likely to:

  • have a natural curiosity about the environment and be keen to explore (from four months)
  • enjoy messy play (from eight months)
  • look at pictures and try to imitate your animal sounds (from seven months)
  • enjoy making noise by banging things together or vocalising (from eight months)
  • enjoy exploring cupboards, under beds and throughout the house (from about 10 months)
  • copy actions and words to songs (from 12 months)
  • enjoy toys that stimulate open-ended play (from 12 months)
  • enjoy make-believe play – talking on the phone like mummy or wearing a pirate’s costume (from about 15 months).

From about five months, babies love looking at themselves in the mirror and watching their own expressions change. Eventually, from about 15 months, babies begin to recognise themselves as the baby in the mirror.

From 8-18 months, your baby will delight in creating fun and games. You might see your child turning a carrot into a rocket or your jumper into a hat.

By 15 months, baby will enjoy make-believe play: mimicking your phone conversations and exploring pretend play by ‘helping’ with the washing up or playing daddy to toys.

Natural curiosity will spur your child to potter and ponder anywhere and everywhere. Your peg bucket could become fascinating. Picking the petals off daisies might keep baby entranced for long minutes.

Just ‘messing about’ helps baby to explore natural creativity and imagination. All your child needs is space, time and whatever safe materials are at hand.

Play ideas to encourage imagining and creating

Try the following ideas to stimulate your child’s creating and imagining skills:

  • Tell stories and read books.
  • Go for a walk. A walk in the park, at the beach, on a farm or in any different environment adds to the store of information your child builds about the world and helps fire up baby imagination.
  • Recite nursery rhymes. Forgotten the words? Check out our Baby Karaoke for some favourite songs and music.
  • Play dress-ups with old clothes, handbags and hats. This is great fun for a child from about 12 months on.
  • Give your child stuff to use for messy play – sand, water, mud, clay, playdough or paints.
  • Play with water (from 12 months) – a bucket of water with bubbles and a few plastic cups are all baby needs. It’s important that you supervise your child for safe fun with water.
  • Play outdoors. This gives your child freedom and a new environment to explore.
  • Give your child paper and a crayon for scribbling.
  • Listen to music. You could also help your child make musical instruments – like a toy xylophone, some bells, saucepan lids for cymbals, or a jar full of rice or dried peas for a shaker.
  • Play with toys (such as blocks) that can be turned into whatever your child wants, allowing open-ended play.
  • Play at being a grown-up, from about 15 months. Your child will love props such as old clothes and hats, a telephone, pots and pans, brooms, and brushes and shovels.
  • Try out the equipment at the playground. Your child might also enjoy playing around kids of a similar age, even if they don’t really play together until they’re older.
  • Explore water at bath time. Try pouring water from one container to another, seeing what happens when a boat is filled with water, and best of all, splashing water. A few simple steps will keep bath time safe.

Structured play vs open-ended play
Try to offer your child materials to make up games with, rather than toys that come complete from the shop with their own structured play expectations.

For instance, blocks are ideal for open-ended play because they can become anything. A toy car is reasonably limited in what it can become. A teddy is a teddy, but a box of different coloured pieces of material has endless possibilities.

All children develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, it’s a good idea to visit a health professional. If your child appears to lack interest in play, or in playing with objects, speak with your health professional.
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  • Last Updated 11-03-2010
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
  • Asendorph, J. B., Warkentin, V., & Baudonniere, P. (1996). Self awareness and other awareness. II: Mirror self-recognition, social contingency awareness, and synchronic imitation. Developmental Psychology, 32, 313-321.

    Manning-Morton, J., & Thorp, M. (2003). Key times for play: The first three years. Philadelphia: Open University Press.