As a child develops they learn by watching those around them. When you begin teaching play skills you want to do it in your child’s natural environment and in a way that is fun and engaging. This can take place in any location, the key is to follow what your child is excited about.
Begin working on imitation with activities you already know they like and have some familiarity with. Complete an action with a favorite toy and see if they will copy you. If they don’t, take their hand and help them complete the action. Every time they imitate you it’s important to reward them with tickles, praise, or anything else they may enjoy. The focus of this step is not to teach them new play routines, but to build their imitation skills.
Example: If your child is playing with a toy plane, take the plane and have it fly through the sky. Hand them the plane and have them imitate. Get really excited when they do!
Once your child can imitate familiar actions, expand to teaching them new actions. Again, it is important to keep this fun, so use a toy the child is already playing with.
Example: When your child is playing with a plane, expand to new actions they don’t engage in by themselves. Take the plane and have it crash, go upside down, take off etc. Then give the plane to the child and see if they will imitate the new actions.
Next, you want to begin to work on their playing with toys they are less familiar with. To start, have them imitate you playing with these new toys in a way they are already familiar with.
Example: If your child plays a variety of different actions with a plane, expand these same actions to a new activity. Make a toy bird fly through the sky, have a car fly, crash cars.
When your child fluently imitates a variety of actions across different toys, begin working on novel toys and actions. Early in their learning, work on imitation when it is just you and the child. As they become more proficient, work on their imitating other kids or siblings.
Now go have fun with your kid! Don’t worry about feeling goofy, the sillier the better!
- always keep it fun, use toys your child is already playing with or you know are their favorites
- reinforce when they correctly imitate you, or any attempts they make
- Don’t require them to imitate everything during play, it is okay to sometimes play and just have fun without any demands!