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Child with a plastic hard hat on and using a plastic wrench while his father watches him.

Effective, engaging interactions and environments form the foundation for all learning in early childhood settings. These high-quality practices include a well-organized environment, social and emotional support, and interactions and materials that stimulate children's thinking and skills. Here are some ways to engage children:

  • Get down on the child's level. Being on the same eye level as children helps them feel safer and more in control. You show that you're giving the child your full attention and are willing and ready to engage. Active listening is one of the most important ways you can send the message, "You're important to me."
  • Tune in and listen to what the child says. If the child does not speak yet, tune into what they are doing or pointing to and use these moments to talk with them. Show that you are interested in what they are doing and listening to what they say.
  • Take turns talking. If the child doesn't have language yet, communicate in non-verbal ways such as gestures, smiling, babbling, and word approximations (children's attempt at words). (If you haven't seen the ADORABLE back-and-forth exchange between father and son on social media, watch it HERE!
  • Talk about what your child is doing. Talk about what your child is looking at, what the child is interested in, or what they would like to do. Encourage children to make comparisons and predictions and consider other possibilities.
  • Ask questions that relate to the child's experiences or interests. Ask about what children are doing, what they did before, and what they plan to do next. Ask questions that are stimulating and developmentally appropriate.
  • Add words or questions to what the child says or does and model new language. Expand on children's words or their attempts at words by adding a little more. For example, if the child says "ball," you can say, "The blue ball is bouncing!" Restate children's language using correct grammar.
  • Give the child enough time to respond. For children who do not have language yet, this may be a non-verbal response like a gesture.
  • Encourage higher-level thinking. Help children make connections between what is happening in the classroom and what is happening in their home or community. Introduce new concepts and ideas and explain your thinking process.


How to turn any interaction...

Adult: Do you want to play with the fire truck?
Child: Yes.
Adult: What color is it?
Child: Red.
Adult: Who will drive it?
Child: A fireman.

Illustrated owl wearing glasses with a curved dashed line from it's feet and pointing up and pointing right.

... into an engaging interaction.

Adult: Which vehicle do you like to play with the most?
Child: The fire truck.
Adult: Oh, the fire truck is your favorite. What will you do with the fire truck?
Child: The fireman is going to ride on it.
Adult: Where is the fireman going?
Child: Into the trees.
Adult: The trees are dense and hard to see through. Watch out!
Child: Help, the fireman crashed.
Adult: Oh no! Who will rescue the fireman?
Child: I'll call the police!
Adult: The police officer is the hero!