Engaging Children Under 5 in Learning at Home

Activities, For Parents, Possip, Students / /

80% of children’s brain growth occurs in the first three years of life. A lot of this includes learning at home.

Here are a few quick tips on how to interact with your Pre-K child and make it a learning experience! The first two strategies are going to be more focused on parent-child interactions where a parent actually needs to be engaged and the second two strategies will be focusing on more child-led independent options for learning at home.


Serve and Return

Child-parent relationships that are two way and help children interact and engage can build strong brain development. Parents can use a tool called Serve and Return from FIND (filming interactions to nurture development) to make everyday activities a chance to learn for your child. (HTTPS://DEVELOPINGCHILD.HARVARD.EDU/RESOURCES/5-STEPS-FOR-BRAIN-BUILDING-SERVE-AND-RETURN/)

There are five steps.

  1. The first step is to just pay attention to what your child is focused on. while you’re getting your child dressed or having some playtime with them. Just notice what they’re interested in.
  2. The next step is to offer children some kind of comfort, support, or praise. You can do things like helping them get to the item they’re interested in or even just acknowledging that they are interested in something. This can just be a sound or facial expression, also.
  3. Next, name the thing—a person, an object, or an action the child is doing. If your child points to their toy, you can also point to it and say, “Yes, that’s your stuffed animal!” 
  4. Every time you return a serve, give your child a chance to respond so you can return again. Wait time is really important for strong interaction.
  5. Finally, stop when your child signals that they’re done or ready for a different stimulus. They might throw their toy down, walk away, or signal they are done. You can say, “Okay, we’re done!” and then figure out the child’s next focus and continue the serve and return steps.

When parents use the serve and return method, they build up the foundation for positive social interactions, lifelong learning, and crucial brain development. 


The Boston Basics 

The Boston Basics’s goal is to make sure that all children have a solid foundation in learning. There are five strategies that parents should use during a child’s development according to the Boston Basics.

  1. Maximize love, and manage stress.
  2. Talk, sing, and point.
  3. Count, group, and compare.
  4. Explore through movement and play.
  5. Read and discuss stories

These are keys to children’s brain development and can be done in simple everyday situations. On the Boston Basics website (https://boston.thebasics.org/), they have many examples of specific things parents can do with their child in each of the five buckets. The website also categorizes them by age groups, so you can see what you should be doing for your specific child’s age. For example, in the “read and discuss stories” under the 0-6months age group, it gives strategies like “describing the pictures on the page” and “reading with expression.” Check out their website to see how you can incorporate these basics every day. 


Fine Motor Skills Practice

In the first months of life, the nervous system and muscles start to work together in children. They begin to show more smooth and intentional movement. Parents can help strengthen your baby’s muscle and fine motor skill development with really basic activities and practice. It’s really all about getting kids’ hands and fingers moving. Many activities can be made of household items, so check out these websites for some good ideas. 

Some of these activities allow for more independent time, so if you’re working from home, check out ideas like the pompom whisk where the child independently pulls the pom poms out one at a time. Some of these activities can keep them busy for a while, which will be helpful for both your work time and their fine motor skills.



Elementary classrooms often use centers.  You can set these up for learning at home as well. You can set up different “centers” in your workspace or stage them around the house. Ideas for easy centers to set up include: 

  • A container of items to build things (blocks, legos, cubes, etc)
  • A pile of books for children to look and flip through
  • Dress up clothes and toys for independent pretend play 
  • “Free art” table with paper and crayons and art supplies
  • Sensory bin (beans or noodles)

Really any kind of activity can be made into a center with household items and your child can roam around the room with some independence doing these activities!


Check out our PowerSession on this topic that includes a Q&A from Elementary Education experts! You can watch it here: https://possip.com/possip-power-sessions-videos-professional-development/