The baby is in the high chair and you cover her snack with a bowl. Does she look under the bowl to find her goldfish crackers? Or maybe she drops her green ball on the floor. Does she look for it? Or does she just cry because her snack or favorite toy has disappeared?
It all depends on whether or not she has developed object permanence. Object permanence typically starts to develop between 4-7 months of age and involves a baby’s understanding that when things disappear, they aren’t gone forever. Before the baby understands this concept, things that leave his view are gone, completely gone. Developing object permanence is an important milestone. It is a precursor to symbolic understanding (which a baby needs to develop language, pretend play, and exploration) and helps children work through separation anxiety.
What can you do to help parents teach their babies object permanence?
The favorite game of many families! Peek-a-book is a natural hit because it allows a baby to tune into his favorite thing to look at – his parent’s face. Before he has object permanence, that favorite face disappears and reappears instantly – how fun! Check out this video to see it in action:
You can also play peek-a-boo by hiding behind a small towel. Hold the towel in front of your face and call to the baby. As soon as he touches the towel, drop it and say “you found me!” Or put the towel on your head and let him pull it off. Put it on his head and let him find you by pulling it off of himself. Hours of fun!
Play Hide-and-Seek with Toys
Show the baby his toy and when you are sure you have his attention, slowly hide his toy under a small towel or cloth. To help the baby learn to find his toy, hide it so that part of the toy is peeking out.
You can see (and hear) how the baby in this example got frustrated with trying to remove the blanket. Use a smaller cloth or your hands instead to increase the chances that the baby will be successful. Or, you can use other objects such as books to hide toys behind, like in this video:
Add A Few Layers
You can hide the baby’s toy or the parent’s face behind a few layers of cloth (or cups, whatever you like) to make the game more challenging. You’ll want to hold the bottom layers so that the baby only uncovers one layer at a time.
Talk to the Baby When You Are Out-of-Sight
Encourage the parent to talk to the baby from another room then walk in the baby’s view. Babies recognize parents’ voices early in development so parents can use their voices to help babies know that they are stil there, even when out of sight.
The challenging part about developing object permanence is that, when a baby realizes that his parent still exists when he can’t see her, he can get upset. This is what happens with separation anxiety. Playing these games can help a baby as he moves through this other very natural milestone. Object permanence games help babies understand that even though I can’t see my mom, she will come back!
If you’d like some more ideas about helping babies develop object permanence, or how to help babies through separation anxiety, check out these links:
Piaget’s Theory of Object Permanence – brief overview of the theory and steps Piaget identified in the development of object permanence
Zero to Three – Thinking Skills – lots of easy-to-use strategies
Separation Anxiety – very informative overview of the relationship between object permanence & separation anxiety
What are your favorite strategies for teaching object permanence? Share your ideas!