Language & Communication


When do babies learn to point?

Language & Communication

May start as early as

10 months

Related skills

Waving, Clapping

Before your baby can say many words, pointing is one of the main ways they communicate with you. Your baby may point to indicate what they want, like a yogurt from the fridge, or to show you an object of interest, like an active squirrel. But that adorable little finger holds a lot more power than you may think. Pointing is an important early step in your child’s ability to communicate and, ultimately, use language.

In this article:

When do babies start pointing?

Babies generally begin pointing with their index finger between 10 and 15 months. Before your baby develops the ability to point, they may communicate their needs through reaching for things they’re interested in—a favorite toy, the family pet, or you 🙂 Reaching starts around 4 to 6 months of age, while index finger isolation, the motor aspect of pointing, takes a little additional time to develop. Pointing with the index finger requires similar hand development to the pincer grasp, and often emerges around the same time. 

Although pointing seems simple, it’s a gesture that involves many aspects of development, so it isn’t surprising that some babies point earlier than others. Different babies focus on different skills first—some may master walking before pointing and others may point before they crawl.

Pointing comes along with other baby gestures that may develop around the same time. These can include waving, lifting their arms to be picked up, nodding yes or no, and basic hand gestures like clapping. All this gesturing and pointing is a key part of your baby learning to communicate. 

RELATED: 4 signs toddlers understand language even if they aren’t talking much yet

Why do babies point?

Pointing is a simple gesture that can be used in a wide variety of ways to express various emotions or needs. Child development experts make a distinction between imperative and declarative pointing.

Imperative pointing is when your baby points to something indicating they want it. They’re suggesting that they would like you to reach an item for them. This might happen when your baby points to a banana on the counter they’d like to taste or a toy across the room that they want to use.

Other examples of imperative pointing:

  • Pointing to something that is no longer there, like a toy that’s not in its usual spot 
  • Pointing to a toy they want on a high shelf
Pointing out what they’re interested in exploring is a key way your baby communicates with you.

Declarative pointing is when your baby points at an object of interest to show it to you. With this type of pointing, your baby is indicating they’ve seen something interesting and they want you to see it too. This might happen when your baby sees a picture in a book that they recognize, or catches sight of an interesting animal they want you to see too.

Other examples of declarative pointing:

  • Pointing to something broken (“Fix it.”)
  • Pointing to something exciting (“Look at that doggy!”)

Around 15 to 24 months, your child may begin to use declarative pointing in response to a simple question you ask like, “Where is the moon?” They may point to the actual moon or a picture of the moon in a book.

When your baby sees something exciting (like a ceiling fan!) without knowing the word, naming what they’re pointing at can help build early language skills. In video: Race & Chase Ramp from The Adventurer Play Kit

Why is pointing important?

Learning to point is an important communication skill. At the age your baby begins pointing, typically 10 to 15 months, they probably aren’t saying many words yet, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t working on language and communication. Your baby’s ability to point illustrates that they understand what you’re saying—a receptive language skill—and they’re trying to communicate their needs to you.

Child development studies have connected pointing with the emergence of language in young children, and it’s easy to see how these two skills might be linked. Once your baby understands the concept of pointing, they can point to items for which they don’t yet know the word and you can label them.

The process of pointing and labeling is repeated thousands of times in your child’s early life and forms the foundation of their language development. This is perhaps why one researcher described pointing as “the royal road to language.”

Another reason pointing is important for early communication is that it’s a way of establishing joint attention. When you and your child point and look at something together, that’s an example of holding joint attention: sharing knowledge and information, including new words.  Joint attention is one of the best ways you can help your baby learn to communicate ❤️

RELATED: The power of playing together 

How can I encourage my baby to point?

Since pointing plays such a crucial role in social and language development, it’s helpful to encourage your baby to start pointing. As with many skills, modeling how to point is the first step in helping them learn to do it themselves. As your baby grows, you can also encourage them to point during story time, through songs and activities that involve pointing, or while simply going about your daily routine together.

Activities to help your baby learn to point

Model pointing: Even before your baby is able to imitate your pointing, they’re busy observing and processing things in their environment. Model for your child how to point out objects and call them by name. At mealtime, for example, you can point and say, “Here’s your banana! Yum!” 

Offer choices to encourage pointing: During play time, hold up two toys and say, “Look! I have a ball and a book. I wonder which one you want?” Watch to see which option your baby looks at or reaches for. Point and name their choice: “Oh! You picked the book!” 

Point out details during story time: While reading a book to your baby, point out images or illustrations that are interesting. Choose images that are easy to identify like toys, animals, parts of nature, or household items. Label the items clearly as you point: “Look at that dog! He’s so fluffy.” Early on, your baby might not be able to follow your pointing exactly, but they’ll engage more with your pointing and reading as they grow.

Pointing during play time and story time encourages your child to practice. In video: ‘Animals I See’ Mini Book from The Thinker Play Kit

Take a house tour: House tours, where you bring your baby from room to room pointing at familiar things, labeling them, and even demonstrating how they work (“Press the switch: The light is on”) can encourage them to point and to connect objects with words. 

Go on a walk: As you walk along, point out animals, flowers, parks, or other children. If your child is riding in a stroller, be sure to get down to their eye level when pointing out an object so they can see where your finger is pointing. Over time, your baby will learn to follow your pointing and your gaze to establish joint attention with you, and will start to point out objects of interest they want you to see.

Respond to your baby’s pointing: Perhaps the easiest way to encourage your baby to point is to be responsive: If they point at an object, indicating their interest or need for it, respond. Your reaction helps teach your baby that their pointing is effective, that their attempts at communication are worthwhile, and that you will respond to them. Eventually, you may find that your baby starts pointing more often, knowing that you’ll take notice of their interests and needs. 

PODCAST: Baby’s first words: what to look out for

Pointing and naming body parts 

As your baby begins to understand more language, and becomes aware of their own body, you can start pointing and labeling parts like arms, legs, nose, and toes. Even before your child learns to talk, you can name body parts while you play together.

Sing and point: Songs that use pointing and gestures can be a fun way for your child to pick up pointing while teaching names for different body parts, like the classic “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”

Tickle and label: If your baby enjoys tickling, use the Bright & Light Play Scarf to tickle different parts of your child’s body while labeling each one: “I’m tickling your toes.” Point to each body part to make sure your baby connects each body part with its label.

Mirror play: As your child gets better at identifying body parts, add a mirror to make it extra fun. Play in front of the Framed Mirror with your toddler, saying, “I see you in the mirror!” Point to their nose and other parts of their body in the mirror as you look at it together. See if they will play peekaboo in front of the mirror or kiss their reflection. 

Fine motor activities that encourage pointing

Pointing builds your baby’s communication and joint attention skills—but it’s also a physical skill. In order to point, your baby needs to control and coordinate their finger and arm muscles to form the gesture. Here are some fine motor skill activities that can help foster your baby’s ability to point with their index finger:

Popping bubbles: Nothing fascinates babies quite like bubbles, and letting your baby try to pop bubbles with their finger is a fun way to encourage pointing skills. In addition to the pointing motion, they use motor planning skills to direct their finger to the moving bubble, which adds to the challenge.

Poking dough: Playing with modeling dough or baking dough is another favorite activity that fosters fine motor skills. Poking, squishing, or making shapes with the dough all help strengthen the small finger muscles of your child’s hands, which makes it easier for them to point with their index finger when they’re ready.

Exploring texture books or cards: Exposing your baby to new and different textures can be an engaging way to help them learn to point. Try encouraging your baby’s pointing with the “Things I See” Texture Cards. Point to and name the realistic images on the cards to increase your baby’s exposure to common words, and let your baby explore the textured part of the card with their fingers.

Child development expert Rachel Coley demonstrates how to use the ‘Things I See’ Texture Cards to encourage pointing during playtime in this video from the Lovevery app:

Discover more activities and expert advice tailored to your child’s exact stage of development in the Lovevery app.

Developmental concerns with pointing

Each child matures according to their own individual developmental path. On average, children learn to point around 10 to 15 months of age. However, your child may vary from these averages somewhat based on their unique trajectory.  

If your baby is not pointing, they may do other actions to indicate items they want. They may use their whole hand to gesture (instead of pointing with one finger) or attempt to bring you to the item they want. If your baby is connected and engaged with caregivers, can imitate in play, and makes an effort to communicate their needs and wants but isn’t pointing with their index finger yet, they may just need more time to work on pointing with their index finger in isolation. 

If you feel that your baby isn’t making efforts to connect and engage with others or communicate their needs and wants, discuss it with your pediatrician sooner rather than later. And if your child isn’t showing signs of pointing by around 18 months of age, bring your concerns to your pediatrician. They can answer your questions, assess your child’s overall development and help determine if they need further evaluation.

Posted in: 9 - 10 Months, 11 - 12 Months, 13 - 15 Months, Language & Communication

Meet the Experts

Learn more about the Lovevery child development experts who created this story.

Rachel Coley, MS, OT/L
Rachel Coley is a pediatric occupational therapist and child development expert, and founder of CanDo Kiddo.
Gabrielle Felman, MSEd, LCSW
Gabrielle Felman, founder of Felman Early Childhood Consulting, works with children from birth to age 7 to support social, emotional, and cognitive learning.
Amy Webb, PhD
Amy Webb, Associate Writer at Lovevery, is a child development scholar and researcher who holds a Doctorate in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Emily Newton, PhD
Emily Newton is a writer at Lovevery with over 20 years of experience as a researcher, professor, early childhood educator, and parent. She holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology and an MA in Child Development, with expertise in infant and toddler social, emotional, and socio-cognitive development.
Zachary Stuckleman, PhD
Zachary Stuckleman is a researcher and child development expert who holds a Doctorate in Developmental Psychology and is the Lead Content Researcher at Lovevery.

Research & Resources

Brooks, R., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2008). Infant gaze following and pointing predict accelerated vocabulary growth through two years of age: A longitudinal, growth curve modeling study. Journal of Child Language, 35(1), 207-220.

Butterworth, G. (2003). Pointing is the royal road to language for babies. In Kita, S. (Editor) Pointing: Where language, culture, and cognition meet. (pp. 17-42). Psychology Press.

Colonnesi, C., Stams, G. J. J., Koster, I., & Noom, M. J. (2010). The relation between pointing and language development: A meta-analysis. Developmental Review, 30(4), 352-366.

Lüke, C., Grimminger, A., Rohlfing, K. J., Liszkowski, U., & Ritterfeld, U. (2017). In infants’ hands: Identification of preverbal infants at risk for primary language delay. Child Development, 88(2), 484-492.

Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., & Liszkowski, U. (2007). A new look at infant pointing. Child Development, 78(3), 705-722.

View More References

Keep reading