These Practice Guides for Practitioners are intended primarily for practitioners working in group settings and for sharing with other practitioners in community programs (see 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:
Authentic child assessment practices include methods and strategies for identifying the particular contexts and adult behavior that best promote a child’s participation and learning in everyday activities. The assessment practices involve observing children’s engagement in everyday activities, the learning opportunities that occur in the activities, child strengths and abilities displayed in the activities, and the adult behavior that can support child participation and learning in the activities.
Strengths-based practices involve identifying children’s abilities and interests and using that information to encourage and support child engagement and learning in everyday activities. Strength-based assessment and intervention practices focus on the competencies a child already uses as the building blocks for promoting child engagement, competence expression, and mastery of new competencies in everyday activities.
Everyday classroom activities provide children many different opportunities for learning. Increasing children's participation and learning in these natural learning environments involves providing children activities that are interest-based, paying attention and noticing how children participate in the activities, supporting children's use of existing abilities, and encouraging new skills.
Children learn best by being active participants within their everyday environment—whether it’s watching and listening to a wind chime blow in the wind, or learning the steps to handwashing. The more opportunities children have to actively participate and interact with their environment, the more opportunities they have to practice existing skills and explore new ones. Make sure that all children can access materials and activities within their daily environments.
Preschoolers are busy and active learners. They are learning to master large body movements such as jumping, running, 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.
Active toddlers are busy discovering how their bodies move and do interesting things - clapping hands, stomping feet, rolling a ball down a hill, pushing a riding toy, and more! Be sure there is plenty of space for such experiences both in and out of the classroom.
Activities outside the classroom are sources of many different kinds of learning experiences for young children. You can support children’s learning by providing opportunities for them to participate in community activities that match their interests, by responding to them in ways that support their participation, and by helping them do new things.
Embedded instruction involves multiple, brief teaching interactions between a teacher and child during everyday classroom activities. By identifying functional behavior targets, selecting classroom activities best suited for embedded learning opportunities, and using planned and intentional instructional strategies, teachers can help children learn new behavior needed for participating in the classroom throughout the day.
Teachers can support children's participation, independence, and learning in everyday classroom activities by using a practice called "following the child's lead." Child-initiated interactions are a key characteristic of this practice. Fostering child-initiated interactions and following a child's lead involve planning and adjusting classroom activities based on children's interests, facilitating children's actions and interactions with the social and nonsocial environment, and supporting children's choices to transition from one activity to another. By following children's lead, teachers help them become confident and competent participants in classroom interactions.
Naturalistic instruction practices are used during everyday classroom activities to support and encourage child engagement in activities, child-initiated behavior and learning, and child behavioral elaborations. Teachers can promote child participation and learning in everyday classroom activities by providing interest-based activities, responding positively to children's initiations, and interacting in ways that encourage children to build on and expand their current capabilities.
When teachers of young children identify specific behavior or skills they want a child to learn, they can use systematic instruction practices to teach those targeted skills. By carefully planning and intentionally using teacher-directed instruction strategies in a consistent manner, teachers can help a child learn new behavior, continue to use the behavior over time, and use the behavior in different settings and with different people.
Social emotional behavior begins with a child responding to adult interactions. These behaviors include an infant smiling in response to a familiar adult's face or cooing in response to a caregiver's voice. Infants and toddlers learn to recognize social cues through interactions with adults. Adults support this in many ways, such as describing and responding to child social cues and gestures and providing lots of opportunities for the child to engage in social play. Older toddlers use behavior such as holding a hand out to request "more" of something, or by saying "my turn" during a social play activity. It’s important to provide many opportunities for children to interact with and be responded to by adults.
At an early age, infants and toddlers learn and use gestures and signs to communicate their desires, needs, and preferences. You can help young children interact more easily with others, and facilitate their later language learning, by supporting their use of nonverbal gestures and signs during everyday classroom activities.
Peer interaction is important to children’s learning and development. Children learn new skills by observing and interacting with other children during everyday classroom activities and routines. By paying close attention and responding to what children are doing while playing and interacting with others, adults can support and enhance their interactions.
Throughout the preschool years, young children continue to acquire and use new and more complex language abilities as part of interactions with other children and adults. You can boost children’s language learning by increasing their opportunities to engage in conversations and by both encouraging and supporting their language use during everyday classroom interactions.
Using rhymes during interactions with toddlers helps them explore the sounds and purposes of language. Songs, finger plays, and rhyming games provide opportunities for toddlers to have fun during interactions with adults while building skills for understanding and using language.