It's impossible to know all of the things that float through your baby's head. How many words does she recognize? What is she trying to accomplish when she puts oatmeal in her hair? And does she even remotely understand how much you love her? Your guess is as good as anyone's.
You can't get into your baby's mind, but it's easy to see that she's getting smarter. Look at how she plays with her toys. She used to just suck on them, throw them, and study them with her eyes and fingers. There's still plenty of that experimentation going on, but now she's taking playtime to new levels. She may start rolling her toy truck, flying her airplane, or mothering her baby doll. These are the first signs of an imagination that is about to catch fire.
Playtime is also a great time for experimenting. She'll enjoy fiddling with nesting toys or plastic measuring cups. She's working on the idea that things come in different sizes and that some things can actually fit inside other things. At her age, this counts as a major discovery. She'll also enjoy stacking, a task that lets her hone her architectural skills while testing her theories of gravity. Wooden blocks are great, of course, but she'll also enjoy bigger blocks made from shoeboxes or rinsed-out milk cartons. Big towers are especially fun to knock over.
She's at a great age for song and action games. She loves copying your movements and hearing your voice. She might even start making some musical sounds her own, although percussion is probably still her specialty. If you're already tired of "Pat-a-Cake" or "This Little Piggy," you can find books with all sorts of fun baby games at your library. Even if she still enjoys the classics, a new game will be extra exciting. After introducing a new game, check to see how well she remembers it the next day. Her memory is getting sharper, and she just might be able to recreate movements from the day before.
Your baby is more than a great mimic. She's also starting to understand the concepts behind some common gestures. The next time someone leaves the house, say "bye-bye" without waving. If she understands the point of waving, she might do it on her own. Likewise, she might say "bye-bye" if you simply wave.
She might also be able to follow simple instructions. Try asking her to get a toy and bring it to you. Even if she understands you, she probably won't get it right every time. Be patient and give her plenty of praise when she rises to the challenge.
She's also ready to take new interest in "reading." Give her books with cloth or pages that she can turn herself. The books should have lots of simple, colorful, and easy-to-understand drawings. She's not ready for abstract art.
Like other kinds of progress, her growing intellect can lead to new conflicts. You may notice that she's becoming very set in her ways. She may complain if you deviate from the daily routine. If you usually take a certain route on a walk, she may cry if you make an unexpected turn. You might have to stop and reassure her to avoid a tantrum.
She can even cause trouble by eavesdropping. If she hears a certain word that she associates with fun, like "go" or "walk" or "play," she might get her heart set on starting RIGHT NOW. If that wasn't your plan, get ready for a struggle. For the first time, you might have to start spelling out certain words when she's in the room.
Of course, her newfound smarts can make some things easier, too. If she starts fussing because you're in another room, you might be able to calm her down by simply saying "mamma's coming." She knows what you mean, and she knows that you'll keep your word.
You can add to her growing vocabulary by talking to her throughout the day. Use real words instead of baby-talk, and keep the conversations simple and in the moment. Leave room for her to respond -- that way she'll learn over time that talking is a two-way street.
Listen closely to her side of the conversation. She may start inventing her own words for common things. She might call her blanket "bah" or her favorite doll "dah." If you can recognize these words and give her what she wants, you'll be rewarding her efforts and giving her an important lesson in the power of language. Above all, she'll know that youre listening.
Sears, William and Martha. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two. 2003. Little, Brown and Company.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five. 2009. Bantam Books.
University of Wisconsin Extension. Parenting the first year: month 10-11. 2005. http://racine.uwex.edu/flp/documents/PFY10-11.pdf
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Baby Bouncer. Eleventh month: emotional and active. September 2000. http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/PDF/CHFD-E-39-11.pdf