What is the perfect first game?
Peek-a-Boo is the prototype game for teaching young children to interact socially. Just Google search Peek-a-Boo on the images search engine and you will see dozens of pictures of children playing Pee-a-Boo.
This game illustrates perfectly how universal, motivating, and enjoyable this simple social game is for young children. If you think about this game as the perfect basic structure for teaching joint attention and reciprocity (the back and forth of interaction), you can create many early games to play with your child.
Important characteristics of this game
Peek-a-Boo is visually simple: hands on face, hands off face, smiling face.
The verbal sequence is simple. Say Peek-a-Boo in a melodic way when your hands come off your face and then laugh.
The game is cognitively simple. It is all about hiding and finding (an early cognitive interest enjoyed by most children).
Peek-a-Boo is easy to initiate. Put your hands on your face, or under a scarf, or even just get behind a door, and peek out again.
Peek-a-Boo has a predictable outcome: the beloved face always reappears!
Just a little exciting anticipation. How long will I wait? When will she emerge? Not yet....not yet... NOW!
Variations are endless. Peek-a-Boo leads to Hide 'n Seek, and to treasure hunts.
The roles in this game are clear. Either person can play either role. One person hides, the other person waits, both people smile and laugh as the hider emerges
For a wonderful discussion of how this and other simple games can be used to coax young children with autism into social play, read Sibylle Janert's, Reaching the Young Autistic Child (see references).
Notice the problems your child has playing Peek-a-Boo
The specific difficulties that your child may have with playing Peek-a-Boo illustrate how you may need to modify any game to make it successful for your child.
Emotional Regulation Difficulty
If your child can't tolerate the excitement of looking into your eyes, try moving a little farther away, being a little less animated or loud, looking at your child for a little less time.
Motor Planning or Spatial Security Difficulty
Your child may not be able to hide his or her eyes (because it is a hard motor action or because your child feels insecure his or her eyes closed). If so, try using a scarf. Even a scarf that you can see through can be effective!
Attention Shifting Difficulty
Maybe your child does not notice that you are trying to play. Try using a heavy scarf and put this over your child's head briefly before pulling it off and singing out "Peek-a-Boo!” with a smile. This would be hard to ignore.
Lack of Social Interest
Your child may not yet be convinced that interacting with others is as much fun as interacting with things. Maybe you will want to play this game by hiding and popping out from behind a door because doors might be interesting to your child.
Saying the words
If your child can’t imitate words yet, put the words Peek-a-Boo on a Talking Button and get someone else to help your child play the game. One person can hide, while the other person uses hand over hand to help your child learn to push the talking button at the right time.
There is surely a version of this game that will fill your child's heart with social delight! Modifying the game will helps you understand how to modify other games.