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Ages & Stages

Cognitive Development: 8 to 12 Months

An eight-month-old is curious about everything, but he also has a very short attention span and will move rapidly from one activity to the next. Two to three minutes is the most he’ll spend with a single toy, and then he’ll turn to something new. By twelve months, he may be willing to sit for as long as fifteen minutes with a particularly interesting plaything, but most of the time he’ll still be a body in motion, and you shouldn’t expect him to be any different.

Ironically, although toy stores are brimming with one expensive plaything after another, the toys that fascinate children most at this age are ordinary household objects such as wooden spoons, egg cartons, and plastic containers of all shapes and sizes. Your baby will be especially interested in things that differ just a bit from what he already knows, so if he’s bored with the oatmeal box he’s been playing with, you can renew his interest by putting a ball inside or turning it into a pull toy by tying a short string to it. These small changes will help him learn to detect small differences between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Also, when you choose playthings, remember that objects too much like what he’s seen before will be given a quick once-over and dismissed, while things that are too foreign may be confusing or frightening. Look instead for objects and toys that gradually help him expand his horizons.

Often your baby won’t need your help to discover objects that fall into this middle ground of newness. In fact, as soon as he can crawl, he’ll be off in search of new things to conquer. He’ll rummage through your drawers, empty out wastebaskets, ransack kitchen cabinets, and conduct elaborate experiments on everything he finds. (Make sure there’s nothing that can hurt him in those containers, and keep an eye on him whenever he’s into these things.) He’ll never tire of dropping, rolling, throwing, submerging, or waving objects to find out how they behave. This may look like random play to you, but it’s your child’s way of finding out how the world works. Like any good scientist, he’s observing the properties of objects, and from his observations, he’ll develop ideas about shapes (some things roll and others don’t), textures (things can be scratchy, soft, or smooth), and sizes (some things fit inside each other). He’ll even begin to understand that some things are edible and others aren’t, although he’ll still put everything into his mouth just to be sure. (Again, make sure there’s nothing dangerous lying around that he can put in his mouth.)

His continuing observations during these months also will help him understand that objects exist even when they’re out of his sight. This concept is called object permanence. At eight months, when you hide a toy under a scarf, he’ll pick up the scarf and search for the toy underneath—a response that wouldn’t have occurred three months earlier. Try hiding the toy under the scarf and then removing it when he’s not looking, however, and your eight-month-old will be puzzled. By ten months, he’ll be so certain that the toy still exists that he’ll continue looking for it. To help your baby learn object permanence, play peekaboo with him. By switching from one variation of this game to another, you’ll maintain his interest almost indefinitely.

As he approaches his first birthday, your child will become increasingly conscious that things not only have names but that they also have particular functions. You’ll see this new awareness weave itself into his play as a very early form of fantasy. For example, instead of treating a toy telephone as an interesting object to be chewed, poked, and banged, he’ll put the receiver to his ear just as he’s seen you do. You can encourage important developmental activities like this by offering him suggestive props—a hairbrush, toothbrush, cup, or spoon—and by being an enthusiastic audience for his performances.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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