One year-old attention spans are not still waters, nor do they run deep. That is why the simplest of imitative and repetitive actions, like pretending to nod and talk along while mother is on the phone, often emerge around the age of 12 or 13 months.
Evolving from the simple to the complex, pretend play unfolds in a succession of events. The older infant (second half of first year) has sufficient memory and brain development to keep track of objects and current events. Emphasis on “current.”
The information (actions of other household members like folding towels, or stirring) is readily available, and tools are, as well. At first, the accuracy of the prop matters — she thinks the best way to imitate your telephone conversation is by taking your real phone out of your real purse, and dialing!
Later, the brain shifts from copying your behavior to creating her own, substitutes become acceptable — a toy telephone will do, just as a Popsicle stick will easily stand in for a conductor’s baton.
Soon after, adults can observe play that includes someone or something else, such as using a bottle to feed a favorite doll. As the toddler’s collection of events and experiences grows larger, there is a parallel expansion of the brain’s ability to grasp and keep information from those events. The greater array of material (memories, sights, sounds) converts into much more complex scenarios of play.
Your child’s powers of observation minimally grasp and re-iterate an basic interpretation of feeding a baby: putting a bottle to lips. Once that imitative act is repeated, enjoyed, improved — mastered, the child becomes able to orchestrate several factors (including tone of voice, gestures, and actions – all of which will be repeated, enjoyed, improved, mastered) until a simple feeding becomes a longer sequence of doting on baby — complete with imaginary meal, bath, nap, and storybook. You’ll observe play schemes that used to consist of the simple, repetitive act of placing a doll in a stroller, for example, expand into a pretend journeys to the park or the store.
Read more Emotional Development posts