Sit, stand, scoot, roll over—repeat! You have a 7- to 9-month-old and he won't be kept down. Independence, inquisitiveness and imitation are your tot's main trademarks as both mental and motor skills take off during these months.
At this age, your baby will move beyond mere babble and start to sound like he's speaking in a foreign language, complete with pauses, questions and giggles. Gestures and facial expressions become important tools of communication. Sitting up, crawling, trying to stand and attempting to explore strange new places are also typical activities.
While it's hard to let your baby go, it's important to let loose a little and allow your budding pioneer to explore his environment. "Babies can be over-stimulated," says Dr. Linda Acredolo, author of Baby Minds: Brain-Building Games Your Baby Will Love and Baby Signs. "Even just by mom tickling, talking, and invading the baby's space. When moms are intrusive like this, by themselves or with toys, babies will begin to fuss...sensitive moms recognize these signals; insensitive moms just try harder!"
There are many ways to indulge your baby's increasing independence and curiosity while staying involved. Try these simple activities with your budding bundle of energy.
- Floor fun. Set your baby down in a large, baby-proofed area of your home. Instead of doling out toys, place a favorite plaything a little distance away from your child so that he has to crawl or push himself to reach it. Don't make the distance too great—champion crawlers can go further than beginners. This activity will give your baby a sense of independence and accomplishment—he'll be exercising his motor skills and feeling the freedom at the same time.
- Secret spot. Your child's driven by curiosity, particularly about adult objects. Indulge your little explorer by placing safe, non-toy objects in drawers and cabinets where he can "discover" them. Lock up all of the kitchen cabinets except one, then fill the unlocked drawer with indestructible plastic bowls, cups and utensils that your baby can pull out and toss around. He'll feel like he's stumbled upon a secret playtime spot.
- Bring out the blocks. Don't limit yourself to 2-Dimensional toys. Bring out the blocks, puzzles and shape sorters. At this stage, spatial and tactile play creates crucial cognitive connections in your baby's brain. Your little one is learning how things work and how to solve problems. 3D play doesn't have to be fancy—just give your baby a set of plastic measuring cups and let him figure out how they fit together. Simple "put the round peg into the round hole" puzzles or stacking blocks can occupy your curious kid for hours.
- Picture play. Your baby's fully focused on familiar faces now and pictures of grandparents, aunties and uncles—or snaps of well-known places and pets—will grab his interest instantly. Break out family photos and point to pictures of people and things while naming them out loud. This will strengthen your baby's ability to associate words and things. Show him a picture of himself and say "I love the baby," in a gentle, affectionate tone. He probably won't recognize his face right away, but eventually he'll put two and two together—and your loving demeanor will make him feel safe and secure.
- Rhythm and rhyme. Music plus words reinforces language skills in children—add rhyme and repetition to the mix and let the fun begin! Nursery rhymes with song, and stories with a musical twist are a great way to begin tuning-up language skills. Sit facing your child and sing or speak in rhyme. Hold his hand or rock him in a swing for the full sensory experience. Try and include some rhythmic talk into your usual daytime chatter as well.
- Beyond babble. Your baby's understanding of words exceeds his ability to produce them at this point. Bridge the communication gap by using your child's natural inclination to imitate you by introducing sign language. "Just like crawling makes babies even more excited about walking, signing makes babies even more excited about talking. That's why we love the phrase, 'Signing is to talking as crawling is to walking,'" says Dr. Linda Acredolo. Research by Dr. Acredolo showed that babies who were exposed to sign language had more advanced verbal language skills at 36 months. Use simple signs at first to supplement, not substitute, for verbal interaction. Incorporate these signs into your daily routine and watch what happens.
You're still the center of your baby's world, but objects and the environment are grabbing your growing infant's attention more and more. Healthy mental and motor skill development requires that your little one be given free reign—with you in attendance of course. Creating a safe space and encouraging communication is the key. So, let your little one loose and watch him blossom!