Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Ages & Stages

Cognitive Development in Infants: 8 to 12 Months

An eight-month-old is curious about everything, but also has a short attention span. They will move rapidly from one activity to the next. Two to three minutes is the most they'll spend with a single toy, and then they'll turn to something new.

By 12 months, they may be willing to sit for as long as 15 minutes with a plaything, but they'll mostly be a body in motion.

Your tiny scientist

At this age, your baby will 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, they're observing the properties of objects. From their observations, they'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). They'll even begin to understand that some things are edible, and others aren't, although they'll still put everything into their mouth just to be sure. (Again, make sure there's nothing dangerous lying around that he can put in their mouth.)

Now they see it

Their observations during these months also will help them understand that objects exist even when out of sight. This is a concept is called object permanence.

At eight months, when you hide a toy under a scarf, they'll pick up the scarf and search for the toy underneath—a response that wouldn't have occurred three months earlier. And if you hide the toy under the scarf and then remove it when they're not looking, they'll be puzzled. By 10 months, they'll be so certain that the toy still exists that they'll continue looking for it.

To help your baby learn object permanence, play peekaboo with them. By switching from one variation of this game to another, you'll maintain their interest almost indefinitely.

4 ways to play peekaboo

The possible variations of peekaboo are almost endless. As your child becomes more mobile and alert, create games that let them take the lead. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Draft a soft cloth over their head and ask, "Where's the baby?" Once they understand the game, they'll pull the cloth away and pop up grinning.

  2. With the baby on their back facing toward you, lift both their legs together "Up, up, up"- until they conceal your face from them. Then open them pike: "Peekaboo!" As they get the idea, they'll move their legs themselves. (This is a great game at diaper-changing time.)

  3. Hide behind a door or a piece of furniture. Leave a foot or arm in their view as a clue. They'll be delighted to come find you.

  4. Take turns with your baby "hiding" your head under a large towel. Let them pull the towel and then put it over their head and then pull it off.

Discovering the familiar & unfamiliar

Your baby will be especially interested in things that differ slightly from what they already know. So, if they're bored with the oatmeal box they've been playing with, renew their interest by putting a ball inside. Small changes like this will help them learn to detect small differences between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Also, when choosing playthings, remember that objects too much like what they've seen before will get a quick once-over and dismissed. At the same time, things that are too foreign may be confusing or frightening.

Instead, look for objects and toys that gradually help them expand their horizons. Pots and pans can be noisy but an inexpensive way to entertain your child. In fact, the "toys" that fascinate children most at this age are ordinary household objects like wooden spoons, egg cartons and plastic containers of all shapes and sizes.

Often your baby won't need your help to discover objects that fall into this middle ground of newness. They'll rummage through your drawers, empty out wastebaskets, ransack kitchen cabinets and conduct elaborate experiments on everything they find. (Make sure that any drawers or cabinets with potential hazards are secured with child safety locks.)

Learning what different objects are for

As they approach their first birthday, your child will become increasingly conscious that things have names and also have particular functions. You'll see this new awareness weave itself into their 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, they'll put the receiver to their ear just as they've seen you do. You can encourage important developmental activities like this by offering them props—a hairbrush, toothbrush, cup or spoon—and by being an enthusiastic audience for their performances.

More information

Last Updated
Adapted from Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five 7th edition (Copyright © 2019 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.
Follow Us