What is a child’s interest?
Something that makes your child happy, smile or want to play.
It could be:
- toys – car, dinosaur
- an object – spoon, ball
- a person – family member, teacher
- sensory play – water or music/instruments
How do I know what my child is interested in?
If they are unable to communicate their choice using gestures or words:
- Observe, Wait and Listen (Hanen-OWL)
- What do they play with the most?
- What are they doing with this item?
- If they can make a choice of activities, what do they choose?
If your child can communicate, ask them what their favourite activity is or simply watch what they are playing with most of the time. What are they doing with this item?
Why use a child’s interests to play?
- They will have more fun and may want to play longer
- They are more likely to communicate with you about what they’re interested in. This can lead to more opportunities to practice communicating in their own way with you e.g., smiling, making eye contact or making sounds
- They are more likely to have an increased connection to you as they learn you are ‘fun’ to play with
I know what my child is interested in, what now?
Time to play and have some fun!
- Get down to their level by squatting, sitting/lying on the floor, or sitting on a small chair. Make sure you are face to face with them
- Put away any distractions such as a phone and fully focus on your child
- Follow their lead
- Join in and play with them. Avoid telling them what to do or say. Remember, you are following their lead
- Observe, Wait and Listen
- You can copy what they are doing, comment on this, and encourage turn taking
Here are some examples:
- Cars: take a car and drive it along the floor next to your child
Comment: “the car is fast”; “you have a blue car” etc
- Balls: roll a ball along the floor towards them; bounce a ball to them; throw the ball into a bucket
Comment: “the ball is rolling”; “that was a big bounce” etc
- People Games: play a game of Ring a Ring a Rosey, Tickle games, Peek a Boo, Round and Round the Garden or bubbles. Most of these games have songs/rhymes. You can find more at Playing people games
Comment: “you’re hiding”; “it’s tickle time” etc
- Water: fill different sized containers with water to tip and pour; use a funnel to pour water through; give child a small jug for both of you to fill and pour
Comment: “the jug is full”; “it’s all wet” etc
- Dinosaurs: Take a dinosaur and move it along the floor in different ways like jumping, hopping, running
Comment: “dinosaur is walking”; “dinosaur is eating”; “dinosaur is jumping” etc
- Balloons: throw a balloon up in the air, try not to let it touch the ground
Comment: “balloon up” “balloon down”; “red balloon” etc
Once you know what your child’s interest is, it’s time to have fun! Each of the audio recordings below gives you a step-by-step outline of how you can play with your child when they are interested in something specific:
Our ‘Interest Based Learning Cards’ resource shares some great ways to follow your child’s lead through play. There are also some great suggestions offered at the following sites:
If you are working with a Start Strong Pathways educator, ask them for some more ideas. If your child has other support people within their team such as a Key Worker, therapist or educator, they can share ideas too.