Practicing to Promote Children’s Learning

Children learn by doing. This is why hands-on practice is so important in learning a new skill, especially for young children. Sometimes we forget that kids need time to practice a new behavior after we tell them about it. We assume we’ve told them, so they should just be able to “do” it, when in reality they may need many opportunities to practice the new behavior or skill we want them to do. We’re going to focus on practice here on the KITS blog to start 2022! Today we will focus on

Kinds of practice: Directed practice and embedded play

Just like there are different types of skills for kids to learn, there are different ways to practice, depending on what you are hoping to teach your child! You can practice through direct instruction, like doing homework or just telling them, “let’s practice this right now”. If you are teaching your child a specific skill, like how to tie their shoes, staying with you when you are shopping, or handling disappointment when they don’t get their way, direct instruction and supported practice may be the best way for your child to learn.

Another way is to practice is by ‘hiding’ it in creative play or fun challenges. This is called embedded learning and it is an excellent way for children to practice while staying motivated. If you want to help your child to develop general skills, like fine motor skills, letter or number recognition, or self-regulation, embedding practice into play and everyday activities may be the way to go.

When to practice

To many of us, especially if you play sports or music, practice may imply doing a skill repeatedly before the game or performance. Similarly, we can help kids practice a skill in a low stress environment before there are a lot of distractions or big emotions that can make it difficult to ‘perform’. If the new skill is shoe tying, practice during playtime, or when you’re not in a rush to leave the house. If you want your child to practice a social skill like sharing, or handling disappointment, before you ask them to try it out with their friends, let them practice alone with you or with a puppet or stuffed animal.


Another important part of coaching your child to practice a new skill is to remind them of it right before they put it into practice; we call this pre-teaching. If you’re about to practice staying by the cart in the grocery store, remind them what to do before you enter the distraction-filled store. If they have been working on not grabbing toys from other kids, remind them in the car before you drop them off how to ask to share toys.

Tips for engaging kids in practice

  • Children learn best when they have a sense of autonomy and choice. So only telling a child what to do, or even lecturing them over and over, may not be as helpful as helping them practice with your support and guidance. A balance between child-led and adult-supported practice is best.
  • Similarly, young kids usually enjoy being ‘in charge’, or showing what they know. Get them to tell or show you what they know or how they can do it by themselves.
  • Children also love to be helpers at this age. Instead of telling them to do something, ask them to help you.
  • Modeling skills is often an under-appreciated way that children learn to do something new.

In the upcoming blog series on practice, we will talk about some fun ways you can engage your child in practicing a new skill or behavior and how to practice specific skills like active listening, self-regulation, and emotion-based skills.

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Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2022

Image: © Eiko Tsuchiya |


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