From Imitation to Imagination
Your toddler has become a little copycat at your elbow: When you wash the car, she wants to be alongside you with a wet sponge of her own. If her older brother is doing homework, she'll get her own crayons and paper so that she can do her "homework" too. And she's thrilled with miniature shopping carts and play kitchens. At 16 months, your toddler has developed the motor skills and cognitive abilities not only to copy what others do but also to understand that the actions she mimics have meaning.
The Beginning of Make-Believe
One day, though, you'll notice that your toddler goes beyond just imitating the people around him. He might make noises with his toy car as he drives it along the edge of the kitchen floor, bark like a dog as he crawls around your feet, or use dolls to imitate people. He'll put a saucepan on his head and insist it's his new hat, or use a banana as a phone. In other words, he goes beyond imitating what he sees people doing in the here and now to acting on his own.
"Somewhere between 16 and 18 months, toddlers shift from strictly copying others to symbolic play," says Leeds. "This means they have the imagination and cognitive abilities to pretend that an object stands for something else, showing a growth in their thinking."
Your child's pretend play is a cornerstone for future learning. "Reading and writing are all about symbolic representation," Leeds notes, "so this ability to imagine is an essential developmental step."
Fun Facts About Your Baby's Development
What Baby's Doing:
Month 16: Climbs stairs, imitates others, and understands most of what you say
Month 17: Demonstrates memory of people and places, moves to music, and throws a ball
Month 18: Recalls language in books and may protest if you try to skip pages, forms two-word sentences, and pretends an object is something else
Holly Robinson lives with her five children outside of Boston.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2006.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.