Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

RP Products by Type: Practice Guides for Families

Icon: Family

These Practice Guides for Families are intended for practitioners to share with families. 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:

These practice guides are also avilable in Spanish!

If you have used any of these practice guides, we would appreciate your feedback!

Assessment Practice Guides for Families

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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 they find interesting where 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.

  • 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. This practice guide includes tips and ideas for arranging your home to promote learning.

  • 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 during 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. It is important for children’s development to provide them many opportunities to exercise and move their bodies.

  • 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 or modification. Adaptations and modifications involve changes to the space, materials, activity, or instruction to increase a child’s ability to participate in an activity.

  • The more opportunities a child has to actively participate in everyday activities, the more learning will occur. Children with disabilities sometimes need different kinds of supports in order to participate in these activities. This support is called Assistive Technology (AT). AT devices can be low-tech or high-tech. Low-tech support can be something as simple as wrapping tape around a spoon handle to make it easier for a child to grasp the spoon. High-tech support includes equipment and items such as a computer, i-pad, or a power wheelchair.

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.

  • Professionals can be most helpful to families if their advice and suggestions are responsive to parents' concerns and priorities. To be sure professionals are responsive to your family's concerns and priorities, it is important that they really listen to and provide families complete and unbiased information in order for you to make informed choices. This practice guide includes things you can do to be sure interventions fit your child and family's particular situation.

  • One of the best ways of improving family life is for parents and other family members to be actively involved in obtaining family-identified supports and resources. Professionals who use family-centered practices can be especially helpful in encouraging family members to be actively involved in obtaining supports and resources. They should work with you in ways involving you in achieving what you want to accomplish for your child, yourself, and your family and not do everything for you. This practice guide includes things you can do to be sure you and other family members are key players in improving family life.

  • Young children's learning occurs anyplace, anytime, and anywhere! Providing your child everyday learning opportunities is one of the best ways to help your child learn new behavior and skills. You also will feel good about yourself as a parent when you see your child learn new things. This practice guide includes things you can do to provide your child lots of everyday child learning opportunities.

Instruction Practice Guides for Families

  • 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.

  • Parents can support their children's play and interactions during everyday activities by following their children's lead. Following a child's lead involves a child's participation in activities based on his or her interests, supporting the child's actions and interactions with materials and people in 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 more confident and capable play partners.

  • 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" sessions with your child to help him or her become a more capable participant in his or her daily life.

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • As a member of your child's team, you and the other members will have many opportunities to communicate. Sometimes this might be in writing using emails, text messages, or written reports. Other times, this will happen face-to-face during a home visit or during an IFSP/IEP annual review. When you communicate with another team member, you want to be sure your message is understood. You want to express what you mean as clearly as possible. This helps team members understand one another and move forward together. This practice guide includes suggestions and ideas for effective face-to-face verbal communication.

  • 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

  • Before your infant leaves the hospital, you can take a number of steps to be sure needed supports are in place once your child is home. Referrals to community programs and early intervention services can begin while your infant is still in the hospital. You can play an important role in the discharge planning process by asking questions, sharing concerns, and obtaining key information about programs and supports you think will be useful for you and your infant.

  • As your toddler approaches his or her third birthday, early intervention practitioners will work with you to plan your child’s transition from early intervention and, if potentially eligible, to preschool special education services. This transition involves key decisions about your child’s future. By communicating and collaborating with both the early intervention program staff and the preschool program staff, you can share information you need to actively participate in the transition planning process, share your concerns and preferences, and help your child adjust to the new setting and services.

    Video courtesy Utah Parent Center
  • The transition to kindergarten is an important time in your and your child's life and you want to be as prepared as possible. Learn about kindergarten requirements, expectations, and routines before your child is enrolled. Work with the preschool program staff and ask for their support to access key information and participate in kindergarten transition strategies. Engaging in transition planning activities will help you to be more prepared to support your child’s and your family’s adjustment to the new kindergarten setting in your local school.

    Video courtesy Center for Leadership and Learning, Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
  • IDEAs that Work: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education

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 H326P170001 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.

Project Officer: Julia Martin Eile     © 2012-2020 ECTA Center

  • UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute