University of Illinois Extension
Skipnavigation Nibbles ... Ideas for Families

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Leading and Learning

Young children are active learners, wanting to be a part of everything. One way adults can use this energy and teach skills children will use throughout their lives is by actively playing with them. By playing with you, children learn skills they need to have to play with other children and adults. One skill that children can learn through play and games with a parent is how to follow, lead, help and guide ideas and actions of others. Try these games with just you and your child alone at first. This makes it special and easier to learn how to play. You can add other people to the game when your child feels comfortable.

Follow the Leader
Try it outdoors so you can really get exercise! First have your child follow your actions (running, jumping, hopping on one foot, etc.) Then allow your child to be the "leader" and you follow the actions of your child.

Simon Says
In this version of the game the leader is "Simon." Simon decides what action to do (touch your nose, touch your toes, move your arms, etc.). The person who follows "Simon" should do what "Simon says." For example, if the person who is "Simon" says, "Simon says wave your hands," the follower should do it. Very young children may not be able to play this game as it is traditionally played with older children. Instead of trying to trick the child by not saying "Simon Says ..." try always saying, "Simon Says" and encouraging your child to copy the actions. He or she will be learning how to follow a leader. Later, he or she will be able to play it in the traditional way.

I've Got A Hold of It --
A new form of "Round Robin"

Use a toy you can hold in your hand and pass back and forth. The person holding the toy is the only one who can talk. The person not holding the toy is to listen. Start by holding the toy and begin to tell a story. You can tell about something you've done together, tell a story that the child likes, or just make up a story. Only tell a little part of the story and then stop and give the toy to your child. The child then continues to tell the story until she/he stops and gives you the toy to continue. The most important thing to remember is that the person talking has the toy, and the person who doesn't have the toy needs to listen.

These are games with simple rules. It is important to remember that following rules is a learning process. Your child might not follow the rules the right way at first or might not understand the rules. Remember that this is fun and your child is learning. Leading and following games help children become aware of themselves and of other people. Later this will help them take turns or understand someone else's point of view.

Prepared by Marsha Hawley, Extension Educator, Family Life.