Why do babies love peek-a-boo so much? Psychologists suggest it’s more complex (and a bit more magical) than you might suspect: it’s because when you cover your hands with your face, it appears to your bouncing bundle that you’re vanishing into thin air. Their baby brains think that if they can’t see something, it’s gone; so, when your mouth, nose and eyes are hidden they don’t understand you’re still there, just waiting to spring your delightfully baffling re-appearing trick on them!
Research into babies’ understanding of ‘object permanence’ was carried out by bespectacled pipe-smoker Jean Piaget in the 1960s. He showed infants brightly-coloured toys then hid them with a barrier over and over again. Eventually, it was concluded that when a baby reaches about 9 months of age, it’ll click for them: things can’t just disappear. This makes their dealings with the world a whole lot straightforward – but no less exciting.
It means they can start further developing their muscles and spatial awareness with Duplo and play bricks. They’ll learn about gravity and balance by creating towers, expand their vocabularies by differentiating between shapes, sizes and colours and learn that lots of different things can go together to make one big wonderful thing.
From an early age, they’ll also enjoy playing with toy versions of functional or living things: a soft, cuddly cat, their own baby doll to cuddle, even a tiny vacuum cleaner that they can push around in an imitation of the adults around them. Your baby is learning to be nurturing and helpful by copying you. They’ll love to play with little models, too: creating their own stories with dolls and Playmobil figures will help them develop a sense of narrative, exercise their imagination and give them an arena to explore complex ideas.
While exercising the imagination, learning vocabulary and exploring their surroundings are all connected in a baby’s natural development, there’s a whole lot they’ll face as they grow that could be considered un-natural: the world is growing just as fast as they are, and technology is changing our environment at a rapid pace.
Luckily, there are simple digital devices that can give them a head-start by teaching them how to interact with computers and touch-screens. Toys from Leapfrog, like their learning tablet for instance, have games which help them learn how to work a PC at the same time as teaching them to spell, showing them new words and introducing them to new concepts. It’s great because they’ll be learning traditional skills in a way that’s probably going to be the norm when they get to a school age, so they’ll be well prepared when they get to that stage.