The Art of Serve & Return

Tattooed Father and Son Playing with Soap Bubbles“Serve and return” is a phrase often heard in volleyball and tennis, but it’s also used in early childhood development. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University recently released the article, A Guide to Serve and Return: How Your Interaction with Children Can Build Brains.

Many of us are aware of the importance of the relationship between caregiver and child. New research has given us an inside look at how these relationships impact your child’s brain development. This is where the concept of serve and return comes in. An example of this concept is when a young child babbles or points to an object and an adult responds with a similar vocalization or names the object. This interaction between the child and adult builds and strengthens the child’s brain and validates the importance of nurturing, stimulating and reliable relationships.

5 Steps to Using Serve & Return

  1. Notice the serve – Share your child’s focus of attention.
  2. Return the serve – Offer support and encouragement by smiling or nodding.
  3. Make a connection through language – Label the object or idea.
  4. Take turns…and wait – Every time you return a serve give your child a chance to respond. Make sure you wait to provide enough time for your child to build and develop their ideas.
  5. Practice – Build opportunities for the repetition of “Serve and Return” interactions.

Opportunities for serve and return interactions occur naturally during everyday moments and they can help build your child’s foundation for future learning. The key is to recognize these moments and follow the steps to successfully serve and return with your child.

Join us for engaging experiences during Baby Bookworms, Toddler Time 1 and 2, Preschool Storytime and aboard the Learn and Play Bus.

Sherry Hess

As the Early Childhood Learning Coordinator, Sherry is focused on engaging young children and their families in play-based early learning experiences. The Learn & Play Bus and its service are at the heart of her work. Sherry has a background in early childhood education.