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Imagining and creating: 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 she explores and develops her imagination. Here are some play ideas and creative activities to boost your baby’s imagination, learning and development.

Babies: imaginative and creative development

Between birth and 12 months, your baby becomes more fascinated by the world. At this age, your baby’s imagination (and brain!) is growing all the time, as he explores the world around him, his relationships and his own feelings.

Play is the main way your child experiences new sounds, sights, activities and feelings. And your baby can see possibilities for play everywhere. It’s a central part of her learning and development at this age.

What to expect with your baby’s imagination

Your baby is likely to be fascinated by you – your face and facial expressions, your voice and your touch.

From about five months, he might be fascinated by himself too! Babies love looking at themselves in the mirror and watching their own expressions change. At this age, your baby might not understand that he’s the baby in the mirror – this will develop later when he becomes a toddler.

At the same time, your baby will enjoy looking at pictures in books or her surroundings.

Babies at this age have a natural curiosity 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.

Your baby will also enjoy making lots of noise either by banging things together or by using his voice. From about seven months, he might try to copy you if you make different sounds. He’ll also copy actions and words to songs from about 12 months.

Messy play is great fun for your baby from about eight months.

And from 8-18 months, your baby can use her imagination to enjoy made-up games and open-ended play. In this type of play, your child might turn a carrot into a rocket, your jumper into a hat or a piece of cloth into a flag.

Helping your baby’s imagination to grow and encouraging his 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:

  • Share stories, read books or sing nursery rhymes using actions together – for example, twinkly star fingers while singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. Forgotten the words? Check out our Baby Karaoke for some favourite songs and music.
  • Listen to different types and styles of music. Or why not make some music? You could help your child make musical instruments – like a toy xylophone, some bells, saucepan lids for cymbals, or a 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. Even tummy time on a mat outdoors lets your baby see the world in a new way.
  • Play dress-ups with old clothes, handbags and hats. This is great fun for children from about 12 months on.
  • Have some messy play using sand, mud, clay, playdough or paints.
  • Play with water from 12 months. A bucket of water with bubbles and a few plastic cups are all your baby needs. Supervise your child for safe fun with water. Bath time is good for water play too, with lots of splashing! A few simple steps will keep bath time safe.
  • Give your child paper and crayons for scribbling.

Structured play and open-ended play
Try to offer your child things she can use to make up games and play, as well as toys that come complete from the shop with their own structured play instructions.

For example, blocks are ideal for open-ended play. When your baby uses his imagination, blocks can become rocket ships, presents or even a bag of potatoes. Likewise, a box of different-coloured pieces of material has endless possibilities when your baby plays with it in a creative way.

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

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Last updated or reviewed
08-03-2016

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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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