Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

RP Products by Type: Practice Guides for Practitioners

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These Practice Guides for Practitioners are intended primarily for practitioners working in group settings and for sharing with other practitioners in community programs. 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:

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

Assessment Practice Guides for Practitioners

  • Informed clinical reasoning is a process team members use to gather information about a child's developmental functioning in order to make decisions about the child's eligibility for intervention services. The process requires knowledge of both typical and atypical child development and involves gathering information about the child's functioning using interviews with parents and other caregivers, direct observations of the child, and review of results from evaluations and developmental assessment instruments. These elements constitute the foundation for becoming “informed” about a child's developmental abilities and needs in the context of everyday activities or natural environments.

  • Engaging families as partners in their child's assessment includes methods and strategies for gathering information from families and promoting their participation during the assessment. Gathering information from families is critical for identifying a child's strengths and needs and for making informed decisions about the goals and objectives on intervention plans. Practitioners ensure that family members play an important role in their child's assessment when they listen to family members, encourage them to share their knowledge, and clarify their concerns, priorities, and goals for their child.

  • Authentic child assessment practices include methods and strategies for identifying the contextual and adult behavior that 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.

  • Strengths-based assessment practices are used to identify a child's interests and the abilities he or she uses during participation in everyday activities. Multiple sources of information are used to accomplish this important part of an assessment process. Information collected about the things a child likes to do and is able to do provides the foundation for engaging the child in strengths-based everyday learning activities, supporting the child's participation in the activities, and interacting with the child in ways that build on the child's strengths to promote new learning.

Environment Practice Guides for Practitioners

  • Everyday classroom activities provide children many different opportunities for learning. Increasing children's participation and learning in these everyday learning environments involves providing children activities that are interest-based and encouraging development of new skills.

  • 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.

  • 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 these experiences both in and out of the classroom.

  • 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. 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 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 in everyday learning activities, 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.

  • Everyday experiences are the building blocks for child learning. The more opportunities a child has to participate actively in everyday classroom activities, the more learning will occur. Children with disabilities sometimes need extra supports in order to participate in these activities. Assistive Technology (AT) may help. AT devices can be low-tech or high-tech. Low-tech support can be something as simple as wrapping textured tape around a pencil to make it easier for a child to grasp. High-tech support can include equipment and items such as an augmentative communication device, a tablet computer, or a power wheelchair.

Family Practice Guides for Practitioners

  • Family-centered practices are a particular way of working with and developing collaborative relationships with families. These practices include two key elements: Relationship-building and participatory parent and family involvement. Both practices, when used together, increase the likelihood that any type of intervention practice done in a family-centered manner will have optimal parent, family, and child outcomes and benefits.

  • Involving family members in informed decision-making increases the likelihood that child and parent intervention practices are responsive to family concerns and priorities. This can best be accomplished by working with parents and other family members in ways that are sensitive and responsive to each family's unique circumstances in order to develop and implement interventions to achieve desired outcomes and goals.

  • Family engagement practices include methods and strategies that actively involve parents and other caregivers in obtaining family-identified supports and resources or engaging in family desired parent, parent-child, and family activities. The key to family engagement is active participation in actions to achieve outcomes in ways that strengthen child, parent-child, parent and family functioning. This is best accomplished by building on family strengths and interests.

  • Family capacity-building practices are used to support and strengthen parents and other caregivers' abilities to provide their children everyday learning opportunities. This is accomplished using a number of different strategies for supporting and strengthening parents' use of everyday activities to promote child learning and development.

Instruction Practice Guides for Practitioners

  • Naturalistic instruction practices are used during everyday classroom activities to support and encourage child engagement in child-initiated activities and child behavioral elaborations in the activities. 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.

  • 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. Following a child's lead involves planning and adjusting classroom activities based on children's interests, facilitating children's interactions with the social and nonsocial environment, and supporting children's choices to transition from one activity to another.

  • 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 for participating in classroom activities throughout the day.

  • 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, teachers can help a child learn new behavior, continue to use the behavior over time, and use the behavior in different activities and with different people.

Interaction Practice Guides for Practitioners

  • 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.

  • Adult-child shared reading experiences provide rich opportunities for mutually beneficial teacher and child interactions. When teachers spend time reading with young children in ways that encourage their active participation, they help children strengthen their listening skills, develop their language abilities, and increase their knowledge about the world.

  • 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.

  • The first sounds infants make are the beginnings of social communication. Encouraging infants and toddlers to use vocalizations and words to communicate can help them become social partners in everyday interactions. By noticing and responding to children's attempts to communicate, you can promote their language learning.

  • 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 activities.

  • 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 hearing a caregiver's voice. Infants and toddlers learn to recognize social cues through interactions with adults. Adults support this by 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.

  • Peer interactions are important for 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 social play and interactions.

Teaming and Collaboration Practice Guides for Practitioners

  • Families are full team members when they participate in all aspects of assessment, evaluation, IFSP/IEP planning, and implementation of the plan. This is important because families are the most knowledgeable about child and family life and have much to contribute to child and family interventions. It is important to value and incorporate family input throughout the entire assessment and intervention process. This practice guide includes different things practitioners can do to actively and meaningfully involve family members in assessment, planning, and intervention practices.

  • Team members frequently communicate with one another. Sometimes this communication is among practitioners and other times the communication is between practitioners and family members. The communication can include emails, text messages, notes, or reports. Other times the communication includes as phone calls, face-to-face meetings with one person, or during group meetings. All of these communications involve verbal and non-verbal messages or actions to make sure others understand the intent of a message. A few simple things can help ensure communication attempts are successful.

  • Early childhood intervention teams include practitioners from different disciplines working together to provide the most effective interventions for a child and family. Team members have unique skills, abilities, knowledge, and experiences that when shared with others make for a stronger whole. There are many opportunities for team members to assist each other to expand their knowledge and learn to use new practices. This practice guide includes different things team members can do to actively and meaningful support other members to grow and learn.

Transition Practice Guides for Practitioners

  • When a family transitions their child from a hospital stay into early intervention services, it is important for them to feel comfortable and respected in their communication with early intervention providers. Early interventionists should gather information from family members/parents about their experiences in the hospital in a sensitive and respectful manner. Learning about a family's concerns and priorities before and during a transition is an important first step in the process of developing trust, beginning a new relationship, and developing an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) that is responsive to the family's desires and needs.

    Video courtesy Illinois Early Intervention Training Program
  • Early intervention and preschool special education practitioners can support parents and caregivers during the transition to preschool special education by listening to parents' concerns and preferences, answering their questions, coordinating cross-agency communication, and providing parents clear and accurate information. Practitioners need to be sure parents and family members are informed and prepared to participate as decision-makers in the transition process.

  • Children's transition from preschool to kindergarten is successful for families and children when collaborative relationships exist between the preschool and kindergarten programs. Personnel from early care and education programs, preschool special education, family resource and support programs, and elementary schools need to plan and coordinate transition activities for families before and after a child's entry into kindergarten. Collaborative planning, clear communication, and a variety of transition activities support child and family preparation for and adjustment to the new setting.

    Video courtesy National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement
  • 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