In Part 1 of this series, you learned about the first intervention, which focuses on the caregiver’s awareness and interpretation of his or her own actions. This first intervention emphasizes (to us and the caregiver) the power the caregiver has to positively impact the child’s development through interaction and action. In Part 2, we’re going to dive a little deeper and think about the context of those actions and interactions – where and when learning occurs.
Helping Caregivers Identify & Use Everyday Learning Opportunities
Our second intervention emphasizes the importance of helping caregivers identify and use everyday learning opportunities to enhance child development (Dunst & Trivette, 2009; Mahoney, 2009; Swanson, Raab, & Dunst, 2011). This intervention reminds us that the context for most of the learning a child will do is within his or her interactions with the people and the environment that are most familiar and most constant. We can collaborate with caregivers by respecting what is already happening in the natural environment and helping them notice and take advantage of interactions and opportunities that help the child learn or practice using a skill. When learning is situated in a naturally occurring, familiar context, there are more opportunities for the child and caregiver to practice what they are learning together every day beyond the EI visit. The cognitive load is also decreased since the context is familiar, hopefully making it easier to use a new intervention strategy (for the caregiver) and learn a new skill (for the child). Practice during infant and toddler development is essential so the more opportunities we can help the caregiver provide, the better!
What Does This LOOK LIKE in Practice?
Here are a few excellent strategies you can use to implement this intervention. These strategies were suggested by EI service providers in conference sessions on this topic:
Use the unique interests of the child and the caregiver as your guide. Ask caregivers what they enjoy doing with the child. Ask about the typical flow of the day. Ask about what makes the child laugh (or feel frustrated, excited, engaged, motivated, etc.). Find out what they would like to be able to do together and what that would look like if it worked well. Build on what you find out by observing those activities and routines, talking about the learning opportunities you see, and helping the caregiver learn to seize them.
Individualize IFSP outcomes and goals by including specific learning opportunities that already exist for the family. Ground the outcomes in the context of everyday activities. If the outcome describes how the child will learn to move about independently, place the measurement of the outcome in a typical activity. For example, let’s say that the child will move about her home independently by crawling or walking 10 feet from the kitchen to the family room after each meal. When she can do this consistently across time, we’ll know she’s met the outcome. Plus, the family can see the progress because they can practice the movement strategies in a frequently occurring context that’s natural for them. Including context in outcomes helps families identify with their important role in intervention from the beginning. Individualizing outcomes is a great place to start with building awareness (our first intervention) too.
Observe and join different activities and routines to help the caregiver look for the learning opportunities. There is nothing as effective as “seeing it.” Whenever you can, sit back and observe parent-child interactions and specific routines that are meaningful, problematic, or just typical for the family. Point out learning opportunities that you see. Reflect with caregivers to help them create their own ideas. Encourage them to try out the strategies that come from these conversations while you observe again, provide support, problem-solve, and share feedback.
After the caregiver practices using a strategy, talk about how to extend the use of the strategy in other routines to create more learning opportunities. You can facilitate this thinking process by asking, “When do you think you can use this strategy outside of the visit today? What other times of the day might work for using the strategy?” If needed, ask about other routines you know about and help the caregiver think about how the strategy could be embedded. Have the conversation and land on a joint plan. By doing this, you may be expanding the caregiver’s thinking, which again, overlaps with our first intervention. See, this is powerful stuff.
Now it’s your turn:
What’s your favorite way of helping caregivers identify and use natural learning opportunities? What did this look like on your last visit?
Share your ideas and examples in the comments below! And don’t miss Part 3, the final post in this series!
Dunst, C. J., & Trivette, C. M. (2009). Using research evidence to inform and evaluate early childhood intervention practices. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 29(1), 40-52.
Mahoney, G. (2009). Relationship-focused intervention (RFI): Enhancing the role of parents in children’s developmental intervention. International Journal of Early Childhood Special Education, 1(1), 79-94.
Swanson, J., Raab, M., & Dunst, C. J. (2011). Strengthening family capacity to provide young children everyday natural learning opportunities. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(1), 66-80.