According to Jean Piaget (1896-1980), the well-known psychologist and developmental specialist, infants and young children progress through four stages of cognitive development. The first stage is the sensorimotor stage, typically seen in infants from birth through 24 months of age. During this stage, infants learn to interact with the world around them. Parents and care providers can encourage infants' sensorimotor development by planning simple play activities.
Encouraging Object Permanence
During the sensorimotor stage, infants develop the essential cognitive concept of object permanence -- the understanding that an object still exists even when it can't be seen. A perfect activity to encourage the development of object permanence is a simple game of hiding a toy. When playing with a favorite toy, parents can help their infant gain object permanence by "hiding" that toy under a blanket, behind a barrier, or in their hands. When first playing this hide-and-seek game with the infant, the toy should be partially visible to encourage the infant to find the toy. As the infant begins to understand this concept, the toy can soon be fully hidden and she should be encouraged to look for the toy.
As an infant develops object permanence, she will begin to enjoy games in which people or objects are hidden and revealed. Peek-a-boo is not only a fun and easy game to play with an infant, but also provides practice with object permanence. Parents can play peek-a-boo by covering their faces with their hands, a blanket, a napkin -- anything! As infants become familiar with the game, they might begin to initiate the game themselves by covering and uncovering their faces.
Once infants begin to explore object permanence, a natural "next step" for exploration is cause-and-effect play. Infants enjoy container play -- putting objects in and out of containers. This type of play helps to further develop object permanence, as well as encourage cause-and-effect thinking. Parents can encourage container play by providing containers of various sizes, shapes, colors, and materials, as well as a variety of objects to drop in. After infants drop in several objects, they will delight in dumping them out and playing again.
During the sensorimotor stage, infants thrive with predictable, enjoyable play routines. Stacking blocks with a helpful partner is a great opportunity for turn-taking, developing motor skills, and learning constructive play behaviors. The more an infant and caregiver engage in a predictable play routine, such as stacking blocks, the more an infant is provided opportunities for mastery. Stacking is also a simple, yet challenging, task for an infant that encourages persistence, problem-solving, and interactive play. Using different types, sizes, and textures of objects can be enjoyable and motivating for older infants.