Dear Boston Mamas: Fun With 9 Month Olds

blocks-stacking-rings.jpgToday's Dear Boston Mamas question comes from Lela via e-mail:

Dear Christine, I am a first time mom and my son is now just about 9 months old. It's a great time because he's learning to be more observant and responsive. We love tickle time and baby talk but I think we are ready for the next step, developmentally. I would like to start engaging him in other ways that are still fun for both of us. Any ideas?

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Dear Lela,

Thanks for writing in. Your email actually made me nostalgic to flip through a bunch of digital photos from when my daughter was 9 months old, and it was particularly fun to reflect on these photos again since I'm pregnant and will be reliving this phase of babyhood next year! Though I adore infants, it really is wonderful to get past the intense infant care phase and into the world of baby play and responsiveness.

Now, before I answer your question, I should first say that I have always believed that the typical milestone charts (whether it's for weight or speech or motor development) should be taken with a grain of salt. I was a scientist in a previous life and data are as much about showing pattern as acknowledging variability. So, your son may be past some of the things I suggest below, or perhaps not yet ready for them. Most importantly, observe and follow his lead; you'll certainly be able to tell what he really digs from his response. Here are some of my thoughts for fun with 9 month olds:

Going mobile. When your son starts crawling, a whole new world will open up both safety wise (you'll need to be vigilant about what he's getting in to, and also, if you haven't already, it's time to childproof) and for learning. The act of crawling itself can offer hours of amusement. You could, for example, make a game of being down on the floor with him but a little distance away; hold out a fun toy and see him make a break for you. It will be a great way for him to exercise those chubby haunches!

Hand eye coordination. Your son will be working on grasping things with his little pincer fingers. Keep in mind that life is play and play is learning for babies. It's not an accident that you can sprinkle a handful of Cheerios on a 9+ month old's tray table and they show the utmost concentration trying to pick up each little O. I loved letting Laurel explore like this during mealtimes. Since kids are so curious about putting things in their mouth, and she was so intent on practicing picking up things, it meant Laurel ate very well during this phase of life.

Read, read, read. Having had so little reading time with my parents (I am the sixth of seven kids), I have always made reading a priority, and I adore the cuddle time. Reading with your baby does so much for their development. They will learn about objects and colors as you point things out, and I also recommend books with flaps and textured pieces inside for sensory exploration.

Keep communicating. The fun thing about this phase of development is that you and your baby are moving closer to talking the same language, as it were. Though you'll largely get babble in return, keep chatting it up with your son. And if you want to work on nonverbal communication, Boston Mamas contributor Evadne was a big fan of Signing Time's baby sign language DVD series when her son was 9 months old.

Rock out. I'm a former musician and music teacher; I can't help but be biased towards music education. And watching Laurel and her toddler friends rock out to music at day care pretty much confirmed my belief that musical appreciation and ability is innate. Turn on the tunes and dance at home (Laurel was a big fan of Paul Simon as a toddler), head to the library for a sing-a-long, sign up for a mommy and me music class, and/or get one of those little sets of musical instruments for kids (maracas, tambourine, etc.) and let your little one explore the musical effects of their physical actions.

Object permanence. Around this time your baby will start to realize that objects out of sight still exist (a milestone known in the developmental psychology literature as object permanence). This will make games such as peek a boo pretty much the funnest. thing. ever. for your son.

Monkey see, monkey do. Babies at this age love imitation. Some of Laurel's favorite objects to play with were toothbrushes (she tried to steal ours, we gave her fresh ones), or our cell phones or remotes (batteries out).

Toys. Or, um, their boxes. At this stage, some toys that babies love include shape sorters, balls, stacking rings, blocks, and scoop and dump toys. That said, they'll also probably really love the boxes that these things come in. Some of Laurel's favorite things to play with were everyday household objects: measuring cups, whisks, and even the Yellow Pages (she had a great time tearing all the pages out).

I hope these ideas are helpful -- enjoy this amazing phase of life with your son!

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Have a question for Christine? Drop her a line! And of course feel free to comment in if you have recommendations beyond those made above.