Play ideas for a 9-12 month old

Infants are known for being tiny little scientists. As they grow more capable and precise with their movements, they are able to conduct experiments with nearly everything they touch. This allows them to learn about their environment, and to enact upon their environment – to see what they can do to the world in which they live.

This is what play looks like

It can be difficult for us as grown adults to remember that play doesn’t necessarily look a certain way. We have been conditioned, over time, to understand that A + B = C, and to think of things quite linearly: books are for reading, blocks are for stacking, etc.

Many of us have *heard* the words, “follow your child’s lead,” but few of us actually have much experience with what that actually looks like and how it feels. 

When it comes to play, we can actually relax and keep it simple. Our children are learning by observing, touching, imitating, moving, and interacting.

As far as our own ability to maximize the quality of our interactions with our babies, the best thing we can do is to just sit back and watch what they’re doing. Let your baby be the “scientist,” and try to remove your adult notions of what it’s supposed to look like, or how we’re supposed to play with an object. This allows us to do two things: first, it allows us to see nearly every (safe, non-chokable, unhazardous) object as an opportunity for learning. Secondly, it allows us to relieve ourselves of the responsibility of “teaching” our children, and instead put on a different hat – that of facilitator or guide. The difference is that with your baby at the helm, you are simply responsible for adding some social interaction (your presence, your words about what you or your baby is doing, your commentary or praise for your baby’s hard work or problem-solving skills), the opportunity to observe each other, and the option to imitate what the other person is doing (without an expectation that an object is used in a specific way).

Here’s the thing: you already have everything your baby needs from you. It’s in your home, in plain view. It’s just a matter of maximizing the materials you use and the interactive time you spend. Here are three simple play ideas for you and your 9-12 month old baby.

simple play idea: Container play!

Materials you need: an egg carton and several small-ish (non-chokable) items. We’ve used: pretend food, plastic Easter eggs, animal figurines, finger puppets, socks, duplos, potpurri sachets, smaller pinecones, leaves, egg shakers, etc.


  • Offer the carton to your baby. Put objects in and take them out, talk about what each item is, how it feels, if it’s heavy or light, compare and contrast objects.
  • You might model a particular way to explore an object (or two of the materials together), without expectation that your baby imitate or use the materials in the same way. 
  • Follow your baby’s lead! Validate and provide “auditory feedback” for what your child is doing. This means that if your baby wants to dump all the objects out, let her go for it, and say something like, “out! They’re all out!” 

Simple Play Idea: kitchen play

Materials you need: a baby-level drawer, cabinet or box in your kitchen


  • Create a baby accessible drawer or cabinet in your kitchen (have limited space? Grab a couple of << baby-safe kitchen items >> and put them in a box or bin for baby to explore)
  • Your little one can keep busy, and explore kitchen items safely and near you. Ideas for objects to keep here: food storage containers, utensils (wooden spoon, whisk, slatted spoon, spatula, etc), metal, plastic and/or wooden bowls, funnels, dish towels, and so much more!
  • Your baby works on fine motor skills, problem-solving, sensory development, and so much more, and is more likely to stay satiated in your midst, allowing you to get the jobs of LIFE done.

Simple Play Idea: paper roll!

Materials you need: a paper towel or toilet paper roll


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