Your baby’s curiosity dwarfs her attention span. She’ll be fascinated by just about everything — for a little while, at least. She’ll move from a toy to a book to another toy like a baby on a mission. She’s trying to make sense of the things around her, and she’s learning every day. Few missions in life are more important.
Your baby may have a thirst for learning, but it’s probably too early to break out the flashcards. She needs to examine the world and test her theories at her own pace. Give her an opportunity to discover all sorts of different colors, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. She’ll learn far more from a mirror or a sandbox than a flashcard.
At her age, toys, books, and other things don’t have to be expensive or “educational” to really stimulate her mind — simple household objects such as wooden spoons and empty milk cartons can keep her enthralled. She’ll be fascinated by things that differ slightly from what she already knows, so if she’s bored with plastic food containers, liven things up by putting a ball inside them. She’ll probably be especially fond of board books — those seemingly indestructible cardboard books with big pictures to look at — and might enjoy exploring them not only with her eyes, but with her mouth. Watch her face when she plays with something as simple as a pile of wooden or cardboard blocks. With fierce concentration, she’ll look at each block from every possible angle. She might also learn how to stack one block on top of another. Her first construction project won’t last long, though. She’ll quickly realize that block towers are more fun to knock down than to build.
Learning requires memory, and hers is getting better every day. She can now remember games, toys, faces, and other things from the day before. If she played a new ball game yesterday, she’ll get excited as soon as she sees the ball. She also has enough memory to be possessive. For the first time, she’ll become truly upset if someone takes a toy away. Not long ago, she would have immediately forgotten that the toy ever existed.
She’s starting to realize that pictures and words can represent everyday objects. If she sees a picture of a dog, she just might start petting it. Watch her reaction when you say the name of a toy that’s on the other side of the room. If she looks at the toy, she understood you perfectly. She might even be able to understand simple one-step instructions. See what happens when you ask her to throw a ball or get a book. You can expand her vocabulary by talking to her frequently. Label things that catch her interest and narrate the events of the day.
She’ll do her share of talking, too. Most of it will be pure babbling, but she just might sneak in a real word once in awhile. Join in the conversation whenever you can. Repeat her sounds back to her, even if they’re nonsense. You can also ask her questions and wait for a response.
There’s a downside to all of this newfound intelligence and mobility. Your baby may now be smart enough to discover new fears and anxieties. Once she learns the basics of gravity, she may be afraid of heights. She may suddenly become afraid of her bath, too, even if bath time used to be her favorite part of the day. Anything that makes a loud noise — such as the vacuum cleaner — may now seem menacing. She may have a new fear of the dark.
You can’t simply talk her out of her fears, but you can help her feel safe. If she’s afraid of her bath, for example, try bathing with her or let her go back to her baby bath for a while. If she’s afraid of the dark, put a nightlight in her room. And if she’s terrified of the vacuum cleaner, try to hold off on that job until she’s not around.
Your baby may need a security object to help boost her courage. She may start sucking on her thumb or dragging around a blanket. This is actually a positive step: She’s developing some self-sufficiency, and she no longer needs you to constantly provide comfort. Still, she’ll take comfort when she can get it. She’s smart enough to need love.
Sears, William and Martha. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two. Little, Brown and Company.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five. BantamBooks.
University of Wisconsin Extension. Parenting the first year: month 9-10. http://racine.uwex.edu/flp/documents/PFY9-10.pdf
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Baby Bouncer. Ninth month: fears and insecurities. September 2000. http://www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/pubs/chfd/CHFD-E-39-09.pdf