I play peek-a-boo with Claire every chance I get. In fact, it’s our default activity. When I can’t think of anything better to do or time is limited, we play peek-a-boo. And it never gets old for either one of us.
In the first place, it’s just fun. Peek-a-boo is an easy way to make Claire smile and laugh. Making my face “disappear” builds tension and its reappearance becomes the exciting resolution. Exaggerated facial and vocal expressions enhance the comedic and dramatic effect. It’s become like an inside joke between the two of us.
The game has a serious purpose. It teaches object permanence, the understanding that when things “disappear” they aren’t really gone forever. That is, things can be mentally represented even when we can’t see, hear, touch, smell, or taste them.
Object permanence begins to develop between 4-7 months. It is a precursor to symbolic understanding, a major building block for language skills and cognitive development. It’s a very big thing.
Claire and I work on object permanence in more direct ways as well. I present an interesting object:
… and then I hide it on her tray table under a screen, such as a small cloth. Her job is to remove the screen and retrieve the interesting object. If she’s not showing sufficient interest or motivation, the object, I expose part of the object.
Sometimes Claire finds the screen to be sufficiently interesting in itself and simply picks that up, mainly for chewing purposes, and ignores the original interesting object. One way I counteract that is to use my hand as the screen:
And it works thusly:
Another twist in object permanence training is to add a second layer of screening, such as placing a box over the object with a towel over the box.
Peek-a-boo can also evolve into more complex games. In one variation, the adult leaves the room all together and then reappears, or speaks to the child from the other room. This form of play can help ease separation anxiety.
But even in the most basic version with hands covering the face, there is a lot going on when we play peek-a-boo. According to child development professionals, peek-a-boo can help with things like developing self-recognition and teach cause and effect. And it is a form of social interaction. Combining this social aspect with the gross and fine motor activity associated with the game has a synergistic effect on development. Experts tell us that symbolic understanding is a complex operation requiring the integration of a number of processes and as in any aspect of child development, it all works together.
Claire and I will continue to play this game every chance we get. And I expect we will find new ways to play.