Question:  I have a sweet three year old in my classroom who walks around aimlessly during free play. After I direct her to a playing center, I notice her as my tail a few minutes later. How do I encourage her to play and should I be firm that during free play we need to choose a center and not follow the teacher around the classroom?

Myrna Shure: Although we don’t know why this child has a need to tail the teacher, it is quite possible that she is anxious or fearful of being away from an adult. If this or any form of insecurity is the case, you can guide her gradually with the following techniques.

Step l: Take her to a play center, and say, “I’ll be right back. You stay here.” Slowly walk away for less than a minute, keeping eye contact, and smiling.

Step 2: Repeat the above, slowly increasing the amount of time and the distance you step away. If she follows you, calmly escort her back to the play center and repeat the process.

Step 3: Let the child choose a play center. Put a doll on the table and say “Find another doll for this one to have breakfast with.” Or, let the child choose her own toy and ask her for her idea for what to do with that toy. Then back away just a bit, but stay within eye contact.

Three-year-olds may not yet be engaging other children in their play. But if the child responds to steps 1-3, it won’t be long before she engages in her own play, perhaps even beside other children. And soon she will have less need to be following you so much of the time.