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Engaging toddlers Me Psychology Melanie Hunter on Busy Books

Achieving Engagement in Children, a Psychologist perspective

“Wow mum is that for me? Can I have a look!” Says my 3-year-old the moment she sees the busy books delivery. 

I kid you not she spent an hour that afternoon on the Colours Shapes and Patterns Busy Book. I hadn’t had a chance to even look at it and I didn’t until she put it down. 

Apart from us getting gifted time to have a warm cuppa why is engagement important and what magic was at play here with the Colours Shapes and Patterns book? 

Engagement in our children can be fleeting, that is normal and age appropriate, they really have very small attention spans! In fact, us adults do not have the attention spans that we might think we do either and most of us will find our mind wandering by about that half hour point. 

BUT our children absorb information much quicker and more effectively than adults do, their brain is wired to do so. When a child is engaged, they build on their ability to focus, concentrate and retain information more effectively. They are also witness to their strengths and weaknesses, having a stronger desire to challenge themselves and use strengths to their benefit. 

Children who are capable of identifying and using their strengths are reported to be happier and have increased self-esteem and confidence. 

So how do we help achieve engagement? 

  1. Children are more likely to engage when they feel they’re good at something (aren’t we all?) 
  2. Positive emotions occur when they are doing the activity. 
  3. An activity challenges them but they can still achieve it 
  4. Activities are adaptable to their level and new tasks begin after they have mastered old ones. 
  5. A variety of senses are used 
  6. Children can engage through the learning style that best suits them (spatial, auditory, linguistic, kinesthetic, mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal). 
  7. The activity is visually appealing (this is mainly for younger children) 

So one of my favourite parts about the busy books is how it increases in difficulty as they move through the book. Looking above you can see that it has met 3 & 4 with this. 

How can we achieve the rest? 

Point 1. My daughter picked the Colours, Shapes and Patterns Book over the Alphabet, Numbers and Writing Skills book because she recognised it and knew she could do some of the activities. 

Look through the book with your child. See what they are drawn to. Let them lead they will naturally be drawn to what they recognise, like or feel they’re good at. 

Point 2. Your child will experience positive emotions when they have a sense of achievement in getting a task right. Praise them, point our explicitly what they did well and why. 

Point 5. The senses of sight, sound, touch are used within the book already which is a large enough combination to promote engagement. 

Point 6. Do you know what your child’s learning style is? It may be too hard to tell or too soon but you can get a sense from a fairly young age. Are they a physical kid, a talker, a “I didn’t know you heard that” type of kid? These can all provide indications of how they like to learn or how they currently learn best. 

These books can be adapted to most learning styles I've listed above. 

Point 7. The bright colours and strong use of primary colours, pictures of known objects within their world and neat organisation all are visually appealing to young eyes. 

Have a go at using some of these points within your child’s everyday play as well and see if you notice a change in their engagement. Maybe you’ll even get a warm cuppa too! 


Written by Melanie Hunter, Psychologist and Director of Me Psychology, Port Macquarie

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