Q: What are the best ways to play with a 12-month-old baby?
A: By now your baby may be cruising and getting ready for those first steps, and her balance has likely gotten much better. Her language and motor skills are probably equally amazing and it may be obvious that she understands a lot of what you say. Your baby may try to start imitating you, Daddy, grandparents, and even people she sees on the street and on TV (which means it's time to think carefully about what you watch in her presence).
Now's the perfect time to play games that utilize your baby's rapidly increasing motor skills, especially her pincer grasp (the ability to grab teeny objects between her thumb and pointer fingers). Your baby loves to drop and throw things, so give her a pail filled with toys and let her have at it. Toys like stacking rings and cups will help encourage your baby's perceptual skills (although at first she may be more interested in playing with the pieces separately than in stacking them up correctly). Encourage fine motor development with finger games and songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider and Wheels on the Bus. Although babies this age can't sing along just yet, they love to follow with their hands and will eventually pick up a few words.
As her first birthday approaches, your baby will also begin to enjoy imitative play and will go nuts for toys like plastic phones, kitchenware, tools, dolls, and animals. You will also notice her play becoming more purposeful. For example, she may use a plastic hammer to pound pegs into a hole or find a pillow to prop up a doll's head. She'll also probably invite you into her play a lot more and it's important that you join in, since she'll learn much more from watching you than anything else. --Jennifer Halpern, PhD
Originally published in the November 1999 issue of Parents magazine. Updated 2009.