Building Engagement: Discovery and Play with Your Toddler at Home

Read Time: 4 minutes
Kai-leé Berke
Co-Founder, Noni Educational Solutions
April 21, 2020

You, like many other educators and child-care programs around the world are tirelessly working to support families as full-time learning and care transitions to families’ own homes. The idea of families caring for their young child or children, trying to complete at home learning activities while likely also working full-time sounds and likely feels nearly impossible.

Toddlers present a unique set of challenges. They are active explorers, completely transparent with their feelings, and full of boundless curiosity for the world around them. As you continue to partner with families, consider sharing the strategies below.

Five strategies to effectively engage toddlers at home:

  • Shorten scheduling timeframes. Think of scheduling time in 15-30 min intervals, depending on the age and development of your child. This will take some experimentation. Your child may be able to attend to some experiences longer than others. Make sure to note what the more engaging ones are; you’ll want to use those for a longer conference call or video meeting.
  • Be active before you need quiet. Engage your child in an active experience before you settle them in with a toy next to you by your desk. Balancing active and quiet periods is particularly important for toddlers who often have seemingly endless energy! Play “Simon Says” in an developmentally appropriate way by pretending to be tigers roaring and prowling, drummers in a marching band, or birds soaring over the ocean. Or you can make up movement lyrics to Row, Row, Row Your Boat  (i.e., “Bounce, bounce, bounce around. Bounce around the room. Bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing. Bounce around the room.”). You can find more activities of this type in our newest digital product, ParentPal™, available for free through June 30th!.
  • Give undivided attention. At the end of the movement experience, sit with your child for a couple of minutes to engage her in play before you get back to work. Providing a few minutes of undivided attention goes a long way in helping your child to feel connected to you.
  • Offer engaging play experiences that don’t require your intervention. Some of the very best playthings for toddlers and twos are common household objects and natural materials that children can explore safely. Large plastic containers and tops, cardboard boxes, crinkly tissue paper, wooden and plastic kitchen utensils, pinecones, leaves, and shells appeal to young children as much as many toys you can buy (and sometimes even more). Any object that can be explored, put together, taken apart, pushed or pulled, stacked, or banged becomes a toy in a young child’s hands. Young toddlers are particularly interested in exploring cause and effect—filling and dumping, hiding and uncovering, and stacking and knocking down.
  • Notice what they are doing. While they are playing near you, occasionally comment on what they’re doing by describing what you see: “You put all the animals into the box and put the top on,” or “You filled it up with blocks and dumped them all out.” Simply noticing and commenting what a child is doing during play can help him to sustain his attention on the task for a bit longer. I shared additional strategies for engaging with your child while playing with toys in this post.