Intervention Visits, Practical Strategies

Peek-A-Boo! – Strategies to Teach Object Permanence

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?

Play Peek-a-Boo

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 infront 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. Here’s an example:

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!

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14 Comments to “Peek-A-Boo! – Strategies to Teach Object Permanence”

  1. I LOVE the baby who makes those displeased, disgruntled noises when the blanket doesn’t move the way he/she wants. Very cute!

  2. Hi! What do you think about the Montessori object permanence box? My baby is 6.5 months old, she looks for the toys she drops and we play peekaboo. I used to show her the toys on the floor whenever she dropped them. I like the Montessori method and was thinking if I should buy this box. Thanks!

    • Hi Maria! I’ve never used that toy but it looks interesting. I’m a Montessori fan too. I think you could pretty easily make something very similar with a shoe box too. It sounds like your daughter is doing really well with learning object permanence!

  3. Playing with babies is fun 😉 I think baby’s childhood is a period parents enjoy the most. But playing different games with babies is a tough job too. One need to come up with various ideas to get small kids engaged and make them happy. And while playing with them parents can also teach them many things. A page “When and How Your Baby Learns About Object Permanence” on WhatToExpect is very interesting and useful regarding this. I hope others also enjoy reading this article.

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