In this episode you’ll hear:
- How parent coaching during daily routines can be a powerful approach to supporting a child’s communication.
- Tips for planning coaching lessons and how to establish roles, routines and buy-in from parents.
- How to use the LEARNS framework.
So, in the LEARNS framework, the first tenet is L for Listen… Listen, observe, and wait: We spend so much time in the didactic seat – teaching, therapizing, lecturing, giving our “expert opinion,” educating. Of course, this is a big part of your job. But just like our little ones, parents and caregivers need to feel heard. Not only do they need to feel heard, but they also need to be provided with the space to reflect, to observe their child, and to be given permission to say, “I can do this.”
So the first step in doing that is modeling to them that you’re going to provide the space to listen – not only to them, but to their child. You’re all going to participate – not just the therapist: child dyad, but also the caregiver: child, and the therapist: caregiver! This is a place where we all participate – each adult with each other, as well as with the child.
In fact, the child, in many ways, may decide what’s going to ACTUALLY happen in the session. You might have a goal, but the child can often lead the way. The child might create the lyrics of a song you sing, the direction of the conversation, and even the materials you use.
You are not only the therapist, but also the facilitator. And what does it mean to facilitate? Verb: To make (an action or process) easy or easier. You’re simply setting the stage. And whatever happens, you bring it into the session. So if you hear babbling during a song, the sound the child makes will likely make it into the song. If you give the child a choice of two objects, you (or they) might hold them up and whisper to the adult, “let’s wait just a few more seconds…” before you give another prompt. If you see the child becoming overwhelmed, you might slow down the song or offer them a turn with something.
The second tenet in the LEARNS framework is Engage With Play. So within my Learn With Less® “caregiver & me” classes, we use the 4 pillars of Play, Talk, Sing and Move. So here, with play, we want to really help families see the power of open-ended play. In order to create an environment in which both child and caregiver feel they can explore and be playful, what do we have to do? Model playfulness. Follow the child’s lead. Model flexibility for the caregiver. Model turn-taking. Model waiting.
Model the serve and return interaction that we know is so powerful in this context. That’s really what the therapeutic context, and any parent education context, is all about. Providing the space and the structure to bring in the children’s actions and interests, to comment upon them, to build upon them, to sing about them, to imitate them… to value them!
The third tenet: Accept and Interpret. This blossoms right out of the first two – you’re the facilitator of the therapy context, you’re the one who’s going to highlight the value of what’s already happening in the environment.
You’re going to accept what the child is doing and how they’re doing it…
AND, you’re going to share the value of that by creating a structure around it. You can create an entire activity based on what they’re doing, what they’re interested in, and how they’re engaging with any particular material.
Clearly, we need to first scan the environment (to see what’s there, what’s available), and then set up the environment and set the boundaries of what’s acceptable in the beginning (and often, that needs to be established by the caregiver – not by you if you’re in their home)… but sometimes, the less you say, the better – the more you show – by sitting together on the floor or at the table or on the sofa, by closing off certain areas if you don’t want them to be accessible, by covering any “not available” materials so they’re not so distracting…
Now, you also want to accept what the adult is doing, and create an environment in which they feel comfortable participating at their own level, as well – so when they do try something, give them constructive feedback and keep it brief!
The fourth tenet: Repetition – With Variation! As we spoke about earlier, the power of those everyday routines is really in the repetitive nature of it. And this really is the gold standard for early learning.
Dr. Carolyn Musselwhite
So, how do infants and toddlers learn best? “Infants and toddlers learn best through everyday experiences and interactions with familiar people in familiar contexts.” That’s a quote from the Office of Special Education Programs and I can give you the link to the document all about these 7 key principles for learning within natural environments.
Workgroup on Principles and Practices in Natural Environments, OSEP TA Community of Practice: Part C Settings. (2008, March). Seven key principles: Looks like / doesn’t look like. Retrieved from http://www.ectacenter.org/~pdfs/topics/families/Principles_LooksLike_DoesntLookLike3_11_08.pdf
So, again, within routines. Within daily interactions. Infants and toddlers are detecting patterns in our behavior and in the environment… in order to make sense of it!
While predictability is extremely important… we want to remember to introduce a bit of a pattern interrupt!
Repetition… with variation… supports our young children with both pattern detection, but also enough variation (once a routine is familiar) to ensure our little ones start to deal with changes, and start to offer opportunities for scaffolding – learning new skills, or learning to generalize current skills into new contexts. We can do this in any number of activities – daily routines like changing a diaper, making dinner, bathtime, etc. – in any activity which is highly predictable in nature! And THAT is what the structure of the session provides: the opportunity to build upon familiar routines with often familiar objects and with familiar people, and for you to show your families that they can do this, they’re already doing this, and here are new ways for them to do this – to support their child’s learning.
The fifth tenet: Navigate using basic materials. The way forward in early intervention, and routines-based intervention, is not about you getting to show off all your cute therapy toys, or getting to use your laminator. For EVERY single material you use (if you bring it into the home or if you use what’s already there), try to think of the most basic version.
Marinovich, A. (2019). Understanding Your Toddler: A Month-by-Month Development and Activity Guide For Playing With Your Toddler From 1-3 Years. Mountain View, CA: Strength In Words LLC.
In our use of everyday items, we are educating caregivers that they don’t need what you have: they can use what they already have in their own home, regardless of how “much” or how “little” they have!
Your clients are a diverse set of caregivers and children who may or may not be accustomed to playing with a variety of materials. They may have started your session already having spent the morning in a cardboard box or the kitchen cabinets… or the caregiver may be completely opposed to their child using their kitchen as a play space.
And the latter? THAT’S OK! That is their right. So if they’re just not comfortable, find another way, another material, another space.
Remember, we’re building family capacity, family confidence, and family competence. You’re making attempts at creating an environment for exploration, you’re providing examples for ways they can engage with their own children. You’re giving them ideas about how they might generalize at home or when you’re not there. You’re showing examples – you’re not giving them the “right” way to parent.
Your model and your structure provides them with a new set of eyes, a new way to see what they already have and what they can use and do… should they wish to implement that without you.
They may start to see, over time, that “controlled chaos” is maybe sometimes ok. That mess is not always terrible, or that they can create “mess” in ways that are more comfortable than others. And they may start to see that the value of those little moments in between… are actually incredibly powerful.
And finally, the sixth tenet: SIMPLIFY! Not only with the materials… but also with your words and with your body! SHOW, don’t tell. Use your body to model what you want others to do – pause expectantly for the adults, as well as for the children.
Resources from Ayelet
Learn with Less FREE Training for SLPs
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