Fast-forward a few months, and your baby is on the verge of mastering a crucial milestone: between 10 and 12 months, she develops the "pincer grasp," the ability to use the thumb and forefinger together to grasp and manipulate objects, or to pick up a pea or a Cheerio. Pointing or poking at toys is a precursor to this all-important event, indicating that she has the ability to move her index finger separately from the rest of her hand. "Eventually, your baby's fine motor skills will allow her to program a computer or play the flute, but this period of development is just as amazing," promises Barry Solomon, MD, an assistant professor of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "This is an exciting time for babies, because fine motor skills let them analyze the world in different ways," he explains.
For instance, once your baby can use the pincer grasp to pick up an object between her thumb and first digit and then drop it deliberately in favor of a more appealing object, she'll start running a host of experiments. She might throw her dish or cup off the high chair again and again to explore cause and effect. Will the dish always make the same noise when it hits the floor? Will the same sticky stuff cover my tray and clothes? Will the dog come into the kitchen if it hears the dish? Will Mom laugh, or will she say "no"? Indeed, the world opens up in all kinds of new ways -- cabinet doors that were previously off-limits when closed can now be opened. She can rotate, poke, and probe toys that she could only shake or bat at before. Toddlers at this age also love any toys with holes they can put things through, things with lids or doors that open and close, or toys that spin.
By 12 months, with fingers and thumb working together, baby should be able to build a two-block tower (then knock it down), and nest smaller objects inside larger ones and take them out again, says Dr. Solomon. Filling and dumping (especially dumping) are also new favorites. These activities lead to cognitive leaps, as your baby learns concepts like big and little, and full and empty.
In the right mood, your baby might even help you dress or undress him by raising his arms and curling his hands deliberately into fists. He'll clap when he's happy and enthusiastically wave bye-bye more often, now that he knows this gesture goes with that phrase. "This is the age of imitation," notes Hart. "Your baby will want to do everything you do."