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Quality Time with Your 6- to 10-Month-Old Baby
In one of my previous articles, I described a pattern of especially precious and meaningful interaction between a parent and child that I called Quality Time. Each month, I am going to suggest one or two types of activity that constitute quality time (QT) for children of different ages. Of course, any time you are holding or lovingly feeding or gently talking to your young child is quality time. But, in order to count as an instance of quality time within the boundaries of the special definition I have given the term, the activity should:
  • involve something the child is likely to want to do;
  • get full attention on your part;
  • not be interrupted except for a very important reason; and,
  • be one on one if at all possible.

Following are two QT activities for infants in the second half of the first year of life. Babies in this age range are almost always ready and eager to play, so QT activities with them are a piece of cake. You needn't worry about whether to do one before or after feeding, the way you do with a younger baby. In fact, a good time for a QT activity is between feedings when the baby is awake and alert but possibly getting a little fretful. Incidentally, I have indicated that these fit the second half of the first year of life. However, they don't really have much effect until around 8 or 9 months.

Say and Do Games

The activities I suggest here are as old as you are, plus your mother and grandmother! After describing them, I make a few comments about the truly critical learning contained within them. All activities in this group could be called Gesture/Word games if you want a fancy term; I have called them Say and Do games.

Pat-a-cake and Peek-a-boo. You know how to play these games, so my commentary is brief.
With Pat-a-cake, demonstrate for your baby first by going through the rhyme with your own hand movements. Then take your baby's hands and go through it again, repeating the rhyme in sing-song fashion. Keep this up for a little while without much variation. Then drop his hands and see if he imitates your hand movements. Later, when your baby is sitting up on the floor or in a play pen, ask, 'Want to play pat-a-cake?' demonstrating with hand movements. Still later, ask, 'Want to play pat-a-cake?' with only the words, not the hand movements. Then you can begin to make slight variations. When you get to 'Roll them over, roll them over,' pause for a few seconds before saying with word and gesture 'Throw them in the pan.' Your baby will go mad with glee while waiting for the 'Throw them in the pan' command!

There is a fantastic amount of development embedded in pat-a-cake. Think about it: imitation, the association between gestures and the spoken word, the perception of rhyme and rhythm, anticipation—and sheer fun! This little QT activity is a whole course in child development in and of itself.

(Incidentally, there are several variations to Pat-a-cake. Here's another popular version: Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man, Bake me a cake as fast as you can; Roll it, and pat it, and mark it with a B, And put it in the oven for Baby & me!)

Peek-a-boo is equally, if not more, profound. It forces thought. The procedure is simple: put a handkerchief or scarf over your face and say, 'Where's mommy?' Or 'Where's daddy?' Keep it there for just a few seconds, then remove it and say, 'Here's mommy; she didn't go away.' Play it also by putting the cover over your baby's face. (Incidentally, make certain that whatever you use for the cover is stiff enough that it won't settle over his nostrils and block the air passages.) Ask, 'Where's Tony?' Then exult, 'Why, there's Tony. He didn't go away.' This humble little game helps the baby realize that 'out of sight' does not necessarily mean 'gone away.' It helps the internalization of images so essential for the establishment of thought.

Make up your own. Pat-a-cake and Peek-a-boo have been handed down through the generations, and millions of babies have enjoyed and learned from them. But probably every family has one or two of its own, and these become treasures that we store in our memory albums. One that is probably unique to my family we call Hum up, Queenie. By 8 months of age, my daughter was very agile and active. Lying on her back, she loved to grasp the index finger of each of my hands and pull herself to a sitting position. Then she would immediately lie back down and extend her hands to do it again. At the time I was reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, which has a horse in it named Queenie. Whenever the family servant wanted the horse to go faster, he would command, 'Hum up, Queenie.' When my daughter held up her hands to me, obviously wanting to play the game, I would say, 'Do you want to hum up, Queenie?' Then eventually, without her 'invitation,' I would lean over and say, 'Hum up, Queenie,' and she would begin to strain her neck muscles. This Caldwell family variant has now made it through two generations.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education