Infants & Toddlers: Activities That Encourage Turn-Taking

  • Grades: Early Childhood, PreK–K

Infants

After you play "This Little Piggy Goes to Market" with a baby, pause and wait for the baby to take his turn. He loves this familiar and joyous game. He may well take a "turn" by extending his toes as a message that he would love you to re-start the game.

When you are diapering the baby, tell him how delicious he is and wiggle your palm on his tummy. Then pause. Give him a chance to take a turn in this "body conversation" by wriggling and thrusting out his legs. He may well vocalize with pleasure when you give him a turn to talk too! When feeding the baby, offer her a favored bit of cooked carrot and say, "Here's some yummy carrot!" As she gobbles it up, ask, "Want more carrot? More? Yes, more carrot!" Your question and enthusiastic offer give her a chance to respond in turn by nodding yes as if to say "more."

Toddlers

Teachers are admired and trusted role models. The longer a toddler has been in your care, the more secure she will feel about "copying" you. The powerful secret ingredient for ensuring that a toddler learns how to pay attention to you is to give a toddler your undivided attention when she is trying to tell you something. Try hard to respond appropriately and directly to the content of the toddler's message. When you listen attentively and respond to the toddler's talk as directly as you can, the child will learn about waiting respectfully for her turn to talk.

Use cooking experiences to stimulate conversations. Sometimes toddlers are puzzled by physical changes, such as the fact that after cooking, chocolate pudding powder becomes a solid mass of pudding. Provide plenty of safe cooking experiences and encourage the children to take turns asking questions about what is happening.

Ask Socratic, open-ended questions to encourage conversation. Socratic questions ("How do you think we can change the block tower so that the blocks don't keep toppling down?") encourage a child to focus on the response that corresponds to the question. The conversational turn of a toddler with few words may then consist of trying to put the larger blocks on the bottom and the smaller blocks at the top of the tower. Toddlers who have strong receptive language skills and lesser expressive language skills can respond with gestures as well as words.

Use greeting rituals to encourage turn-taking responses. At circle time each morning with your toddlers, sing the song, "Good morning little yellow bird, yellow bird, yellow bird. Good morning little yellow bird. Who are you?" Even young toddlers can take turns calling out their full names as you smilingly point to each child.

Use humor to invite children's responses. Create books with "incongruity pictures." Cut out pictures of absurd or puzzling situations, such as a grandpa crying while cutting up onions to make spaghetti sauce, or a banana ad showing a zipper on the yellow outer skin. Paste each picture on a piece of cardboard to make a book. Say to a toddler, "Tell me all about this picture" or ask, "What is going on here?" The silliness, humor, or incongruity of the picture will cause the toddler to take her turn to answer you. Then you take a turn by thanking the toddler for telling you about the picture!

Make deliberate "mistakes." When teachers make a deliberate mistake in a familiar activity, even toddlers with limited languages enjoy calling out and telling the teacher just what she got wrong!

Encourage toddlers to restate rules. If a toddler has just violated a classroom rule by not taking turns on the slide or not sharing the play dough, ask the toddler to restate the class rule about sharing.

  • Subjects:
    Child and Infant Care, Listening and Speaking, Communication and Language Development
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