You want to interact and play with your child. But your child is difficult to engage. He doesn’t talk and is not interested in most of the toys you’ve bought. He runs and jumps, but rarely settles down to purposeful activity or meaningful play. In my previous post, we explored WHO YOU ARE to engage your child and how you can become the best play partner for your child and ‘the best toy’. Today we will look at how you can use WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE AT HOME to interact with your child and to help him towards playing, interacting and talking.

What is a young child’s job?

The first question we need to ask, is what is a young child’s ‘job’? Little children don’t know about the world or about themselves. So a little child’s main job is to find out

  1. about the world around them and ‘how does it work?’
  2. about themselves and how their body works and ‘what can I do?’
  3. how what they do, affects what happens, i.e. how they can have an impact on the world, i.e. ‘What can I do with it? And what happens, if I do …?’

Learning through solitary exploration vs teaching

The way that little children do this is through exploration, using their body, their legs and hands, by  copying what they see happening around them and testing boundaries and their ideas. They try things out and explore and experiment, – otherwise also called LEARNING. This first learning is spontaneous and exploratory and it is about learning about themselves. Most of this is the child exploring in a trial and error fashion by themselves. It does NOT involve TEACHING. Or talking to them. And it definitely does not involve explaining or telling the child what to do. It is only once a child has laid the foundation of understanding about themselves and the world around them, that they become receptive to your efforts of wanting to teach them something, that you want them to do.

Using the HANDS for DOING something

How can you facilitate this kind of free exploratory play for your child at home? What is there that your already have that might catch the interest of a withdrawn child or a child who is aimlessly running to and fro all the time? What is the key ingredient of all this? It is DOING something. And doing something with his HANDS, mainly

  • moving ‘stuff’, e.g. from here to there, scraping, … using hands or tools, e.g. spoon, ladle, …
  • picking things up
  • putting them in/on, e.g. into a container, or lid on a bottle, …
  • sorting them, e.g. spoons, forks, …
  • comparing, e.g. all the little ones here and all the big ones over there
  • matching, e.g. matching lids and containers, …

Containers and ‘loose parts’

So, let’s think about the different ‘geographies’ in your home. There is so much that you already have and use every day, that a child could do and be interested in. There are only 2-3 main ‘ingredients’ to this fundamental early play:

  1. CONTAINERS of all shapes, materials and sizes, e.g. boxes, bowls, cups, jugs, paper bags, buckets, bottles, … with and without all sorts of different lids
  2. ‘LOOSE PARTS’, i.e. objects, things and ,stuff’ that can be put into the containers
  3. at a later stage: TOOLS for transferring the ingredients from one container to another, e.g. spoons, ladles, tongs, funnel, …

Successful activities with everyday materials

In most homes everything is already there for you to provide your child with opportunities to do lot of the above activities:

  • Kitchen
    • tins and packets of food: to move in and out of the cupboard
    • oranges, potatoes, lemons, carrots … to take out of one and transfer to another container
    • dish washer: putting in dishes and cutlery, taking cutlery out
    • kitchen roll holder: place curtain rings or small hair bands or bangles on
    • washing machine: putting washing in, taking it out, opening/closing the door,
    • use clothes pegs to hang up the washing, – or just clipping them onto the salad bowl
    • pots and pans with lids, muffin tin, salad bowl, jars, plastic containers, …
    • potatoes to put into the muffin tin (one in each hole), – or lemons or avocadoes
    • pour some dry beans, pasta shapes, rice … into a large bowl and give him a spoon to transfer it into another container or into the muffin tin
  • Hallway  
    • shoe-rack: putting back all the shoes, lining them up in pairs, sorting them into pairs, by size, by colour, by owner
    • collect the letters that come through the letter slot, put something into the empty envelopes
  • Living room
    • build a tower from sofa cushions
    • use the seat cushion to create a slide
    • hide a ‘treasure’ under the cushions or under the carpet, like a lemon (easy!) or his book (harder)
    • use the rug to pull the child around on, or roll him up in the carpet like a sausage
    • make the carpet into a tunnel to crawl through
  • Bedroom
    • chest of drawers: socks in pairs, clothes folded in categories
  • Bathroom
    • toilet roll holder: put on toilet rolls cut into rings
    • build a tower with cleaning sponges
    • clothes dryer: hanging up the washing to dry, taking it off and folding it

All of these materials and activities are free, as you already have most of the ingredients at home. None of them are complicated or very messy. But what is even better, is that they are also what every young child is interested in and motivated to explore and engage. In over 30 years of working with children who are difficult to engage, aimless or autistic, I have NEVER met a child, who could not be interested and engaged to interact with the above materials and activities.

I would love to hear about your experiences and what you discover, when you try out some of these ideas, and any new ideas that you have about materials and what to do with them. You can use the contact form on the right of this page.


16 Key Strategies for DIRFloortime Play

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