Building your Child’s Brain Power with Simple Serve and Return Interactions

Did you know that you can help build a child’s brain – starting even before babies can talk? Simple serve and return interactions between adults and young children help make strong connections in developing brains. It’s kind of like tennis where one person serves the ball and the other person returns the ball. And, it’s easy and fun to do! This how-to video from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University breaks down serve and return into 5 simple steps (from Filming Interactions to Nurture Development) and features adults and young children doing each step together.

Step 1: Notice the “serve” and share the child’s focus of attention

Step 2: Return the “serve” by supporting and encouraging

Step 3: Give it a name. You can name anything—a person, a thing, an action, a feeling, or a combination. If a child points to their feet, you can also point to them and say, “Yes, those are your feet!”

Step 4: Take turns…and wait. Keep the interaction going back and forth. Children need time to form their responses, especially when they’re learning so many things at once. 

Step 5: Practice endings and beginnings. When you share a child’s focus, you’ll notice when they’re ready to end the activity and begin something new. They might let go of a toy, pick up a new one, or turn to look at something else. Or they may walk away, start to fuss, or say, “All done!” 

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