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Help Your Toddler Learn Body Parts

When Kristie Ristagno, of Deptford, NJ, would ask her 12-month-old, "Where are your eyes?" little Alyssa would blink rapidly. When Kristie asked her the same question six months later, Alyssa would point to her eyes, and then to her mom's. But Alyssa couldn't say the word "eyes" yet.

Between ages 1 and 2, toddlers start being able to identify body parts, and they usually recognize parts of the face first. That's because they're more likely to touch your face than anywhere else, and you probably name, say, your nose as your child touches it, says Kristin Hansen Lagattuta, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis.

"Kids can understand words before they can say them," says Lagattuta, which is why Alyssa would blink and point instead of saying "Here are my eyes!" Your child may not name body parts for six months to a year after she's first able to locate them. To help the process along:

  • Point to a part on your body, then on your toddler's body, and name the part as you point. This way, she'll start seeing that everyone has the same parts.
  • Explain what each part does simply. For instance, "Eyes help us see." That'll reinforce the difference between them and noses, lips and ears.
  • Use props. Point to the reflection of your child's body parts in a mirror, as well as to characters' body parts in books, as you name each one. Giving her a variety of ways to practice finding them will make learning their names more fun for you both.