WHY P E K A B OO MATTERS Let’s get messy
It’s the seemingly simple games that boost your baby’s brainpower
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