Purposeful Play | Memory, Learning and Your Baby

A child’s memory expands, and learning begins through interactions with parents, repetitive play, and a bit of peek-a-boo. According to Developmental Specialist Brenda Hussey-Gardner, Ph.D., children’s first sign of memory comes when they understand object permanence near six months of age.

Once a child develops this form of memory, he can begin to learn other concepts. “As the child gets older, his memory becomes more sophisticated, and the scope and complexity of what he is able to learn expands,” she says.

Peek-a-Boo and Learning, Too

Peek-a-boo is more than fun and games when it comes to learning for infants because it helps the child understand object permanence. This cognitive development involves knowing that objects and people exist even when they can’t be seen. For example, parents will know that their child is beginning to develop object permanence or memory when they look at a toy they cover with a cloth.

Parents can encourage memory development through a variety of games. For example, Hussey-Gardner suggests that parents hide a toy under a washcloth and watch to see if their child looks away or continues to look at the cloth. If the child looks away, parents can take off the washcloth and say, “Peek-a-boo! Here’s the toy!” If the child continues to look at the cloth, parents can ask, “Where’s your toy?” and let the child try to take off the cloth by himself to find the toy.

While playing the game of covering the toy with a cloth, children will have different reactions. “If the child looks away or is unable to uncover the toy, parents can try covering only half of the toy,” says Hussey-Gardner. “This will allow their child to see part of the toy and make it easier to find. If their child needs even more help, they can try hiding a toy that makes music or some other sound. In addition to seeing half of the toy, he will be able to hear it.”

Games Mature Along With Baby

As the baby nears one year of age, parents can begin hiding a toy under one of two covers and encouraging the baby to decide which blanket the toy is under. Then, as the child gets older, parents can try hiding a toy under one of three covers for more of a challenge. “Parents should make sure their child is watching them when they hide the toy. If the child is not watching, it is a guessing game rather than a game of memory,” says Hussey-Gardner.

As the child matures and can completely comprehend object permanence, Hussey-Gardner suggests parents try the following:

● During lunchtime, when the child is almost finished, parents can cover the cracker with an empty cup and ask, “Where is your cracker?”

● In the sandbox, parents can place two pails upside-down. A rock can be placed under one of the pails, and a parent can ask, “Where is the rock hiding?”

● Next, parents can place three shoeboxes upside-down. They can then drive a toy car under one of the boxes and ask the child, “Where is the car?”

Helpful Hints

Developmental Specialist Brenda Hussey-Gardner, Ph.D., explains that parents can find opportunities to help encourage their child’s memory throughout the day. Mealtime, bath time, and bedtime are three ideal time slots for parents to encourage a child’s memory with these simple tricks:

● Near the end of the meal, when the child is not hungry but not yet full, parents can cover Baby’s cup with a napkin and ask, “Where is your cup?”

● During bath time, as the duck is floating in the water, parents can cover it with the washcloth and ask, “Where is your duck?”

● As babies master these games, parents may want to intensify the play. “Once a baby is good at uncovering toys hidden under a cloth, parents can try hiding a toy under a cup, bowl or shoebox,” says Hussey-Gardner. “This will make the game harder because the shape of the toy will no longer be seen.”

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