Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

RP Products by Type: Practice Guides for Families

ECTA Center was charged with assisting the WWW: DEC and WWW: DEC Commissioners to revise the WWW: DEC Recommended Practices and with developing products that would promote the use of the Recommended Practices, and with providing intensive TA to assist states in implementing evidence-based practices.

ECTA Center Staff Contributors

Icon: Family

These Practice Guides for Families are intended for practitioners to share with families (see PDF: Elements of Practice Guides). The Practice Guides are formatted for print as well as for viewing on mobile devices. The Practice Guides are listed below by the DEC Recommended Practices topics:

Assessment Practice Guides for Families

  • The building blocks of child learning are child strengths. Strengths include behavior a child uses to interact with people and objects and personal interests that motivate a child to do things that are fun and enjoyable. Children’s behavior include the skills, abilities, and things that they are good at doing. Children’s personal interests include the things they like to do, prefer or choose to do, things that make them smile and laugh, things that excite them, and things that keep them engrossed in play. Strengths-based practices shift the focus of learning from what a child cannot do to what a child can do.

  • The ways in which a child learns to do things in different everyday activities are amazing to watch. Young children, with help from their parents, learn to “figure out” dressing and undressing, eating with a spoon, drinking from a cup, using words to talk with others, and much, much more. Parents are an important source of information on children’s everyday, real-life behavior and skills. This information is especially important for encouraging young children’s everyday learning.

  • One way to gather information to determine a child’s eligibility for intervention services is through an assessment process called “informed clinical reasoning.” An evaluation team, which includes a child’s parents and other family members, gathers the information using conversations with people who know the child best, direct observations of the child’s engagement in everyday activities, and a review of results from developmental assessment instruments. This information provides the foundation for becoming “informed” about a child’s developmental status and for making decisions about the presence of delays in the child’s development.

  • The purpose of a child assessment is to gather information for identifying a child’s strengths and challenges in everyday activities, making decisions about a child’s eligibility for intervention services, developing intervention plans, or monitoring child progress. Parents are members of the assessment team and play an important role in identifying the assessment process by providing insights throughout the assessment about a child’s strengths, abilities, interests, and challenges.

  • Parents learn about their children’s strengths by observing their interests and what they do when participating in everyday activities. This practice guide describes several ways you can gather information about the things your child likes to do and is able to do—important information you can use to help your child take part in everyday activities to increase his or her abilities and learn new things.

Environment Practice Guides for Families

  • Children learn best by being active participants in everyday activities like meal times, bath times, and playing with toys. Sometimes children with disabilities need help participating in a learning activity. We call this support an adaptation. Adaptations are modifications or changes made to the space, materials, activity, or instruction to increase a child’s ability to participate in an activity.

  • Curious preschoolers actively explore their world, both indoors and outdoors. They naturally want to run, climb, tumble, and dance, trying to discover all its interesting possibilities! Be sure your home provides your young child plenty of space for active exploration and learning. Below you’ll find tips and ideas for arranging your home to promote learning.

  • The ordinary activities that make up families' everyday lives provide young children many different kinds of learning opportunities. Young children learn best when they have many chances to participate in everyday activities that are interesting and when adults respond to their children’s behavior in ways that help them practice things they can do and try doing new things.

  • Everyday community activities provide young children many different kinds of learning opportunities. You can encourage your child's participation and learning during community activities by using his or her interests to choose activities and by responding to the things he or she does while involved in the activities.

  • The more opportunities a child has to actively participate in everyday activities, the more learning will occur. Everyday activities include things such as playing with a favorite toy, eating with the family during meal time, and singing a song with a sibling. Children with disabilities sometimes need extra supports in order to participate in these activities. This support is called Assistive Technology (AT). Assistive technology can be low-tech or high-tech. Low-tech support can be something as simple as wrapping tape around a spoon to make it easier for a child to grasp the handle. High-tech support includes equipment and items such as a computer, iPad, or a power wheelchair.

  • As a parent of a toddler, you’ve probably noticed by now how much your child likes to move around. Whether your toddler is kicking his legs while sitting at the table for a meal or dancing while listening to music; he spends most of the day moving his body. Toddlers are learning to master large body movements such as walking up and down steps, running, jumping, and dancing. They also are exploring their environment through physical movement and play. Therefore it’s important for children’s development to provide them many opportunities to exercise and move their bodies.

Family Practice Guides for Families

  • Chances are you will be working with professionals who say they are family-centered or use family-centered practices. When this is the case, you and your family should expect to be treated in certain ways and be actively involved in decision-making and actions to achieve family-identified outcomes and goals. This practice guide includes things that are helpful to know about family-centered practices.

Instruction Practice Guides for Families

  • Intentionally including, or "embedding", learning opportunities in everyday activities at home or in your community is one way you can help your child learn new things. Embedding learning opportunities in everyday activities involves identifying what you want your child to learn, selecting the everyday activities that provide opportunities to learn things, and using brief "teaching" interactions with your child to help him or her become a more capable participant in his or her daily life.

  • Parents can support their children's play and interactions during everyday activities by following their children's lead. Following a child's lead involves promoting the child's participation in activities based on his or her interests, supporting the child's actions and interactions with materials and people during the activities, and supporting the child's choices when he or she wants to change the focus of interest. When parents follow their children's lead, they can help their children become confident and capable play partners.

  • Parents have the opportunity to teach their children in so many different ways. When you want to help your young child learn a very specific behavior, you can achieve success using a well-planned, focused teaching method called Systematic Instruction. Using this method can be a rewarding way to help your child learn new behavior, acquire a new skill, and learn how to use it in different activities and with different people.

  • Parents can use the everyday activities in their homes and communities to support their children's participation in activities, children's attempts to interact with people or materials, and their efforts to do new things. You can encourage your child's participation and learning during everyday activities by providing your child opportunities to do what he or she can and likes to do during everyday activities, responding positively to your child's attempts to interact with you and others, and helping your child do new and different things.

Interaction Practice Guides for Families

  • When infants begin showing interest in their parents and other adults, the time is right to play social games. Social games are back-and-forth, your-turn/my-turn infant-adult play accompanied by short rhymes or songs that engage infants in playful interactions. Some of the results of playing social games with your child are active child participation, lots of playful bouts of back-and-forth communication, and bunches of smiles and laughter. Enjoy!

  • Children ages 3-5 are ready to take an active part in shared story time. Reading picture books with your preschooler helps spark her imagination and love of stories. Great times to read are when you and your child are relaxed and able to talk with one another, such as bedtime or during everyday play times.

  • Is your child making eye contact, pointing to objects, babbling, or smiling to try to tell you something? Teaching your child some simple gestures and signs can make it easier for her to communicate. It can help her make the connection between her communicating what’s on her mind and getting what she wants.

  • The very first sounds infants make are the beginnings of social communication. Encouraging your infant or toddler to use sounds and later words to let you know what he or she wants or needs can help him or her to enter a world of shared interaction. By noticing and responding to your child’s attempts to communicate, you can lay the groundwork for language learning.

  • Throughout the preschool years, children continue to learn new words and use language in new ways when interacting with others. You can support your child's language learning in everyday interactions through simple conversations about his or her ideas and interests. By responding to your child and encouraging him or her to try saying new and different things, you can help your preschooler become a talkative partner.

  • A child's social emotional development happens during interactions with adults. These behaviors include an infant smiling in response to a parent’s voice or cooing in response to a grandmother rocking him in the chair. Toddlers use social behaviors such as saying “my turn” during a play activity; or laughing and saying "again" during an activity.

  • Peer interaction is important to children’s learning and development. Children learn new skills by watching and interacting with other children during everyday activities. By paying close attention and responding to what children are doing while playing and interacting together, you can support and enhance their child-to-child interactions.

Teaming & Collaboration Practice Guides for Families

  • As a member of your child's team, you and the other members will have frequent opportunities to communicate back and forth. Sometime this might be in writing using emails, text messages, or other things such as a written report. Other times, this will happen face to face during a home visit or a meeting like the IFSP/IEP annual review. When you communicate with another person (talk or write) you are sending a message. You want the words you use to say what you mean so that the other person understands them and you move forward together. This practice guide includes suggestions and ideas for face-to-face verbal communication.

  • Early childhood staff that work with your family work as a team. YOU are an important member of this team. You are the most knowledgeable person about your child, your family, and what you want to see happen to help your child learn and grow. As a team member, you should help with your child’s assessment and evaluation and share ideas about what you want to work on with the rest of the team. You should be involved in writing your child’s plan (IEP or IFSP).Your interactions with other team members provide opportunities to try out ideas, make suggestions, and provide feedback about what is or is not working. This practice guide includes different things that can help you be actively and meaningfully involved with other team members.

  • Working with practitioners provides you many opportunities to share information and ideas about your child’s likes and interests. You know best about your family and the many things you have done to help your child learn and grow and what you would like help with now. You also have knowledge and life experiences that other team members may not have. You have a lot to contribute to help other team members learn about your child and family. This practice guide includes ideas and strategies that will help you share information with team members.

Transition Practice Guides for Families

  • When a family transitions their infant from the hospital to home and is interested in receiving early intervention and other community services, it is important that they feel comfortable and respected in their communication with the early intervention provider. Sometimes parents may not feel completely comfortable taking care of their new arrival, particularly if the baby was premature or has developmental difficulties or delays. As a parent, you may have concerns about your ability to take care of an infant that is more fragile without the support of hospital personnel. Learning to read your infant’s cues and respond effectively builds your ability to promote your new baby’s development and attachment. It also builds your own confidence and adjustment as a parent.

    Video courtesy ZERO TO THREE
Evaluation Icon:

We would sincerely appreciate your feedback, opinions and suggestions through your participation in this painless survey.

Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center

  • CB 8040
  • Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8040
  • phone: 919.962.2001
  • fax: 919.966.7463
  • email:

The ECTA Center is a program of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, funded through cooperative agreement number H326P120002 from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the Department of Education's position or policy.

  • FPG Child Development Institute
  • IDEAs that Work