WHY P E K A B OO MAT­TERS Let’s get messy

It’s the seem­ingly sim­ple games that boost your baby’s brain­power

Your Baby & Toddler - - TALKING POINT - BY MELANY BENDIX

Play­ing peek-aboo with your baby is fun, and it’s adorable when you’re re­warded with gig­gly smiles and squeals of delight. But there’s an even bet­ter rea­son for game play­ing than this dose of cute­ness: it’s vi­tally im­por­tant to your baby’s men­tal, phys­i­cal, emo­tional and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

“Peek-a-boo and other ‘silly games’ are ex­tremely im­por­tant in the de­vel­op­ment of your baby’s so­cial skills, lan­guage and sen­sory mo­tor skills. It’s also im­por­tant for their at­tach­ment to and re­la­tion­ship with pri­mary care­givers, which is vi­tal for emo­tional well­be­ing through­out life,” ex­plains Ch­eryl Fisher, a pae­di­atric oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist. It’s of­ten through seem­ingly sim­ple games that your baby learns to im­i­tate the sound of your voice (a foun­da­tion of lan­guage de­vel­op­ment) and prac­tises her mo­tor skills when she does things like kick her legs in joy. She also learns to at­tach mean­ing to these in­ter­ac­tions, which is im­por­tant for your baby’s so­cial skills. And you’ll be giv­ing her the in­for­ma­tion she needs to fig­ure out where her body is in her space, an im­por­tant part of mo­tor plan­ning (the abil­ity to plan an ac­tion and carry it out in the cor­rect or­der, from start to fin­ish) and pos­tural con­trol (the abil­ity to con­trol body and bal­ance).

LET’S TALK SENSE

How does all this im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment hap­pen sim­ply from game play­ing? It’s got to do with the sen­sory in­put your baby’s re­ceiv­ing through her var­i­ous sen­sory sys­tems while she plays, says Ch­eryl. “All this sen­sory in­put is in­te­grated at brain level – your baby’s brain at­taches lin­guis­tic and/or emo­tional mean­ing to the in­put at the cor­ti­cal level of the brain. Once mean­ing has been at­tached, your baby is able to cre­ate a re­sponse, which re­quires plan­ning and se­quenc­ing at cor­ti­cal level. There­after baby per­forms the re­sponse through ei­ther vo­cal­is­ing or mov­ing.” Ch­eryl ex­plains how your baby’s brain pro­cesses sen­sory in­put, us­ing peek-a-boo as an ex­am­ple:

First Mom is there, then she’s gone, then sud­denly she’s back again. “This teaches ob­ject per­ma­nence (the un­der­stand­ing that ob­jects con­tinue to ex­ist even when baby can­not see, touch or smell them). It also teaches po­si­tion in space, as baby starts to re­alise Mommy is ac­tu­ally be­hind the blan­ket.”

When Mom reap­pears, she makes happy noises and tick­les baby. “This pro­vides au­di­tory and so­matosen­sory (the part of the sen­sory sys­tem that helps baby per­ceive touch, pres­sure, pain, tem­per­a­ture, po­si­tion, move­ment and vi­bra­tion) in­put to baby re­gard­ing her body po­si­tion in space, as well as pro­mot­ing the de­vel­op­ment of lan­guage. It also shows Mom’s joy at hav­ing ‘found’ baby, which helps strengthen feel­ings of at­tach­ment.”

Baby re­sponds by gig­gling or coo­ing, as well as phys­i­cal re­sponses such as kick­ing legs or flap­ping arms. “This is the first step in sen­sory in­te­gra­tion and mo­tor plan­ning, as she has pro­cessed what has hap­pened and is re­spond­ing ap­pro­pri­ately with mo­tor and vo­cal out­puts.”

Mom hides again and baby now be­gins to an­tic­i­pate her reap­pear­ance. “This shows the de­vel­op­ment of task se­quenc­ing, as well as vis­ual me­mory – she re­mem­bers what hap­pened the first time Mommy went away.”

By the third or fourth rep­e­ti­tion, baby will show her an­tic­i­pa­tion by gig­gling or be­com­ing ex­cited. She may even at­tempt to pull the blan­ket away her­self or, later, to throw the blan­ket over her own face for Mom to find her. “This is the teach­ing of re­cip­ro­cal in­ter­ac­tions and turn tak­ing, which is im­por­tant in

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