Peek-a-boo games help build up language and brain development

PIP Peek-a-boo

Two-way exchanges between babies and adults help build up language and brain development. Anne O’Connor considers how practitioners can create more opportunities for them…

Orson and his mother are on the floor together. Playing games with Mum is fun, but when she hides behind the book, there is a moment of concern for Orson, though this soon turns to delight when Mum reappears. Mum responds by repeating the action and Orson enjoys the anticipation and excitement of what is to happen.

They repeat the game over and over, with Mum giving Orson time to initiate and respond. This turn-taking between the two of them is a form of conversation.

The experience of playing such games is not only helping the development of Orson’s communication and language skills, it is also forging connections in his brain as he relates to the lovely feelings that positive interactions bring.

1 Babies have a natural urge to communicate and their first conversations with adults start long before they begin to talk. Think of the close connection between an infant and the person feeding them, whether at the breast or with a bottle. When the baby stops sucking, we respond with a jiggle or a word or two until they resume sucking. This happens over and over again throughout a feed, as the responsive adult and the baby take it in turns to respond to each other.

In a similar way, babies invite conversation with us and our affectionate interactions with them involve more turn-taking, as we gaze at each other and communicate with reciprocal movements and sounds. The intonation and sing-song rhythms we instinctively use with babies capture their interest and are vital to early language development.

Babies love to initiate games that they can lead, such as handing us things so that we will give them back. Both the baby and the caregiver not only take turns, but wait for each other’s response before ‘replying’. The daily repetition of such spontaneous actions throughout the day makes connections in the parts of the baby’s brain that help them organise and make sense of how the world around them works.

2 A simple game like peek-a-boo works on many levels to stimulate a baby’s brain. Peek-a-boo is both exciting and reassuring, and some babies will want to play it over and over again.

But be ready to adjust your timing sensitively – some babies can become distressed if you don’t reappear soon enough, or become startled and upset by sudden or very loud ‘boos’!

To extend the game, some children will enjoy hiding themselves under blankets. Others might need the reassurance of fabrics they can see through, such as voile or chiffon.

Discovering that things still exist even if we can’t see them is an important feature of the learning that takes place when babies play.

Think how much they enjoy dropping things for others to pick up, or putting them in and out of containers. Jack-in-a-boxes and other pop-up or hideaway toys also provoke anticipation and surprise.

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Article written by Anne O’Connor and published in Nursery World ©

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