Sunny Days Blog

Imitation Activities for Infants and Toddlers

dad embracing baby as they smile at each other

Imitation plays an essential role in  early childhood development. It is one of the earliest forms of communication between parents and their infants, and one of the first ways we learn.

In this post, we overview imitation games and activities to help your young children learn as much as possible by mimicking.


As explained in our post on how babies learn by imitation, babies first begin learning by imitating their parents' facial expressions, sounds, and hand motions. Playing games with your infant will help them learn and grow.

Imitation Activities for Infants

Help your baby learn to imitate early on with these simple imitative play activities:

  • Imitate your baby’s sounds. Get close to your child, copy sounds he or she makes, and wait for them to repeat the sound back to you.
  • Make a video of your baby's vocalizing and play the sounds back to increase the number of possible repetitions  during your daily play routine.
  • Use exaggerated facial expressions when playing throughout the day.
  • Clap and raise your arms in the air. Encourage your baby to do it too.
  • Play peek-a-boo!


Imitation Activities for Toddlers

Imitation continues to be a useful tool for toddlers; it allows them to learn and practice new skills. To ensure your toddler is getting as many opportunities as possible to learn by imitation, here are some helpful activities to do together:

  • Make silly faces in front of a mirror together.
  • Make a habit of singing nursery rhymes. Incorporating a small list of songs into your daily routines with your baby will help her learn by repetition. After you’ve been doing this for awhile, start pausing occasionally to see if your child will fill in and sing on your behalf.
  • Incorporate hand motions into your child’s favorite songs. Perform the gestures as a routine each time you sing the song. Eventually, scale back on gestures to encourage your child to perform them independently. Praise him as he performs the routine. “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” is a great place to start!
  • Play simple games. For example, sit on the floor and roll a ball to your child. Wait for her to roll it back to you. Playing with blocks together is another fun choice.
  • Do day-to-day activities together. Toddlers can, and want to, learn from you! Brush your teeth, get dressed, brush your hair, and put your shoes on together. Praise them for a job well done, even if they can’t perform the tasks proficiently yet.


Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers

There are many fun and creative ways to inspire your toddler's verbal imitation and communication!

  • Play Red Light, Green Light. Playing games like "Red Light, Green Light" or "Stop! Go!" are great ways to stimulate both physical and verbal responses from children.

  • Sing nursery rhymes. Singing together with your children will help them learn words, concepts, and hand motions. A great example is "Itsy, Bitsy Spider."

  • Play pointing games. Encourage speaking and learning for your toddler by playing games such as pointing to body parts and asking what they are.  You can also point to objects and ask what they are, or what color they are.

  • Narration. Watch your child's favorite show together and ask what characters are doing or how they feel.

  • Look at pictures. Reading picture books together provides a great opportunity to point to animals or objects in the book and ask your child what they see.


Tips for Teaching Imitation Skills

Imitation is an inherent skill for infants and children. If your child isn't imitating motions or sounds as much as you think he or she should be, try these tips: 

1. Imitate your child! Start out by copying what your  child is doing. Draw his attention to the action to reinforce the behavior. For example, if your child is clapping his hands, clap your hands too. Make eye contact with him, smile, and ask him to look at what you are doing.

2. Instruct your child to imitate what you are doing. Perform a simple gesture or make a sound and ask your child to copy what you are doing.

3. Reward your child's efforts. A small reward for your child's successful participation in imitation learning will encourage them to keep going.

4. Keep their favorite toy handy. Hold your child's favorite toy and grant access to the toy when they successfully perform imitations.


With these imitation games and activities, your young child will have numerous opportunities to learn and grow by imitation. Don't hesitate to get creative!

If your child is experiencing difficulty learning by imitation, do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to help.


 Photo by Lawrence Crayton on Unsplash

Sunny Days

Sunny Days is one of the nation's leading early intervention and autism services providers, serving children with developmental needs in New York, Oklahoma, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania ,and Delaware. Founded in 1994, it currently has over 2,000 active practitioners. In the past two years, Sunny Days has provided well in excess of 1,000,000 individual sessions. Sunny Days was founded by two healthcare professionals — Joyce Salzberg, LCSW and Donna Maher, RN — whose passion for quality healthcare is core to its mission.