Sometimes a child just needs to WATCH first, before choosing to participate. This is great – they will see so many ways of participation occurring that they will be able to choose the participation that best suits their personality once they choose to. By watching, by their perception, they are participating.
The parent can support that in a variety of ways. First, with the child glued to your lap, you can follow your child’s eyesight, and comment specifically on the things they are seeing – describing objects, and/or ways that other children/people are participating. This gives the child “mental practice” before they do it themselves.
After describing several options the child finds interesting, the parent can try to imitate one that seems to be one your child might choose. Since very young children still subconciously see themselves and the parent as one entity – having the parent participate helps them FEEL they are participating.
Same goes for verbalizing choices – it is more than OK to answer for your child if they are not ready to say it outloud themselves. To them, it’s the same as making that choice, but less stress, esp. when the parent really knows what it is they want. Talk about these choices outside of class so you will know how to answer when it is time. After awhile, they will be so excited about their choice, and their confidence has grown, they will just blurt it out themselves.
Of course, encourage them to participate on their own, but gently, without pressure. You may try to physically start them, but let go quickly to see if they carry on by themselves. And be patient. Oftentimes you will see them at home doing all of the things you would love to see them do in class. But you’ll know they are “getting it”, and it is worth it. Eventually they will find their way in class, and they will love it.