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Foundation: Imitation

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
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While the California Department of Education continues to operate the California State Preschool Program, the Early Childhood Development Act of 2020 (Senate Bill (SV) 98, Chapter 24, Statutes of 2020) authorized the transfer of many childcare programs from the California Department of Education to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) effective July 1, 2021. The content on this page may include programs that have moved to CDSS. For additional assistance you can either visit the CDSS Child Care Transition web page External link opens in new window or tab. or call 1-833-559-2420 for more information.

The developing ability to mirror, repeat, and practice the actions of others, either immediately or later
8 months 18 months 36 months

At around 8 months of age, children imitate simple actions and expressions of others during interactions.

At around 18 months of age, children imitate others’ actions that have more than one step and imitate simple actions that they have observed others doing at an earlier time. (Parks 2004; 28)

At around 36 months of age, children reenact multiple steps of others’ actions that they have observed at an earlier time. (30–36 mos.; Parks 2004, 29)

For example, the child may:

  • Copy the infant care teacher’s movements when playing pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo. (Coplan 1993, 3)

  • Imitate a familiar gesture, such as clapping hands together or patting a doll’s back, after seeing the infant care teacher do it. (7–8 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Notice how the infant care teacher makes a toy work and then push the same button to make it happen again. (6–9 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003)

For example, the child may:

  • Imitate simple actions that she has observed adults doing; for example, take a toy phone out of a purse and say hello as a parent does. (12–18 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003)

  • Pretend to sweep with a child-sized broom, just as a family member does at home. (15–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 27)

  • Rock the baby doll to sleep, just as a parent does with the new baby. (15–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 27)

  • Imitate using the toy hammer as a parent did. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 38)

For example, the child may:

  • Reenact the steps of a family celebration that the child attended last weekend. (29–36 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 118–19)

  • Pretend to get ready for work or school by making breakfast, packing lunch, grabbing a purse, and communicating good-bye before heading out the door. (30–36 mos.; Parks 2004, 29)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Listen to the infant care teacher talk during a diaper change and then babble back when she pauses. (5.5–6.5 mos.; Parks 2004, 125)

  • Copy the intonation of the infant care teacher’s speech when babbling. (7 mos.; Parks 2004)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Shrug shoulders after the infant care teacher does it. (9–11 mos.; Parks 2004; by 12mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 243)

  • Imitate sounds or words immediately after the infant care teacher makes them. (9mos.; Apfel and Provence 2001; 12–18 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 122; 17 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 84)

  • Copy the infant care teacher in waving “bye-bye” to a parent as he leaves the room. (12mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 26)

  • Copy an adult’s action that is unfamiliar but that the child can see herself do, such as wiggling toes, even though it may take some practice before doing it exactly as the adult does. (9–14 mos.; Parks 2004, 32)

  • Watch the infant care teacher squeeze the toy in the water table to make water squirt out, then try the same action. (Scaled score of 10 for 13:16–14:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 61)

  • Imitate the hand motion of the infant care teacher. (Scaled score of 10 for 14:16–15:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 135)

  • Point to or indicate an object, pay attention as the infant care teacher labels the object, and then try to repeat the label. (11–16 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 82)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Repeat the most important word of a sentence the infant care teacher has just communicated. (17–19 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Imitate the last word or last few words of what an adult just said; for example say, cup or a cup after the infant care teacher says, “That’s a cup” or say, “Daddy bye-bye” after the mother says, “Daddy went bye-bye.” (22mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 99; 17–19 mos.; Parks 2004, 128)

  • Copy several actions that the child cannot see himself doing, such as wrinkling the nose. (17–20 mos.; Parks 2004, 32)

  • Say, “beep, beep, beep, beep” after hearing the garbage truck back up outside. (18-21 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Act out a few steps of a familiar routine, such as pretend to fill the tub, bathe a baby doll, and dry the doll. (18–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 28)

  • Imitate words that the adult has expressed to the child at an earlier time, not immediately after hearing them. (24–27 mos.; Parks 2004; 19–28 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 61)

  • Imitate two new actions of the infant care teacher; for example, put one hand on head and point with the other hand. (26:16–27:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 71)

  • Imitate the way a family member communicates by using the same gestures, unique words, and intonation.

Next Foundation: Memory

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Questions:   Early Education and Support Division | | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Thursday, June 17, 2021
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