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Imagining, creating and play: babies

3-12 months

Between birth and 12 months, your baby’s imagination is growing all the time, and play is the main way that this happens. Here are some play ideas and creative activities to boost your baby’s imagination, learning and development.

Babies: imagination, creative development and play

Between birth and 12 months, your baby becomes more interested in the world all the time. And as your baby explores the world, his imagination grows.

Play is the main way your baby gets creative and expands her imagination, as she experiences and experiments with new sounds, sights, activities and feelings.

What to expect as your baby’s imagination grows

Your baby is likely to be fascinated by you. Your face, facial expressions, voice and touch spark his imagination and help him learn.

From about five months, your baby might be fascinated by herself too! Babies love looking at themselves in mirrors and watching their own expressions change. At this age, your baby won’t understand that she’s the baby in the mirror. This understanding develops as she becomes a toddler.

At the same time, your baby will enjoy looking at pictures in books. His expanding imagination helps him learn that pictures in books relate to things in the world around him. For example, a picture of a dog is like your family’s pet dog or the dogs he sees in the park.

Babies are naturally curious about the environment and are keen to explore, especially once they can crawl. Your baby might look into cupboards, under beds and around the house. When she does this she’s imagining what she might find there and what she can do with whatever she finds.

At 5-6 months, touching and tasting are how your baby explores and expands his imagination, which is why he seems to put everything in his mouth.

Around this age, your baby will also enjoy seeing what happens when she bangs things together or uses her voice. From about seven months, she might try to copy you if you make different sounds.

And from about eight months, your baby will start using his imagination to enjoy very simple made-up games. Your baby might use a block as a mobile phone or play peek-a-boo by hiding his face behind a cushion. He’s copying things he’s seen you do.

Helping your baby’s imagination to grow and encouraging her imagination and creativity can be easy. All you need is space, time and whatever safe materials you can find around your home.

Play ideas and creative activities to grow your baby’s imagination

Lots of different experiences will help your baby’s imagination to grow. Here are some ideas:

  • Read books, share stories, or sing nursery rhymes using actions together. For example, do twinkly star fingers while singing ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’.
  • Listen to different types and styles of music. Try Kinderling Kids Radio for a range of family-friendly songs. Or why not make some music? You could use a bucket and wooden spoons for a drum, or a plastic jar full of rice or dried peas for a shaker.
  • Visit different places. Go for a walk in the park, at the playground, at the beach, on a farm or in any different environment – anywhere where there are different things to see, hear and feel. Even tummy time on a mat outdoors lets your baby see the world in a new way.
  • Have some messy play using sand, mud, clay, playdough or paints for finger painting. But make sure these materials are non-toxic, because your baby’s fingers are likely to end up in his mouth at some stage.
  • Bath time is good for water play, with lots of splashing! A few simple steps will keep bath time safe.
  • Give your baby fabrics, papers and sponges with different textures and colours to play with. Talk to your baby about how they look and feel. For example, you could talk about how soft black fabric is like the soft fur of a dog.

Open-ended play and structured play
Open-ended play is good for your baby’s imagination. Blocks are great for open-ended play, because your baby can use them for all sorts of things. For example, a block can be a car, a phone, something to build with, and much more.

Toys and activities that encourage structured play are OK too. But don’t be surprised if your baby finds more creative uses for toys like these!

All children develop at their own pace. But if you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, it’s a good idea to talk with your child and family health nurse or GP. For example, if your child appears to lack interest in play or in playing with objects, talk with your nurse or GP.

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Last updated or reviewed
16-02-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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