Using play for children’s auditory and cognitive development

Hello, Mr Sock!

When our children babies and very little a favourite game was ‘Hello, Mr Sock’. This was a very simple game, which did what it said on the tin. It was only ever played by their father, and could only be played first thing in the morning when he was getting dressed.

He’d pull on his sock over his hand and down his arm. Turning the sock to his face, using his funny voice, he’d say ‘Hello Mr Sock’ and with an even weirder funny voice, make the sock reply ‘Hello Paul’. Then it would be the child’s turn.

The sock would say hello to the child, and expect a reply. Of course, when the baby was very little, Paul would have to help the child with the reply. Then, eyes wide with anticipation, the child await the next stage of the game.

The sock would start saying ‘Hello, Mr Sock’, then a pause, and then ‘Hello, Mr Sock’ again, with a pause several times over.  Each time he said ‘Hello Mr Sock’ he moved the sock a little closer to the baby. 

Finally, when the anticipation was unbearable, Paul would stretch up his hand as far as he could, and say would say ‘I’m coming to get you….. I’m coming to get you….’ and slowly, slowly, down came Mr Sock, and, when the child was bursting with anticipation, Mr Sock would arrive, and tickle them all over! Then Paul would signify the end of the game by saying he had to get dressed.

Game over, he put his socks on and the business part of the day had begun.

What was the child learning from this daft game?

Well, most importantly they were learning ‘The Game’. By this, I mean how to play the game, any game, by taking turns and following an agreed pattern of interaction. The Game is an early form of sharing a pleasurable interaction, just for the sake of the interaction, or you could say the game.

Very little babies have to learn the game. From about 2 months old, typically developing infants start to develop conversational (vocal) turn-taking (Gratier et al 2015). They learn that their parent makes a vocalisation, and they vocalise in return. They show this early behaviour from about 2 – 5 months of age. It’s more taking vocal turns than actually talking, but as our children played this game for a long time they were able to reply to Mr Sock in a speech before they tired of the game!

A universal building block for developing a baby’s linguistic interaction

The children learnt to look between Mr Sock and their father’s face. This is a very important stage of infant development called ‘Joint Attention’. From about 6 months old the baby’s attention towards things in their environment grows. As they are more mobile they are also more aware of things that their parents point out to them. They look from their parent to the object, and back to the parent, or the other way around, from the object to the parent and back to the object. Sharing joint attention is something that happens in Mr Sock, but it is a universal building block for developing a baby’s brain and linguistic interaction (Moor, C & Dunham, P.J., 2014).

Developing concentration and interaction

Finally, it seems that a structure of a familiar game (rhyme or other interaction) can allow the baby and young child to develop longer periods of interaction that is shown in free play, leading to increasing use of newly acquired skills (Fantasia, V. et al, 2014). The familiar structure allows the child to concentrate for longer and provides them with the opportunity to use their growing skills, developing speech and language, developing fine and gross motor movement skills, for example, into the game. As each child and parent plays a game and it develops, it becomes a way for the child to make the game their very own, by making little changes to the early variant of the game by incorporating their new skills into the routine.

So the early play is all about having interactions with your child. All children, and especially deaf children, benefit from having a playful approach to the tasks of daily living. So you can rest assured, if you incorporate playful routines into your everyday pattern of nappy changing, you will be building your child’s cognitive and auditory development for the future.


Vocal turntaking:

  • Gratier, M., Devouche, E., Guellar, B., Infanti, R., Yilmaz, E., & Parlato – Oliveria, E. Early turntaking between mothers and infants. Frontiers of Psychology, 4.Sep 2015.

Joint attention:

  • Moor, C. & Dunham, P.J. (Eds). Joint Attention: Its origins and role in development. Psychology Press Taylor and Francis, New York & London, 2014

Developing play routines:

  • Fantasia, V., Fasulo, A., Costall, A., & Lopez, B. Changing the Game: Exploring Infants’ participation in early play routines. Frontiers of Psychology, 6 June 2014.

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