Early intervention services are required by Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to be provided in a child’s natural environment. Natural environments are not just places: they are those places where children and their families spend a typical day – places where all young children, with or without disabilities or developmental delays, spend their time. For most families, natural environments will include the family home and daycare or preschool, but they might also include Grandma’s house, a park, the library, a grocery store or a restaurant, just to name a few. Therapy clinics are not a natural part of a child’s day. Research demonstrates that natural environments offer the best opportunities for early intervention activities and promote inclusion in both family and community activities. Our goal as early interventionists is to help families support their children’s development within their natural environments and through their everyday routines and activities. Children will learn more, and the quality of families’ lives is improved when their own routines are maintained and respected. A routines-based approach in a natural environment is the most effective way to deliver supports and services to families during these early years.
What does early intervention research say about natural environments and routines-based interactions?
- Children learn and develop best when participating in natural learning opportunities that occur in everyday routines and activities as part of family and community life.
- Children learn best when they are in familiar places and with familiar people. Feeling secure and attached to their primary caregivers is important for early learning.
- Children learn best when they are interested and engaged in an activity, which in turn strengthens and promotes competency and mastery of skills.
- Mastery of functional skills occurs through high-frequency, naturally occurring activities in a variety of settings that are consistent with family and community life, in other words – routines.
- Parents prefer interventions that are easy to do, fit into their daily lives, and support their child in learning skills that help them participate in family and community life.
- Embedding interventions in routines selected and preferred by families greatly increases the likelihood that the family will repeat therapeutic activities independently.
- Learning is what happens between intervention visits – through child-initiated play during everyday routines and activities and with multiple repetitions and lots of practice.
- Services provided within children’s typical daily routines are more meaningful and increase the number of learning opportunities available to the child and parent.