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Strategies for Developmentally Appropriate “Show and Tell” in Early Childhood Classrooms

Originally published:

child showing others a drawing

The key to Show and Tell is to make it developmentally appropriate for the children who are participating to encourage optimal engagement and learning. It is important for teachers to realize that Show and Tell does not have to be the traditional image of children sitting in a circle taking turns talking. Show and Tell should be an experience that grows with children as their knowledge and skills develop.

Show and Tell for Infants

Children as young as one year can benefit from Show and Tell if the teachers or parents who are facilitating it have appropriate expectations. Infant Show and Tell should be primarily adult led. The following strategies can help infants learn through Show and Tell:

  • Allow children to move around and play during Show and Tell.
  • Use Show and Tell to discuss the child’s favorite toys, objects, or activities.
  • Exaggerate your voice and say the name of the object clearly to get the children’s attention and help them learn words.
  • Share for less than 30 seconds.

Show and Tell for Young Toddlers

When children become toddlers, they begin to listen more and take pride in their abilities. Show and Tell should encourage children to listen, follow directions, and make choices. The following strategies can help young toddlers learn through Show and Tell:

  • Capitalize on things the children are most familiar with and mostly likely to talk about, such as favorite foods, toys, or people.
  • Invite caregivers to the classroom one or two at a time to be “introduced” by the child.
  • Call on children one at a time to pick something in the classroom and show it to the other children.
  • Encourage the child to say the name of what they picked if they are able.

Show and Tell for Older Toddlers

As children get closer to age 3, they start developing the ability to speak in sentences. They also have preferred activities and are developing the ability to work with other children and concentrate on tasks for longer periods. The following strategies can help older toddlers learn through Show and Tell:

  • Make Show and Tell a regular part of the schedule, preferably on the same day each week.
  • Send home reminders so the children’s parents remember to help the child pick out an item from home to bring to class.
  • Help the child pick something in the classroom to show if a child comes to school without something to show the class.
  • Encourage children to say a sentence or two about their object and ask prompting questions such as “What is it?”, “Where did you get it?”, and “How do you play with it?” Nonverbal children may be prompted to show how they play with or use the object.

Show and Tell for Preschool Children

Children become inquisitive, interested, and engaged during the preschool years. They enjoy new experiences and have extensive vocabularies. At this age, Show and Tell should reflect their growing abilities to speak, ask questions, and understand others. The following strategies can help preschoolers learn through Show and Tell:

  • Extend Show and Tell by creating themes that interest the children, such as a favorite board game, favorite movie, favorite animal, and favorite stuffed animal.
  • Encourage children to ask each other questions and only intervene when needed.
  • Plan a time for Show and Tell when children are most likely to be able to listen to each other, such as after playing outside or at the beginning of the day.
  • Repeat rules such as “One person speaks at a time” before Show and Tell begins and remind the children when necessary throughout the activity.
  • Find ways to expand Show and Tell, such as breaking the children into groups to do Show and Tell, asking children to demonstrate a skill, or creating artwork and/or poster boards about a topic of interest.

Children get the most out of activities that are well-planned, built on interests, and developmentally appropriate. Show and Tell should not be an exception. The integrity of the activity is accomplished when children learn something, which means the process of Show and Tell must change as children change.

Chrystal Williams

Crystal Williams

Crystal Williams earned her PhD at the University of Illinois. Her research focuses on early intervention services and inclusion for young children with significant support needs and their families. 

IEL Resources

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2024