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How Peekaboo supports early literacy

Discover the many ways that a game of peekaboo is helping your baby develop their communication skills.

Age group: 0-2, 3-5

Last updated: 21 June 2023

The literacy journey begins before babies are even born. Babies can hear and process sounds from inside the womb, and as soon as they arrive in the world they’re ready to communicate with us through gestures, sounds and facial expressions.

Sharing stories, singing, talking with your baby and responding to their cues can all support your child’s emerging literacy. But playing simple games like Peekaboo can also have a significant impact.

So many wonderful things are happening in a shared game of peekaboo. Firstly, you and your baby are probably face-to-face, allowing your baby to tune into your facial expressions and see your mouth clearly as you speak. Straight away, this helps them to understand the ‘rules’ of the game and the language associated with it: ‘where’s daddy?’ or ‘where’s mummy?’… a pause of anticipation…and then ‘Peekaboo!’ Your baby can read the excitement on your face as you reappear, and this is often mirrored with smiles and giggles of their own.

Seeing you reappear from behind your hands also helps your baby grasp the concept of object permanence, which is the realisation that things still exist, even if they can’t be seen. Psychologists such as Jean Piaget(this link will open in a new window) believe that there is a clear correlation between when a child recognises object permanence and their developing language skills. Once a baby is able to hold on to mental images of objects or people in their head when they can’t see them, they can begin to understand that everything else in the world can be symbolically represented by words and language too.

Peekaboo’s repetitive format is also suited to the developing brain. Babies learn best by experiencing things over and over. When the ritual of hiding and reappearing is repeated, babies start to tune in to your gestures and the tone of your voice to help them predict what happens next. Routines like this are one of the many ways that babies begin to make sense of the world, and the exchanges of communication.

Playing Peekaboo can support other key pre-verbal skills too, including turn-taking and maintained eye contact. There are natural points in the game which allow both adult and baby to communicate with each other; pausing after ‘Where's mummy or daddy?’ builds the excitement but also allows the chance for baby to ‘take their turn’ – this may be a simple gesture or smile, and for older babies a little vocalisation (babbling) or giggling. All of this interaction is perfect practice for having a conversation.

And of course, Peekaboo is a fantastic way to bond with your baby! You and your baby are enjoying a moment of shared attention and closeness which lets your little one know that they are loved. It’s no coincidence that many of the books in the Bookbug Baby bags - and songs and rhymes at our Bookbug Sessions – include a peekaboo element. This simple game, universally shared across the world, can have such amazing benefits for each and every baby.