Back and forth play

baby_with_play_ballsA parent of a toddler posed a question to me recently: I am reading the monthly newsletter from and it mentions “back and forth play.” Can you give me some examples?

“Back and forth play” is probably something you are already doing. Your child initiates an action or conversation, you respond positively, and this prompts a second response from him. You are simply “turn-taking” with your child, but focused on what he is choosing to do. Here are some examples:

  • Your child brings you a plastic cup and says “milk.” You say, “Thank you for the milk, Gabriel. May I have some cookies too?” Gabriel hands you an invisible cookie. You pretend to take a bite and say “Chocolate chip. These are my favorite.” He brings you a plastic banana and the “snack” continues. (Notice the social nature of this interaction.)
  • You are seated on the floor with your child. He holds up his puzzle piece of a duck. You say, “That is a yellow duck. You put the duck in and I will put the bunny in.” Your child puts the puzzle piece in and looks up at you. “Nice work, Sammy. Now Mommy will put in the bunny with the fuzzy ears.” As you place your piece you say, “Which one would you like to do now?” Sammy chooses another piece and you say, “You have the giraffe with the long neck. Mommy will choose the tiny mouse.” As he places the piece, you say, “You put that piece in very easily. Now mommy’s turn.” As the back and forth play continues, you are building his vocabulary as you respond to his non-verbal communication.
  • Your child holds a soft football and flings it toward daddy. Daddy says “Awesome throw, Isabel. Are you ready to catch?” Daddy tosses the ball gently so that it lands near Isabel’s outstretched arms. As it drops, Isabel bends to pick up the ball. Daddy says “I’m ready. Give it a big throw, sweetie.”  Isabel flings the ball again and daddy says “Look at those big muscles.” (Action-response-action; Daddy is building a relationship and Isabel’s self-esteem at the same time.)
  • Your child brings a story to Grandma. “Quack, Quack” she says as she points to the duck. “Would you like me to read the ‘Five Little Ducks’ story?” says Grandma. Annika nods “yes”. Grandma opens the book and points to the first duck, “Did you see his orange feet, honey?” as she touches the picture. Annika touches the picture too, and looks at Grandma. “Feet,” says Grandma. “The duck has orange feet. They got all muddy in the puddle.”  “Feet” responds Annika. As they continue to read, Annika looks often into Grandma’s face as grandma repeats and describes words in the story. Annika turns back to page one and repeats “feet” again. Grandma, responding to prompt, says “Yes, the duck has orange feet.  What else do you see?” Grandma is following Annika’s lead and the two talk together about the story.

I’m sure, as your day goes along, you will find many other opportunities for “back and forth” play. The key element is the reciprocal or “give and take” nature of this positive interaction.

Note: If you haven’t yet signed up for the monthly e-newsletters from Zero to Three, called “From Baby to Big Kid” here is their link:  It is a free resource for parents, grandparents, and other caregivers and offers practical information about what is happening in the lives of children from birth to age 3.

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