Teaching imitation skills to young kids

A video blog by Pinki Kumar on Teaching imitation skills to young kids.

Author Pinki Kumar

Pinki is a special educator, play therapist and a mother of a neurodivergent kid. She has a YouTube channel Play and learn to teach different methods and strategies. These videos are a great resource for the parents to help their child learn various skills.


Teaching writing through Imitation

A video blog by Pinki Kumar on teaching methods to improve writing style through Imitation.

Author Pinki Kumar

Pinki is a special educator, play therapist and a mother of a neurodivergent kid. She has a YouTube channel Play and learn to teach different methods and strategies. These videos are a great resource for the parents to help their child learn various skills.


Reduce Stress and Enhance Engagement through Imitation – I

Why use imitation?

  • Imitation reduces stress by reducing use of verbal prompts, instructions and directions, and performance demands, reduces stress: Many neurodivergent learners experience considerable stress and anxiety. Low arousal techniques have evolved as a way of teaching neurodivergent learners. See an overview here. Some techniques are reducing demands, reducing talking, providing quiet time, and including movement. An imitation-based approach can be used to create low-arousal environments.
  • Imitation expands opportunities for engagement: Learners can engage in many ways by moving their body, using facial expressions, hand gestures etc. Imitation is based on observation and use of the body Mindful use of imitation changes communication between teachers and learners. Imitation provides a opportunities for those with language processing and other challenges to stay engaged in lessons.
  • Imitation creates opportunities for parent engagement: When a guide uses imitation as the core teaching process, there are many opportunities for parents to engage their child in simple and meaningful ways. Lessons taught through imitation can be repeated by the parent with the child. As the learner gets used to this process, the parent can routine use this process to provide predictability and variation in the learning process.

Imitate, Repeat, Memorize, and Improvise

Varied experiences over the last two decades have brought us to our basic learning process:

  • Imitate
  • Repeat
  • Memorize
  • Improvise

In today’s world, three of the four steps in this process (imitation, repetition, and memorization) seem unfashionable. The push is for creativity and innovation! However, I believe that imitation, repetition, and memorization support creativity rather than hinder it. We learn from a model, practice repeatedly, store things in memory and eventually improvise and use in our own way.

So I was very happy to read this blog post by Simmi Vasu on imitation. Imitation is not just the first step towards learning for babies and small children, it is a process we can use throughout our lives!

As Simmi notes: “Imitation skills are one of the most important developmental milestones. It clearly shows that the child is environmentally present, he is aware of his surroundings and is responding to the stimulations he receives from them.”

As Ananth learned Bharatanatyam for over ten years, this process slowly came back into focus for me. As I see it being used repeatedly in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) lessons, I am learning more about this process and applying it in a more mindful way. Here is an example of a video demonstrating imitation. Imitation is often used to teach movement and dance.

While imitation is a poweful way to teach any individual, there are additional benefits for neurodivergent individuals such as stress reduction and expanding opportunities for interaction beyond speech. It can also be challenging to implement imitation with neurodivergent individuals because they may have difficulty reproducing movements, gestures etc.

Learning Drama

Ananth’s drama teacher, Dr. Vaishnavi Poorna of RASA India uses this process to teach drama to differently-abled adults. Students prepared for the RASA Day performance on February 23, 2023 using this process. Movements, gestures, and facial expressions were learned through imitation in class. Then, Ananth repeated these movements, gestures, and facial expression at home. Repetition led to memorization. Finally, one has to be well-prepared but be ready to improvise as things unfold on stage. Read about Ananth’s drama experience using this process here.

Learning Dance and Storytelling

Ananth also uses the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process for learning dance and storytelling. Parents use imitation and repetition with young children. However, we often do not use it for older children or adults. Neurodivergent children may have missed developmental milestones and have language processing and other challenges. Hence, it is useful to implement the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process in a more deliberate way.

Here is Ananth’s first story of the month created using this process:

Enhancing Learning with SMART Projects

Our basic process is

Imitate –> Repeat –> Memorize –> Improvise

The monthly SMART project focuses and organizes this basic learning process.

Key benefits:

  1. Ananth has a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed) project to complete each month. Having a SMART project keeps him focused.
  2. Since the stories are attached to aduvus (basic movement patterns in Bharatanatyam) or hastas (hand gestures), Ananth has a narrow and clearly defined set of skills to practice each month. He practices other skills but the targeted practice for the story of the month is proving to be a very helpful part of learning.
  3. Ananth is practicing the story until he can narrate it fluently. This process is creating opportunities for memorizing and recalling language, thus growing his oral language capacities.

Author DrDasaratha Rama

Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Shubh Pathak

BloggerSaathi CreativeSaathi

Let’s Pay Attention

Attention and focus, sitting still to finish an activity, be it play or academics, engaging with peers, or to and fro interaction with the person in front seems like a herculean task to most of our children today. Sensory issues, rigidity in behaviour, not open to changes, motor issues etc. in autism or any other developmental delays does nothing to ease out the problem. Why are children so inattentive and either lost in their own world or in the world of gadgets?

When a child is born and is growing day by day, the environment around him provides him with a lot of stimulations. This could be in the form of his mother’s soothing voice, the environmental sound he hears around him (auditory awareness) visual intelligence, his own tactile sense(touch), vestibular sense (movement and balance), proprioceptive (position sense or awareness of sensations from muscle and joints). A child’s presence or the environmental presence as we call it depends on the right processing of these stimulations. To do any activity leave alone academics, the child has to pay attention. Even playing with a peer requires attention.
When children don’t respond to the stimulus or are always fidgety, when they can’t sit for even five minutes at a stretch and are always on the go, we find exasperated parents and teachers going helpless. Poor attention hampers learning at all spheres. Also understand the child himself is also struggling because of lack of attention as he can easily get overwhelmed by this mixture of sensory input he gets and when he can’t make head or tail of it, that’s when you find him going totally berserk or suddenly giving you blank stares by shutting himself down.
So what can be done to get the child’s attention? The techniques listed apply to all children and especially to children with autism. So let’s start from the prerequisites to attention.

Research has shown a strong link between attention and a good gross motor development. Attention is a sign of brain maturity, and like any development or growth of a child it develops sequentially only. A good gross level muscular development means proper muscle strength and it is one of the pre- requisites towards attention, children with lower skills in muscular movements show signs of easy fatigue. So if your child is attention deficit do consult an occupational therapist.

Hyperactivity in some children leading to self-injurious behaviours and in some extreme cases may require medication, but be sure you consult a doctor before you start any medication.

So what are the basics you can check and work on for attention?
o Check on the muscle tone of your child, a weak muscular strength leads to easy fatigue and the child will get tired soon when he has to focus.
o Work on building age appropriate gross motor skills (you can see the age appropriate gross motor skills online or consult your occupational therapist)
o Let your children play, play in the park( climb the monkey bar, hang on it, push and pull objects) (like a chair with some heavy books on it, or lift one kg packets of dal, rice against gravity). Every physical activity leads to greater muscular strength and hence better body awareness, focus and concentration.
o Work on the fine motors too, i.e. the strength and dexterity of fingers so that the child can scribble, colour and write well. This is an essential academic skill.
o Fine motor activities leads to a better pencil or pincer grip helping your child to manipulate small objects, button their shirts, tie their shoe laces. Again you can find hundreds of fine motor activities online.
o A good muscular strength means increase in his attention too, thus leading more mature and confident child.

• Check on instruction following or Auditory Intelligence.
Listening, processing and then responding accurately to the environmental sounds is known as auditory intelligence.

o If a child is not able to understand or process the instructions heard then the child will loose interest.
o Auditory intelligence can be developed by starting with letting your child follow simple one step instructions like give me a hug, sit down, give me the apple (from an array of objects like apple, car and banana)
o The instructions have to be gradually increased e.g. from one step to two steps and so on. Example give me the apple & the car, Close the door, pull a chair & sit down etc.
o Your child should always be exposed to vocabulary, and language to understand language and so be able to focus on what is being said. The more the words in his dictionary, more he will be able to correlate what is being said to him.
o Play music for your child let him be exposed to wide range of rhymes, songs as well as their actions.
o Let him imitate action songs and poems.
o Clap a rhythm, or use a drum, let your child imitate the same rhythm.
The more your child is exposed to sounds the more he would be comfortable in understanding and responding accurately to it.

• Next comes, the Visual Intelligence.
The ability to visualise, process, discriminate and respond accurately to the world, is visual intelligence. There are various activities which can build the visual intelligence of our kids.
o Give them initially activities like matching, sorting of coloured blocks, or shapes etc.
o Finding same or the odd one outs , amongst an array of objects, colours, shapes etc develops good visual discrimination skills.
o Beading initially large ones then smaller ones to string on a wire or shoe lace.
o Activities which include imitation skills both at gross motor level e.g. clapping hands, stomping feet or waving bye and fine motor level like touching thumb to each finger.
o Copying of action rhymes like “wheels on the bus”, or “head shoulders knees and toes” etc. are fun ways to engage your child as well as develop his visual intelligence.
o Copying of building blocks designs, following and replicating patterns and designs all stimulate visual intelligence. There are hundreds if visual perception games available nowadays online as well as in websites like amazon, which develop these skills.
o Mazes, puzzles are also fun ways to develop the visual intelligence of a child.
Remember a child will be only interested to work if he can make sense of what he is seeing.
Children by nature also have a lot of energy and curiosity so that keeps them on their toes always. So before sitting down on table top tasks, the first thing to do is to create an environment for the child,
o Make sure that when you sit down to study or play with your child the room is empty of any distraction. So a room with lots of bright stickers and toys well in view will never help your child to focus, however cute it may look.
o You can later add them slowly as the attention of the child develops, this will help him to cope later in a school environment.
o A table lamp, I have noticed helps, our children to focus. Use it again initially to make the child focus completely to the task on the table.
o For smaller children focusing on objects with torchlight also helps. You can make it fun by asking the child to touch where the light is being focused or give him torchlight too and make him focus on objects which you are already focussing on.
o All gadgets, tabs, television, phones, computers etc., decrease the attention span of kids, regulate it. Switch them off and if possible remove them from the room the kids are studying.
o Games which require thinking like tic-tac -toe crosswords, puzzles, memory games all increase the attention span of kids.
o A soft music in the background, lights which are not too bright also helps in focussing.
o Attention develops slowly, target smaller duration i.e. 5 to 7 minutes in the beginning, and then slowly increases the duration. Give your child adequate breaks after each activity.
o As the child gets older, time his activities with a stop watch or a time timer so that the child is not sitting with his work for hours and he also is aware of the time by which he can be free, thus reducing his anxiety.
Attention and concentration is an amalgamation of many factors it never develops in isolation so when developing this understand what could be the reason your child is not able to focus. Come down to his level and then start working from there. You will find a more happy and cooperative child. So let’s get going….

Author- Simmi Vasu

Artwork by Vinayak Raj

The creative representation for my post is done by talented 12 year old Vinayak Raj through his art “Lord Buddha sitting in a meditation pose”. When we think of attention, focus and concentration what better way is to depict it than this.

BloggerSaathi CreativeSaathi

Enjoying Imitation

In my previous article. I discussed imitation, repetition, and memorization.

  • Imitation is important for learning purposeful movement and other skills. Imitation is the first step to learning. Read the article by Simmi Vasu here.
  • Repetition is another important step in learning. While we don’t pay much attention to the role of repetition, Ananth’s Bharatanatyam experience made me tune into the importance of repetition as an important tool for learning.
  • Memorization is yet another tool for learning that does not receive enough attention in these days. The focus is on innovation and creativity. However, we cannot be very creative if have not mastered the basics! Fluency is needed for creativity.

Imitate, Repeat, Memorize!

Sounds boring?

Thanks to the Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) approach developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, imitation, repetition, and memorization can be fun!

  1. Check out this video by Lavanya Iyer. Thank you, Manju Iyer for encouraging Lavanya to do this project.

Does she seemed bored? Does imitation, repetition, and memorization have to be boring?

Here is the video by Ujwal Jagadeesh, a TAHD (Theater Arts for Holistic Development) practitioner and Bharatanatyam teacher. How well is Lavanya imitating the teacher? What do you think she is learning?

2. How about Ananth? Does he seem engaged in learning by imitation?

Ananth has practiced imitation, repetition, and memorization through Bharatanatyam for more than 10 years. Now, he is ready for applying this approach to storytelling, drama, and other endeavors!

Creative representation by Morpheus Nag

Thank you Morpheus Nag for this beautiful picture. It looks like it was created just for this blog post!

To learn more about TAHD, view Margadarshi – The Story of Ambika Kameshwar to understand the story of Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD).

Author – Dasaratha Rama