January 18, 2022

Serve and Return

By taking small moments during the day to do ‘Serve and Return’, you build up the foundation for children’s learning, behaviour and health – and their skills for facing challenges.

This how-to video breaks down serve and return into 5 simple steps and features adults and young children doing each step together.

  1. Notice the serve and share the child’s focus and attention.

Is the child looking or pointing at something? Making a sound or making a face? Moving their arms or legs? That’s a serve. The key is to pay attention to what the child is focussed on. Why? By noticing the serves you’ll learn a lot about a child’s abilities, interests and needs. You’ll encourage them to explore and strengthen the bonds between you.

  1. Return the serve by supporting and encouraging.

Play with the child and acknowledge them. You can make sounds, smile and nod. To let them know you’ve noticed the same thing. Pick up the object he’s looking or pointing at and give it to him. Why? Supporting and encouraging rewards a child’s interests and curiosity NOT getting a return is stressful for the child. When you return the child knows that their thoughts and feelings are being heard and understood.

  1. Give it a name!

By naming what a child is seeing, doing or feeling, you make important language connections in the brain, even before they can talk or understand your words. Why? When you name things, you help kids understand the world around them and to know what to expect. Naming gives them the words to use.

  1. Take turns…wait.

Keep the interaction going back and forth. Every time you return a serve, give the child a chance to respond. Taking turns can be quick or go on for many turns. Children need time to make their responses, especially when they’re learning so many things at once. Why? Taking turns helps kids learn self control and how to get along with others. By waiting, you give the child time to develop his ideas and build confidence and independence.

  1. Practice endings and beginnings.

Children signal when they are done or ready to move onto something else. They might let go of the toy, or turn to look at something else. When you share the child’s focus, you’ll notice when they are ready they are ready to end the activity and start something new. Why? When you find moments for a child to take the lead, you support them in exploring their world – and make more serve and return interactions possible.

Information from the Centre for the Developing Child Harvard University

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