I see you there Mumma – watching apprehensively as your baby crawls and discovers the ins and outs of your home, all the while wondering how on earth you’re going to get them to leave the dirt IN the pot plant – well you’re certainly not alone. When my daughter was around 9 months, I soon realised that the days of watching my relatively stationery newborn coo softly under the playgym and sleep most of the day had come to a close. All of a sudden I had a very curious baby on the move who wanted to be occupied… HELP!!
If this sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve complied a series of play ideas to help you foster meaningful play that is both developmentally appropriate and engaging for your 9- to 12-month-old. But first, let’s quickly talk toys.
It wasn’t until my daughter was 9 months old that I discovered the wonderful world of open-ended toys and thankfully, stumbled upon Alison’s beautiful store. When deciding on which toys to buy, I really wanted to be smart with my choices and ensure that the toys I invested in would be played with beyond babyhood and would ‘grow’ with my child. My top three open-ended toys for this age (that will also be used well and truly beyond 12 months) are the Grapat Nins, Rings and Coins set, Sarah’s Silks and any type of ball. You’ll notice that these toys feature in more than one play idea below because they really are so versatile and can be adapted to suit all ages of development.
I’ve split the play ideas into months, but that doesn’t mean they are only applicable for that particular assigned month! Always be guided by your child – their current stage of development, evident play schemas and interests.
9 months old
At 9 months your baby may or may not be crawling. If your baby is not yet crawling, one idea you could set up is a colour exploration circle. Arrange several items of the same colour in a circle on the floor and let your baby turn around on their tummy to explore each one. Alternatively, you could put the items in a basket to explore while sitting. Below I set up a green theme using some of our Grapat pieces, Sarah’s Silk forest playsilk, Grimm’s ball, peg from the pop-up toy along with some household objects like a water bottle and spoon. I tried to include a variety of different textures (wood, plastic, silk) but you could really use whatever materials you have at your disposal!
If your baby is crawling, I can guarantee they love chasing after balls! One of my favourites is the Papoose Rainbow felt ball; it is soft and large, making it perfect for tiny hands. No fancy set ups here, simply roll the ball in front of your child and let them crawl after it, swipe at it or push it with their hands.
Sensory balls are another great option and perfect for the teething stages too. I like to put a playsilk inside the larger ball to help develop their fine motor skills when they work to remove it. My daughter was obsessed with tags at this age, so for the smaller ball, I securely tied ribbons onto it for her to fiddle with.
We stack, stack, stack them up and baby knocks, knocks, knocks them down! Sound familiar? Babies at this age are learning they have power to do things in their environment and love seeing what happens when they knock towers down. The Tobbles Neo is another great toy that grows with a child and is perfect to introduce at this age. You can stack the pieces up and your baby can knock them down. The added bonus of this stacker is that the pieces are weighted, meaning that when they are pushed or swiped at, they will wobble and return to their original position – so satisfying for babies to watch!
Another great feature of the Tobbles Neo is that each piece has a concave top. This gives you the ability to turn it over and hide things under the pieces for your baby to discover. Below I hid a Grapat ring under the hollow part of each sphere that corresponded with the colour of the stacker piece. This is a great little activity if your baby is starting to discover object permanence (more on this below).
10 months old
Around this age (or even earlier), your child will probably be letting you know that they are aware when you leave a room. They are understanding the concept of object permanence – that toys and people still exist when they can’t be seen. For that reason, games like peek-a-boo are a favourite at this age and are useful in helping your child understand that you are still there when you momentarily disappear out of sight for a couple of seconds. Playsilks are brilliant to use for this game.
An activity I set up for my daughter at this age was the puzzle box. To set this up, you need a deep container (such as a casserole dish) and some large rubber bands. Wrap the rubber bands around the container in a criss-cross pattern and then place some loose parts (Grapat rings and coins are perfect for this) inside for your baby to remove. This activity is great for developing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and problem solving skills.
Another play idea to develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination is the muffin tin grab. This one is super simple and quick to set up for when #mumlife exhaustion hits. Place some Grapat rings and coins and Grimm’s large balls in a muffin tin and watch as your baby uses their fingers to remove them and explore the clinking sound they make when dropped back in the tray.
A favourite activity of my daughter’s at this age was the Nin rescue. Simply tape the Nins to your high chair tray using masking tape and let your child have fun working out how to ‘free’ them! This is a great activity to set up to keep their hands busy when you need a couple of minutes to prepare their dinner. When my daughter was learning to stand, I also did this activity vertically on a door using the CollectA wild animals.
11 months old
So you’ve come to the age where dropping food from the high chair is becoming more (annoyingly) prevalent – but don’t fret – it’s not an indication of your cooking ability, but rather their desire to learn about how things move (trajectory schema) and cause and effect. An activity to support them with exploring the trajectory schema is the silk ball drop. Cover a ball in the centre of a playsilk and use a hair tie or rubber band to secure it in place. Place your child in a safe elevated position (such as their cot) and give them the silk ball to drop. They will love watching the ball drop to the ground as the end of the silk follows.
Another great way to explore cause and effect is by using the pop-up toy. Before 11 months, your child may have used this toy to develop their pincer grasp by removing the pegs, but after they have mastered this, encourage them to push down on the pegs to watch them pop back up. This open-ended toy has been a favourite of my daughter’s since she was 9 months old and still gets played with daily.
If you haven’t done any sensory play yet, now is the perfect time! Water play is a great way to start and easy to clean up. All you need is a tub, some plastic or silicone toys, then just add water! Below is an ocean theme set up I did when my daughter was 11 months. I used the mini CollectA ocean animals in three different ways – I froze some in ice, put some in water and the rest on our ocean playsilk. Note: this set up might not be suitable for your child if they are still mouthing at this age, supervision is required at all times.
At 11 months, my daughter had just started posting but it soon became a firm favourite of hers. Posting is placing an object into a container with a hole and is perfect for babies exploring the enveloping schema. While it may seem simple to us, posting requires precision in moving the hands into the correct position above the hole and voluntarily releasing the object. The best way to start is by providing your child with some large Grimm’s balls and a box with a large hole. As they master this, you can move onto other objects that are non-uniform in shape, such as Grapat Nins and coins.
12 months old
If your now one year old (where did that time go?!) is still enjoying posting, I can guarantee you they will love the coin drop! Grab a cardboard box (recycle your Grapat box if you kept it), cut a rectangular hole in the top and remove the base (below left). Tape the box to the wall at your child’s height and place a bowl underneath. Using some Grapat coins, drop the coin through the top of the box and watch it land in the bowl. Model to your child first then encourage them to have a go. They will love retrieving the coins and dropping them again and again. To make this more challenging, cut a smaller hole in the box.
Did your child love the ‘muffin tin grab’ and ‘rescue the Nins’ activities? Here’s a way to combine the two to make it more challenging. Place some loose parts, animals or even food in the holes of the muffin tin. However, this time, cover the holes with some square Connetix tiles. The magnetic tiles will stick strongly to the tin, making them difficult to remove – a perfect way to strengthen those finger muscles. They will delight in discovering the hidden things inside after they have worked to remove each tile!
Note: Connetix is recommended for ages 3+ due to small magnets and thus, this activity must be supervised at all times.
Here’s another simple invitation to play that is perfect if your child likes moving objects from one place to another (transporting schema). You’ll need two bowls and some loose parts – I used the Papoose daisy bowls and Nins. Place the Nins in one bowl on the left and the empty bowl on the right to encourage your child to transfer the Nins into the other bowl (working from left to right assists with early writing skills).
Lastly, here’s a play idea you can try outside and is especially fun on a windy day! Save up some paper towel rolls and tape them onto a pole at your child’s height. Tie a ring onto the end of a playsilk, thread the silk through the cardboard roll and then tie a second ring onto the other end of the silk. Stuff the silk into the roll so the ring is hanging out from the bottom. When your child pulls on the ring, the silk will follow and flutter ever so beautifully in the breeze.
I hope these play ideas have given you some inspiration for setting up some simple but engaging activities to keep your curious 9 – 12-month-olds entertained!
Written by Liz from @playinginstyle for Little Toy Tribe.