Think about this for a moment. How many people can truly say that they LOVED getting homework when they were in school? Very few of us (okay, I might be one of those people but still…). Just the word “homework” has stressful emotions attached to it for many people, even though it was an important part of the educational process. A major purpose of early intervention is to support families so that they know what to do to encourage their child’s development between visits when the service provider is not in the home. How do we do this without giving “homework?”
By it’s very nature, early intervention is an addition to a family’s life. A parent has to plan her day around a therapist’s visit, then she probably feels like she needs to find time to “do” intervention with her child too. Using a “homework” approach can add stress to a family’s life because it makes the work that happens between visits feel very separate from the visit. It also sounds like the parent needs to repeat what the therapist did with the child. This is not how EI really works. Taking care of an infant or toddler is work enough, but adding more things to remember and then making sure that “homework” is completed by the time the therapist comes next week can just add an unnecessary layer of stress.
What’s an early interventionist to do?
Don’t Call It “Homework”
This is a very simple change to make, but just using another phrase could make a difference. The strategies developed during an intervention visit should not be “from the service provider to the family,” similar to how teachers give students homework. Strategies and activities should be developed collaboratively so the support we provide as interventionists really shouldn’t be “homework.”
Use Visits as Practice Sessions
Intervention visits are practice sessions during which the provider and the parent try out strategies with the child during natural activities that are meaningful to the family. The provider and parent problem-solve about what works and doesn’t work and plan together for what to do during the week. Again, collaboration is the key.
Plan How to Use Strategies Together and Write It Down
During and at the end of each visit, ask the parent what she would like to try this week. She might only pick one thing she practiced, or she might have other ideas. Talk though a plan for how to use the strategy, and come up with a Plan B so that she has another idea of what to do. Write down the plans and outline the specific routine, including what the parent plans to do and how you expect the child to respond. Make it brief but specific. Encourage the parent to post it on the fridge or in another accessible place to serve as a reminder during the week. Research has found that parents find a visual reminder of what to do with their child to be a great tool.
This plan might sound like “homework” but it is not; it is a description of what was already practiced during the session and is a reminder of what to try. It is not separate from the visit but flows from it. Families are not left to figure out how to do their “homework.” They have a plan based on what they practiced during the visit.
If you practice and plan together, there really is no need for “homework.” Intervention naturally spills over into the family’s life because you and the parent have planned for it. Hopefully, without formal “here’s what you need to do” homework, families will find intervention less stressful and feel more comfortable with trying out intervention strategies during the rest of the week.
Next time you are on a visit, think about the support you provide between visits. Is it “homework” or is it a collaborative plan that is specific and supportive of the child and family? How do you talk with families about what happens between visits?