How to Engage Your Child at Home

Children learn more when they are actively engaged with their environment. SPD’s early intervention teacher, Hoo Lee Pin, shares some tips on how to engage with your child at home.

When children are actively engaged with their environment, they interact with others more, handle materials more, and therefore learn more. SPD’s early intervention teacher, Hoo Lee Pin, shares some tips on how to engage more with your child at home.

What is Engagement?

Engagement refers to the amount of time children spend interacting with their environment (for instance, with their parents, peers and materials) in a developmentally and contextually appropriate manner (McWilliam & Bailey, 1992). Engagement is different from participation where the child generally takes part in the activity.

A)  Engaging Your Child – Observe, Follow, Expand

The following are three steps that could be applied when engaging with your child:

Step 1: Observe

Stay close to your child, be patient and wait for at least five seconds. Look and listen to what your child is doing or saying.

Step 2: Follow

Join in and play with your child. Copy your child’s play actions, facial expressions and sounds or words. This is to encourage your child to interact with you and to get the interaction going.

Step 3: Expand

Say out loud what you think your child is trying to tell you with their actions, sounds or words. You can also copy what your child says or do and add a few words or play actions to make their message or play more complete.

B)  Engaging Your Child at Home During Daily Routines

Routines, such as going to bed, dressing up and journeying to and from school and weekly visiting of grandparents are activities that happen on a fairly frequent basis, and are important as they provide a predictable platform for the child to develop and learn functional skills, which are related to the routines, for e.g.,

  • knowing how to button clothes during dressing up,
  • eating meals with utensils,
  • unwritten social rules when visiting religious venues or libraries, and
  • social skills for interaction with friends and relatives during visits.

Using the three easy steps above, you could engage your child at home during daily routines:

1)  Meal Time

Observe: Your child holds the spoon and stirs the cereal in the bowl instead of scooping it.

Follow: Take your spoon and stir the cereal in your child’s bowl too.

Expand: As you are stirring the cereal with the spoon, scoop the cereal up and say “scoop”. Encourage your child to scoop the cereal with his/her spoon too.

You could engage your child during daily routines like meal times (Photo: Shutterstock)
You could engage your child during daily routines like meal times (Photo: Shutterstock)

2)  Play Time

Observe: You child puts toy fruits into a teapot and shakes the teapot repeatedly.

Follow: Join in by putting toy fruits into another teapot and shake the teapot too.

Expand: As you are shaking the teapot, say “Mama shakes the juice.” Expand the play by acting out pouring the liquid from the teapot into a cup and say, “Mama pours orange juice into the cup for you!” Encourage your child to pour his/her into another cup and expand further by encouraging him/her to feed the doll with the orange juice too.

3)  Reading Time

Observe: Your child takes a book, flips the pages and points at every picture in each page and goes, “Wah, bird, cat, sun.”

Follow: Sit beside your child and point at the pictures as well when your child flips the pages.

Expand: When your child goes “Wah, bird, cat, sun,” expand their words by saying, “Wow, that’s a big cat”, “Oh, it’s a yellow sun”, “There are so many birds! How many are there? Let’s count..1..2..3!”

C)  Setting the Right Pitch

In addition to the three steps of observing, following and expanding, enhance interaction with your child with these further steps:

  1. Consistency – Use the same way to engage or respond to your child when developing his/her skills, for e.g., if the goal is to encourage your child to use words to request for an item, you should only give him/her the item when he/she use words, and not when he/she cries for it.
  2. Labelled Praises – Praise your child specifically for what he/she has done well, for e.g., by saying, “Good job in scooping your food with the spoon,” or “I like how you use your words to ask for the car.”
  3. Embedded Learning Opportunities – Learning takes place anywhere, anytime. Provide your child with short sessions of about five to 10 minutes and ample opportunities to practise the targeted skills in their routines.
  4. Have Fun — Let the learning be fun and enjoyable for your child.
Praise your child when they have done well (Photo: Shutterstock)
Praise your child when they have done well (Photo: Shutterstock)

D)  More to Try at Home

Besides engaging your child during daily routines, here are a few other situations where you could engage your child:

  1. Delay – You can deliberately hold back the items that your child wants in order to encourage him/her to ask for them using his/her words or gestures like pointing or tapping.
  2. Out-of-Reach – You can put a favourite toy in an out-of-reach but visible location, for e.g., on top of the shelf, to encourage him/her to request for it.
  3. Sabotage – You can deliberately put a sock into your child’s hands instead of his/her foot, observe the child’s reaction and encourage him/her to comment on the situation by asking, “Oh, what is that on your hand?”
  4. Physical and Verbal Modelling – You can show or say the targeted actions or words to encourage your child to follow the actions or imitate the words.

Physical Modelling – You can show your child how to brush his/her teeth in the correct sequence by brushing your teeth and asking him/her to copy the actions.

Verbal Modelling – You can say to your child, “John, say ‘Give me the red car’”, and encourage him to imitate the words before giving him the red car.

Physical modelling – you can carry out the actions and ask your child to follow them (Photo: Shutterstock)
Physical modelling – you can carry out the actions and ask your child to follow them (Photo: Shutterstock)

Start by trying some of these activities at home to enhance interaction with your child today!

Click here to download a copy of “How to Engage Your Child at Home” leaflet.


  • Engagement of Every child in the Preschool Classroom, McWilliam, R.A. and Casey, A.M. (2008), Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  • The Hanen Center (2008). A Glossary of It Takes Two to Talk Strategies for Parents
  • Thomas, N. (2007). Towards a theory of children’s participation. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 15, 199-218.
  • McWilliam, R.A., & Bailey, D.B. (1992). Promoting engagement and mastery. In D.B. Bailey & M. Wolery (Eds.), Teaching infants and toddlers with disabilities (2nd ed., pp. 229-256). New York: Merrill.