Infant Discovery of Object Permanence

By Robin H. Temple

By Robin Hewitt Temple, Early Childhood Educator

As I held a 6-month-old child on my lap the other day, she found the bracelets and watch on my left wrist. She played with them, mouthed them, and found that she could hide them under my sleeve. I sat still and watched as she continued to investigate the whereabouts of the jewelry she was hiding.

This exchange made me think: 1) we often rush children through experiences, and 2) we stop the experience from happening in the first place.

At the time I was thinking, “My jewelry is dirty, should I let an infant do this?” and “This baby is drooling on me”. 

Assessing the situation for our safety, both the infants and my own, I used her bib to dry her face, and checked to be sure my jewelry was in good repair and secure on my arm. This quick check reassured me that her discovery was safe to continue without interruption. Brain development is at its peak during the first few years of life with it doubling in size during the first year.

This experience was a self-directed game of “peek-a-boo”. This infant was practicing object permanence which is the understanding that an object still exists even if one cannot see it. Babies love this game with all its variations.

We moved on to play the traditional game of “peek-a-boo” where I hid my face and uncovered it again. Playing peek-a-boo with a trusted person helps develop an infant’s senses, motor skills, visual tracking, and social development in addition to the object permanence mentioned above.

I highly recommend checking out this peek-a-boo book to explore with an infant. Allow the infant to turn the pages and explore at his/her own pace. This “lift the flap” book reinforces the concept of object permanence while having fun. Having fun with a book encourages a positive relationship between books and the caregiver. This can lead to a positive relationship to reading which leads to school success. An all-around win!

How do you practice object permanence with infants in the classroom?


Robin's philosophy is child initiated, play-based learning with high-quality interactions that scaffold learning without interrupting. She has been practicing for years and owns an early learning center in Massachusetts. She is currently living in Fairbanks, Alaska.

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