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IFSP Tutorial - Developing and Implementing

Developing the IFSP:

Essential Content

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Evidence for providing family/child supports and services in natural environments

Providing evidence-based practice is now an expected responsibility in multiple professions including early intervention, medicine, occupational and physical therapy, speech-language pathology, nursing, education, and mental health.

Evidence-based practices help early intervention providers make sound decisions about what they can do to support families in achieving their desired outcomes for their children (Dunst, Trivette, & Cutspec, 2002).

The following points summarize why it is important to provide family/child supports and services in natural environments. Additional information is available on an excellent website highlighting evidence-based early childhood practices for parents, providers and researchers posted by The Research and Training Center on Early Childhood Development.

  • A child’s relationships with primary caregivers organizes all his or her early development.

    "The idea is that we are born to form attachments, that our brains are physically wired to develop in tandem with another’s, through emotional communication, beginning before words are spoken.” (Schore, 2003, p.16)

    Young children need a relationship with at least one emotionally invested, predictable caregiver who is available to the child and understands how to provide meaningful stimulation through daily experiences. A strong, secure attachment to a nurturing caregiver also has a protective biological function, helping a young child learn from, and withstand, the ordinary stresses of daily life. Repeated positive care-giving experiences make a decisive impact on a baby’s brain development across all areas of development. Extensive research in early child development and learning, reviewed in From neighborhoods to neurons: The science of early childhood development emphasizes the:

  1. importance of early life experiences, as well as the inseparable and highly interactive influences of genetics and environment, on the development of the brain and the unfolding of human behavior;
  2. central role of early relationships as a source of either support and adaptation or risk and dysfunction;
  3. powerful capabilities, complex emotions, and essential social skills that develop during the earliest years of life; and
  4. capacity to increase the odds of favorable developmental outcomes through planned interventions. (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2000, p. 1).
  • Children are active participants in their own development, based on their drive to explore and master their environment.

    "Given the drive of young children to master their world, most developmentalists agree that the full range of early childhood competencies can be achieved in typical, everyday environments….All forms of early childhood intervention are most effective when they counteract obstacles to growth and promote the expression of a child’s natural drive toward mastery.” (National Research Council, 2000, p.27)

    Infants are aware of the effects of their own behaviors, and prefer consequences that they can control directly versus those that are uncontrollable. A young child’s ability to create his or her own knowledge depends on having an environment which provides opportunities for growth and supports individual interests. Learning is enhanced when children’s interests engage them in interactions that provide opportunities to practice existing skills and explore their environment. Finally, when early intervention is provided in a family’s environment compared to unfamiliar settings such as clinics and intervention centers, the opportunities increase for parents to be more effective interacting with their children at home.

  • New motor and communication behaviors are learned and used when a child has repeated opportunities for practice in meaningful situations with generalization of skills across different settings.

Motor behaviors must be retained and used in different contexts in order to be considered “learned” to use spontaneously in response to specific demands in different environments. Even when a child is taught specific motor or communication skills during a traditional intervention session, he or she must then practice these skills over and over in real life settings in order to use the skill competently.

"A child who learns to walk between parallel bars, on a balance beam, or in a quiet therapy room, for example, must transfer or generalize to walking on a carpet at home or in a crowded hallway at school if walking is to be meaningful.” (McEwen & Shelden, 1995, p.35)

Fundamental motor learning principles include promoting age-appropriate functional tasks, embedding movement within a physical and sociocultural environment, and fostering active exploration of the environment. Meaningful input across multiple domains of development, not just in motor or language areas, is also critical and encourages a young child’s learning. Such learning occurs in the context of an ongoing care-giving relationship and dramatically improves a child’s memory of the action/event and provides a framework for updating it.

  • The knowledge and resources of early childhood specialists can be shared with a child’s key caregivers through adult-adult relationships that support caregivers in their daily roles and responsibilities caring for their children.

    Supporting and increasing the knowledge of those who spend the most time with very young children-- parents, brothers and sisters, friends, extended family, child care providers-- enhances the impact of early intervention. Strategies implemented at home or child care by family members and other care-givers can lead to generalization of a child’s emerging skills in various family and community activities. Information embedded in an emotional context appears to stimulate neuronal circuitry more powerfully than information presented in isolation of a meaningful context. For very young children, relationships with key caregivers provide ongoing and numerous opportunities for learning within an emotional context. For example, a child who becomes interested in letters and words through daily reading with a parent and associates “the joy of being in her father’s lap, seeing beautiful pictures, and hearing a wonderful story” is more likely to understand the meaning of letters than a child who is taught to recite the letters of the alphabet by rote (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000, p.156).







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