By Raising Children Network
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Research shows that in her first 18 months of life your baby’s brain is hard at work as she makes sense of the world and herself. Even when it looks like simple play, your baby is gathering vital knowledge.

Baby playing with his bell rattle

What to expect

Your baby is likely to:

  • look at things when you name them (from eight months)
  • begin to understand that she is a separate person from her parents
  • enjoy simple puzzles (by 18 months)
  • have an improved memory – she may think before acting (and might even avoid touching the oven because she remembers it is hot)
  • enjoy repetitive games and hearing the same story over and over
  • be able to follow simple instructions (from 18 months).

Your baby now soaks up new experiences, knowledge and learning, including any opportunities to learn through play.

Detailed experiments become a feature of your baby’s play from 12 months. These might include throwing a bowl towards the floor and watching it fall, emptying out the rubbish bin, or throwing toys at the wall. This isn’t being naughty – it’s your baby learning about cause and effect (that is, ‘If I do this, this will happen’). It’s not surprising that he enjoys cause-and-effect toys – playing with them means he can push a button and something happens.

Research shows that between 8-16 months your baby will want to thoroughly explore all the toys and objects within reach, banging, dropping and shaking them to see what happens. Cups, saucers, cats, pot plants – anything she can get her hands on will get a going-over.

Providing lots of opportunity to test out her environment will give your baby a chance to learn more and more every day. If you set up a safe environment and always supervise your baby, he can roam and learn with freedom.

Play ideas to encourage thinking

  • Help your baby put together basic puzzles from 12-18 months.
  • Provide lots of fun bath toys for dunking, measuring, floating and pouring. Plastic milk bottles and margarine containers work just as well as shop-bought toys.
  • Read books and recite nursery rhymes together. Young children will also enjoy cloth books, with different textures, flaps and puppets.
  • Provide materials that can be sorted, such as different coloured blocks or balls.
  • Provide toys that let your baby push a button to make something happen, or activities such as shaking or banging objects. This helps your baby understand that she has an effect on the world.

The more relaxed the fun, the more the learning takes off. Being a playmate rather than a teacher can also help. Babies thrive on interacting with people, so it’s important to spend time with your child – including time you spend just playing with him.

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 your health professional.
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  • Last Updated 24-12-2010
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
  • Berk, L. (1997). Child Development, 4th Ed. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

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

    Degotardi, S. & Pearson, E. (2010). Knowing me, knowing you: The relationship dynamics of infant play. In Ebbeck, M. & Waniganayake, M. (Eds.) Play in early childhood education: Learning in diverse contexts (pp. 46-66). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.