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How do Crawlers and Walkers Learn?

Ready Set Read for Families

8 - 18 months old

Marcus picks up a book with cardboard pages and a duck on the cover. He puts the book in his mouth for a moment, then waves it in the air. Marcus looks at his big sister, Maria, and makes noises that sound a lot like words. Maria says, "Do you want to read? Bring the book to me. We can read together."

With book in hand, Marcus crawls to Maria. She lifts Marcus into her lap and holds the book so that he can see it. She points to the duck on the cover. "That's a duck. Let's see what's inside."

Marcus turns the page. He pats the picture and says something that sounds like words. "That's right," says Maria. "The baby is in the bathtub."

After looking at a few more pages, Marcus squirms and wiggles. "Okay," says Maria. "Have you read enough? Let me help you down." She puts Marcus on the floor and he crawls away.

Like many other crawlers and walkers, Marcus is learning about language:

  • He knows that people will respond to his sounds and actions.
  • He thinks it's fun to look at books with another person.
  • He knows how to wait for his turn while talking and reading with his sister.

Marcus's sister, Maria, helps him learn about language:

  • She responds to his sounds and actions as if he were saying words.
  • She lets him turn the pages of the book.
  • She talks to him about what he seems to be saying.
  • She lets him find something else to do when he has lost interest in reading.

Listening and Talking

Crawlers and walkers are learning that it's fun to be with other people.

  • Help your baby learn about taking turns the way people do when they talk with each other. Sing songs and play games such as Peek-a-Boo, hiding the toy under the blanket, and handing objects back and forth. At first you may have to take more turns than the baby does.
  • When your baby babbles, talk back. Make the same sounds the baby makes or teach new ones.
  • Respond when your baby wants to play a familiar game: "Oh good, you brought me the ball. Let's sit down and roll it on the carpet."

Crawlers and walkers use gestures and actions to "talk" to you.

  • Respond when your baby shakes his or her head, points to something out of reach, or lifts his or her arms. Talk about what the baby seems to want to say. "Do you want to get out of my lap? Here's a wet cloth so you can wipe your hands."
  • Name the things your baby points to. "That's a muffin. Do you want a muffin?" Say the words for feelings and actions. "Aunt Nikki is funny, isn't she?" "I saw you climb up the stairs."

How to help your baby's caregiver:

Talk with your caregiver about the gestures your baby uses to ask questions, make requests, say hello, and get someone's attention. Ask the caregiver to tell you the words and phrases your baby seems to understand.

Crawlers and walkers learn to say a few words.

  • Show your excitement when your baby begins to talk. Talk with your baby about the names of objects, actions, and feelings.
  • Look at and listen to things together with your baby. Talk about what you see and hear. "See the bird. She's flying up to her nest in the tree. Do you hear the truck? I'll lift you up to the window so you can see it."
  • Listen carefully to your baby's tone of voice. The baby may use the same word to mean different things. For example:
Alan stands at the window looking outside. He asks, "Sandy?" Grandma says what she thinks Alan means, "Where did Sandy go? Then Grandma answers his question, "Sandy went outside."
  • Let your baby know that you think books and reading are fun. Comment when you see your baby "reading." "Is the monkey in your book taking a bath? Does he splash in the water the way you do?"


Crawlers and walkers can join in during story times.

  • Read with your baby every day. Babies enjoy short, simple stories, rhymes, and songs. Read the same books over and over, and also read new ones. Because your baby probably won't pay attention for long, it's best to read for a short while many times during the day.
  • Point to the pictures and name the objects. Ask your baby to point and name things, too. Smile, change your tone of voice, nod, and make faces when you read. Your baby will have fun copying your words and actions.
  • Let your baby choose the books and set the pace for reading. Read books with thick, cardboard pages so that the baby can turn the pages. You don't have to look at every page, read the whole page, or finish the book at one sitting.

How to help your baby's caregiver:

Volunteer to help the caregiver make a book about the things babies do at childcare. Paste photographs or simple drawings on cardboard, cover with clear adhesive paper, punch holes in the cover and finished pages, and bind with a piece of string. Make new books during the year.

Crawlers and walkers like to look at books on their own.

  • Provide books that appeal to your baby. Babies may like books with simple drawings and photographs of familiar objects, animals, and scenes from daily life such as taking a bath, eating, or playing outdoors.
  • Store cardboard, cloth, and plastic books on low, open shelves along with other safe toys. Encourage your baby to choose a book to look at and help your baby return it to the shelf afterwards.

Developing Muscles For Writing

Crawlers and walkers can use their fingers, thumbs, and hands.

  • When your baby learns to move a bottle or a toy from one hand to the other, hand a toy to the baby and say, "Now give it back to me."
  • Provide toys and household items that the baby can put together and take apart, fit inside each other, or fill and empty (eg., large plastic snap beads, a set of plastic measuring cups, or a box filled with bean bags).
  • Encourage your baby's independence. When your baby can pick up small objects with the index finger and thumb, offer finger foods such as pieces of banana. Grasping food will build the muscles in the baby's hands and fingers. Your baby will feel good about doing things without help. Allow the baby to pull off socks and shoes, and give the baby a spoon to help feed him or herself.

How to help your baby's caregiver:

Ask the caregiver to suggest some inexpensive household items that are safe play materials for crawlers and walkers.

Crawlers and walkers can scribble with crayons and markers.

  • Give your baby large, non-toxic crayons and large pieces of scrap paper such as brown paper bags from the grocery store. At first, babies often put the crayons in their mouths, but show your baby how to use the crayons to make marks on paper.
  • Introduce large, non-toxic markers when your baby has learned to keep crayons out of the mouth most of the time.