6 - 9 Months
Infants and toddlers are holistic learners, which means that although one activity may primarily target one developmental area, all domains are “at play.” When you are targeting motor development, your presence and connection with your baby also inevitably target social/emotional development, your words develop your child’s communication, and the concepts you discuss and problem-solving your baby is doing develop cognition. The more you interact with your baby, the more your baby learns!
These activities are all meant to be interactive, and should be supervised by a fully present adult.
+ Anticipation Games
Personal care routines (i.e., diapering, feeding, eating, dressing/undressing, washing, etc.) provide a predictable sequence of events, and allow infants of this age to learn to anticipate next steps. The actions we do day in and day out help your baby to develop the memory and understanding of what comes next, allowing them to hone their natural desire to imitate our actions.
Since babies learn through repetition, they often find repeated actions to be entertaining or interesting. This is part of why games like peek-a-boo, or song and finger plays, can be so much fun played over and over (and over) again.
Play with the tempo/pace of familiar routines, songs/rhymes, or games that you play together, to keep your baby "on her toes" - this may keep her engaged for a longer time, and will call attention to different aspects of the activity than those she may have attended to previously!
While dressing: instead of simply putting on a sock, make a "zoooooooooom"-ing sound and slowly bring the sock closer until you put it on.
When singing a song: pause (or elongate a pause) in the song to highlight something that is about to happen - you may see her watching you expectantly!
When playing peek-a-boo: vary the amount of time before you "reappear" so she doesn't know quite when to expect you.
Create a new simple game: hold a piece of fabric (any small clothing item) above her, wiggling it about, and drop it down on top of her body when she least expects it.
Start to make a noise and move your body slowly toward hers as your vocalization gets louder until you suddenly tickle her body!
+ Giving Choices & Control
With added mobility comes added ability... and your baby's newfound abilities allow him to make more obvious choices about how he'd like to engage with the world. As he learns more about the world around him, and the routines he participates in every day, he can be given opportunities to make small decisions that show he has some effect on his environment.
Starting this “involvement” early can have positive effects down the line when managing more “toddler” behavior, as you are building the framework that sets clear expectations, while simultaneously allowing him to feel a sense of control within your own agenda. Allow him to make simple choices of no more than two visually obvious options (each of which are acceptable options to YOU!) throughout his day - in care routines, in play, and on-the-go, and indicate clearly that you've understood his preference.
Ensure the two options are "concretely" represented: visually obvious, so he can look at, extend his body towards, point to one of them, or show you in some way. Describe the item he chose, as well, so you are intrinsically weaving in descriptive language!
IF he does not indicate a preference, make one for him! Let him know that next time, he can pick! If you can, give aloud a reason for why you're choosing one over the other - for example, because he enjoyed it in the past or picked it last time.
Care routine examples: Dressing (hold up two clothing items from which he can pick), bathing(ask him which of two body parts you might scrub next, point to each as you label them), eating (hold up two drink options, flatware options, bib options, or food options), bedtime (hold up two books he can choose from, or two cuddly animals who might want to kiss him good night).
Play examples: have him choose between two toys to play with next, or which one to stack / roll / manipulate in relation to another. Sing a song with props (stuffed animals, photos, scarves, instruments) - let him choose the prop, or once you're finished, ask which one he wants you to use next.
A note about forced choice during play: Too much of anything is often... too much - we want our babies to lead their own play, so try not to create too much "choice-making" in a situation that would likely be much more beneficial if it were less structured and child-led! If your baby looks to you for guidance, wants you to perform something he can't do himself, is requesting a social routine, or appears bored or unengaged with the available options, then offering a choice of some kind is a more productive thing to do in a play context!
On-the-go examples: Grocery store (hold up or point to two options of items you actually can't decide between, yourself), park/playground (ask him which direction he wants to explore next, pointing to the two options), in transit: pick a song you know he likes, and ask him to point to, touch or hold up one of two visible items in the environment - substitute a lyric in the song with the object he's chosen.
+ Babble & Gesture
Typically, somewhere between 4 and 10 months, babies start to use "vocal play" in the form of babbling. Babbling (vs. the earlier "cooing,") refers to the sounds babies make when they start to use consonants.
Initially, your baby will likely use one sound in isolation, and then put together consonant-vowel combinations. As he plays with the sounds his mouth makes (and watches and listens to you forming words), he will start to use more varying consonants and vowels, his sounds becoming more complex.
There is research to suggest that rhythmic arm activity (e.g., banging) increases substantially at the same time as the onset of babbling, and that there is a relationship between infant gesture and the acquisition of spoken language.
You can encourage your baby to make these sounds by speaking to him, as you have been doing, but also singing on sounds like "ba" or "ma," or simply by making simple sounds and "playing" with your voice in consonant-vowel combination to break down the elements, getting close to him and saying, "ba-ba-ba," "da-da-da," "ma-ma-ma," etc. As time goes on, your baby will start to babble not only to stimulate himself, but also for a social purpose: he will learn that when he speaks, he will be reinforced by you, the caregiver!
If gesture, movement and language development all influence each other, it stands to reason that the more face-to-face, social and meaningful enriched you participate in with your baby, the more he can benefit!
Play Peek-a-boo! He's watching your hands, your eyes, your face, and at some point soon, will find it amazing and hilarious that you're still there even when your face is covered (part of "object permanence," which we'll talk about more another week).
Play with rhythm (tapping your hand on your knee or on his, to the beat of a song) and perform finger plays, which often rhyme and have their own rhythm (or meter).
Encourage waving hello and good-bye - mostly by modeling it yourself when you are greeting others, instead of grabbing his hand and doing it for him (he'll imitate when he's ready, and when it's meaningful to him!)
Bang on kitchen items / utensils / drums / shakers of any sort! Make rhythms together and copy the sounds he makes, having a "rhythmic conversation" of sorts.
+ Rhythm & Song
Books and finger plays are wonderful examples of activities that promote joint attention (that shared attention between you and your child upon an object).
Many babies within this age range (6-9 months) are interested in looking at books or listening to and watching rhymes and songs being performed for a brief period. This is related to her growing ability to attend, her budding comprehension of words and rhythm, and her interest in relating to you.
Give your baby both visual and auditory input by using movement and/or images as you sing or read to her.
Call attention to the rhythm in nursery rhymes or simple songs by alternating rhythm with song. Find (or make) a book of a familiar song. Alternate singing it and reading the words to vary the experience.
Sometimes, your baby may simply want to study the pictures. Open the book to a page that interests her and either remain silent, or point to an object and make its "sound," label its action, etc., instead of simply reading what is on the page.
motor / sensory
+ Visual Scan & Reach
Physical and motor development refer to the development of all "motor" skills, or movements of the body - involving the large and small muscles. This includes movements of the eyes, and your baby's growing ability to look at and study (or "visually scan") items in front of her. Now, her eye and hand skills are able to start working together in a more fine-tuned manner. As your baby learns to control the large and small muscles of her body, she is also learning about the items in her environment that she is able to manipulate.
Research suggests that infants around the age of 6 months begin to use information they take in visually to guide their physical actions. She adjusts her movements (reaching, grasping, etc.) according to visual-spatial cues, and uses this information to help her determine what she wants to do with objects she's found.
Your baby is starting to integrate aspects of visual information to determine how she can manipulate something, or what she might do with it - taking in what she's seen before (whether it was you stirring a spoon in a bowl, or recalling what happened to a sand castle when she put her hand down into it, etc.), and applying that information to new experiences, experimenting with her own behavior and impact on the world. From 6 months, your baby may be starting to use her own senses to guide her behavior, suggesting that giving her time to learn without interfering in her own choices about what and how to play with objects is essential.
Give her access to a few objects at a time so she can choose what interests her, and try to offer objects that vary in texture, quality, size, shape, etc.
Use an empty egg carton: using a half or whole dozen carton, fill a few of (or all of) the spaces with household or play objects (i.e., a ball of scrunched up paper, a sock, a puzzle piece, a ball, a rattle). Egg cartons can be easily manipulated by a young baby, and she may even be able to open it herself.
Create a "sensory bag:" you can use a clear plastic sealable bag (making sure it is really sealed, and adding an additional seal with tape if you like). Add food coloring to make it a colorful experience, or keep it clear and add small plastic objects (i.e., buttons, beads, plastic animals) or food objects (i.e., grapes, berries, ice cubes), or any variation you can think of!
Offer a "sensory bin:" place objects inside that she can grab out of a shallow bowl or box. You can group them by some similar quality that each of the objects share (whether by a physical quality or their functional use) to add to the things you might say about them, and to help suggest to her the idea of categories.
+ Put In, Take Out
As your baby starts to sit upright (either independently or with your body as a support), he will soon be able to access objects from new angles and perspectives. Simultaneously, he will be working on his ability to grab hold of objects, and will become more adept at exploring in different ways (including use of his mouth!). Your baby learns through the process of repetition - repeating similar actions allows him to practice moving his body in certain ways, or problem-solve how to get from one place to another... including into something!
Manipulating objects (moving them around, exploring how they work and what they do) is an early part of learning about orientation skills - which sets the foundation for other visual motor skills she will develop later on (such as writing, building the logic to complete puzzles, etc).
He will likely learn to take things out before he learns to put them back in, so you as caregiver can model for him how to reload and repeat the activity until he can do it himself. Offering containers that can be easily opened or that have openings on one side can allow him to explore what is inside, and help him develop the skills to problem solve, remember what he did the last time, and understand how to move in order to get something out.
Use a 3-sided or rounded container: This might be a shoebox, low plastic bin, a wicker basket, a mixing bowl... Place objects inside, and allow your baby to take things out - one at a time or all at once!
Use a closed shoebox with a hand-sized hole cut through the top, or a tissue box. He must turn the container, shake, or reach in to get things out.
Use a box that is closed, but that he can open independently: A nesting toy, a "nearly" peeled off lid on a canister, etc. Shake this toy while you sing a song to him. Hide different objects inside, and when the song is over, offer the container to him as a temptation to remove the lid and see what's inside!
When he has finished playing with a particular toy (either he has taken all the objects out of the box, or he has become bored), model putting things away by making this its own activity.
- Each toy that goes back in the box can come with a silly song,
- Each toy that goes back comes with the the word "in"
- Each toy that goes back gets a sing-song voice saying "good-bye!"
You might hand him one of the objects and place the container in front of him, pausing expectantly.
If he doesn't drop it in, you can "help" him to show him what you expect, and then sing/say the same silly sound when he has completed the action.
+ Painting & Playing
As solids are introduced and purposeful movements are further developing, your baby may enjoy experiencing and experimenting with different textures.
To give your baby the opportunity to create and "be messy," edible and/or washable paint can be a wonderful way to introduce your baby to the idea of artistic expression - in the form of color, texture and movement - with the added benefit of taste exploration!
At this age and stage, "playing with your food" is a completely natural and positive way for your baby way to experience food. Introducing foods in a play situation allows young children to interact with and familiarize themselves with new foods, experience it using other senses (smell, texture, visual, etc.) and can remove anxiety of actually eating (especially for any little ones with food aversions or sensory issues).
Experiment with a variety of edible "finger painting" options offered in different locations and on a variety of surfaces! Use a wipeable (or hose-able) surface. Your options are really endless - a plastic tray, a bathtub, a table cloth, a porch, a tarp, a bowl, a large piece of paper...
Offer tools: your baby may want to use a spoon, a basting brush, or a sponge instead of her fingers, or in addition to them. You can model for her some ideas for how to use them, but try to let her figure out whether she wants to use them, and/or how. She may only want to play with the tools (rather than the paint!) which is ok, too! Remember that the texture or temperature of paint may simply be a sensory experience she's not interested in at the moment.
Baby-safe finger paints can be made by: Pureeing variously colored foods (think, kiwi, strawberry, banana, cooked sweet potato, etc. - especially those that are overripe! Mixing food coloring or natural dyes to cornstarch, flour, or yogurt.
For babies who are not at all interested in the sensory aspect of messy finger painting, there are alternatives: place a few dollops of color on a piece of paper enclosed in a plastic bag, or inside a (sealed) sheet protector to allow them to see the color move as they touch it.
The palmar grasp reflex (when something is placed in the baby's hand, the hand reflexively closes - a reflex we are born with) typically disappears by about 5 months of age. Around 3-5 months, babies typically begin to consciously grasp objects with their fingers. Your baby will start his journey into purposeful grasping by swatting, then grabbing with his whole hand and "raking" something toward him or into the other hand, and eventually using more precise movements and parts of his hand.
The ability to pick something up with one's forefinger and thumb (and then place the object in a controlled manner) is the use of the pincer grasp, and is typically mastered somewhere around 9 months. This is a time that lots of hand-eye coordination is developing. One of the most common uses of the pincer grasp for a baby of this age is related to eating solids, as it allows him to feed himself smaller bits in a more refined way.
Give your baby lots of opportunities to grasp and hold objects, presenting just a few at a time so he's able to focus (and therefore more likely to experiment with an object). Play with objects that can be separated, and/or can be held all at once (scarves, cooked pasta, tissues in a box, etc), give him the opportunity to explore smaller toys (under your focused supervision!) so he can practice grasping and picking up objects of different shapes and sizes (kitchen items e.g., spoons, metal / plastic / wooden bowls or cups, blocks, toy cars or animal figurines), instruments.
Provide soft finger foods that your baby can feed himself, such as roasted vegetables, slices of soft fruit, strips of bread, cereal "O's, etc. For more information and ideas, you might consider looking into "Baby Led Weaning/Eating."
social / emotional
+ Social Awareness
Typically, babies within this age range start to watch or become aware of other children in the group around the time when they are able to sit up and look around.
They begin to show more of an interest in what others are playing with, and how other people (both children and adults) engage with objects - the beginning of a more interactional stage that includes more imitation and engagement between peers and with adults.
Give your baby the opportunity to play with others around her age when possible and play "social games" with her yourself. Social games include things like peek-a-boo, reading or rhythmically chanting nursery rhymes, and singing songs.
At times, try to include a prop of some kind (a musical instrument, a colorful scarf, a puppet) so that she can watch how you use the object She may attempt to imitate you, or she may simply ovserve you (or be busy with something else!!)
Try to respect her desire and allow her to engage freely in the activity (instead of directing her to do specific things).
When your baby is playing around other peers, whether in an adult-led group or a non-structured play setting, try to allow her the space and freedom to learn on her own as much as possible. Resist the urge to manipulate her hands.
Remember to give her time to explore her surroundings on her own before you intervene. This allows her to develop confidence in herself, and start to learn the social rules of her environment on her own.
This is not an age that you can reasonably expect your baby to "share" (the reality is that this doesn't come for a few more YEARS). She is still developing the fine motor skills to become 'gentle' (though encouraging soft touches instead of grabbing or hitting may be a good way to familiarize her with this concept and increase her awareness of others).
If your baby takes something from another child (or vice versa) and you feel the need to intervene, you might offer another option to the baby who's lost the object, or give a choice of other (potentially similar) objects to your baby (or to whoever "the taker" is).
+ Attach & Explore
From the very beginning, babies seek security - especially up through the age of around 9 months. From around this time, typically developing babies are often beginning to become more mobile (with skills that are slowly emerging or quickly mastering - the spectrum is broad!), and their focus becomes more about exploration of the environment further away from the caregiver.
The security your baby has developed by being able to rely and and trust her caregivers to be predictably responsive to her needs allows her the confidence to know that, if she leaves your side to momentarily explore the environment, you will be there when she needs you again. This knowledge enables her to continue to form her own identity and sense of self.
"Engineer" parts of your home environment to provide materials that support relationships between your baby and you, your partner, other familiar adults, as well as frequently seen children (siblings, cousins, friends). Include pictures of these important people. Place them in accessible areas of your home, in photo albums, in sheet protectors, or laminated on cardstock/cardboard. Include pictures of familiar places or activities.
When your baby takes an interest in these pictures, tell her about the last time she was there, what she did, who she was with, something special that happened, etc. Embed pictures of people within her play materials, place pictures of people on the underside of puzzle pieces that she can easily manipulate, place them under a stacking block, place them inside a sack, so she (or you) can fish them out. Make a game of finding the pictures, taking turns, or playing peek-a-boo with them!
+ Separation Anxiety
By the age of around 8 months, babies develop a rudimentary understanding of "object permanence," or the knowledge that objects and people exist even when not in view.
When a familiar adult disappears, your baby knows you are gone, but doesn’t know where you’ve gone or when you’ll come back! This can, understandably, create a sense of panic in your little one, and, for many babies, can lead to the appearance of a more clingy, “needy,” child as her 1-year birthday approaches. It is important to remember that this shift is an important and healthy part of his social/emotional and cognitive development.
Experts in early childhood development and education typically agree that if you are leaving for any “real” period of time (dropping her off at daycare or leaving her with another caregiver to run errands/have some time for yourself), it’s best to say a quick good-bye instead of simply disappearing. This creates consistency and allows her to learn to recognize that good-byes are an important social routine, and that she can depend on your cues to anticipate what is coming next.
Help your baby understand that you have not left "for good."
- If you're simply going into the next room, keep telling and telling her what you're doing and where you're going.
- Even if she cries, the sound of your voice will have a soothing effect overall! Make sure there are nice reminders of you and other familiar people in her environment when you are not present.
- This can take the form of photographs, familiar routines or activities that help her learn that her world will go on with some familiarity, even if you are not there in that moment. Create a photo album featuring you and any other primary caregivers doing fun things your baby enjoys.
- On one side, feature a photograph; on the other side, a description of the scene, answering: Who / What / When / Where / Why questions to serve as prompts
- This can be taken out at any time (whether you are present or not), but can be a wonderful way for a new or less familiar caregiver to talk about you
- It can also serve as a prompt for distraction: "Wow, here you are with your daddy playing with your stuffed animals! Let's play with them together, now! Can you show me?"
- For a "how-to" of this activity, see the Strength In Words DIY Blog post, "Familiar Family Book" Make a habit of playing games like "peek-a-boo"
- These games help her develop an appreciation for, and familiarize her with the fact that we are here even when hidden!
- This is not to say that it will ease separation anxiety each time you leave, but it helps give her the tools to understand the concept as a whole. Increase your baby's awareness of, and familiarity with, the fact that objects out of sight still exist
- Place items into a container (bag, bucket, cardboard box, etc.), and peek inside, acting excited, to tempt your baby to reach in
- Explore the contents together
Bring this information to life
+ Musical Experiences
- Place your baby on your body (in your lap, on your knee, etc) and bounce to the rhythm of a rhyme or song you know (either while you sing or listen).
- Take turns on a drum (or an upside down pot/pan/bowl) - you bang, then pause while your baby bangs.
- Imitate the vocal sounds your baby makes, including the pitch and “melody” of her sounds.
+ Literacy Experiences
- Read a book with repeating lines. Each time you read the line that repeats, add more stress to your voice, highlighting that it is different from the rest!
- Go through a magazine and point to images of people. Try commenting on how they feel, what they’re doing, where they are, etc.
- Instead of reading the words on a page, point to an object and make its "sound.”
+ Sensory Experiences
- Place something in front of your baby that requires a bit of effort for her to push or pull, engaging her body in “heavy work.”
- With another adult, use a large, strong piece of fabric (e.g., a cotton tablecloth, a parachute, or organza) in which to safely and slowly swing your baby or pull her forward along the floor.
- Blow bubbles near your baby, allowing her to reach for them and pop them.
+ Visual Supports
- Find a picture of someone eating and another of someone drinking (in a magazine, downloaded from a web search) and point to them while commenting that you or your baby is doing the same thing at meal time!
- Point out objects, animals, and people on clothing items.
- Make a photo book of familiar people and tell stories about those people.