Tips for EI Practice: Talking to Families about Routines

Early Childhood Interventions December 02, 2013

Best practice recommendations for early intervention services include embedding developmental strategies into daily routines and activities that are already occurring in a child’s life.  Routines allow for increased opportunities for a child to practice and learn a skill within a familiar context.  This allows for optimal learning and carryover.  While all families have routines, it is not always easy for providers to gather information about these routines.  Included below are some tips that can be used to gain more information from families about their daily routines and activities:

  • Provide background information about the purpose of your questions.  Families may be more willing to provide information when they know why they are being asked.
  • Remember that a routine is not the same as a schedule.  Routines are activities that happen in a predictable sequence.  All families have routines, even though they may not have a set schedule of when certain routines occur each day.
  • Expand your definition of a routine.  Getting the mail, washing hands, and helping to prepare meals are predictable, functional activities.  Each of these activities  contain multiple opportunities for learning.
  • Use open-ended questions!  Ask the family what works well within the routine and what does not.
  • Can you show me?  Observing the routine as it typically happens will provide an opportunity to ask follow-up questions and problem solve with the family for solutions.
  • Use coaching strategies to guide questioning.  Ask questions to help the family come up with an answer that works for them.  Avoid suggesting alternatives without family input.
  • Ask the family regularly about their interests.  For example, the routines in which a family participates over the summer time are likely very different than the routines of the family during the holiday season.  Jennifer Swanson and her colleagues at the Family, Infant, and Preschool Program have created a series of checklist that may help you help families identify interests of their children. The checklists can be downloaded from http://www.fipp.org/case/casetools.html Promoting Young Children’s Participation in Interest-Based Everyday Learning Activities Jennifer Swanson, A.B.D., Melinda Raab, Ph.D., Nicole Roper, Ed.D., & Carl J. Dunst, Ph.D. CASEtools, Vol. 2, Number 5
  • Observe items and objects in the family’s home that may provide clues to the family’s routines.  For example, by observing a baseball hat and glove near the back door, you may learn, after questioning, that the family spends the entire weekend at the ball park watching a sibling play baseball.  Embedding strategies into the family’s ball park routine might be beneficial for this child.
  • Be respectful.  Routines vary greatly from family to family.  It is important for providers to keep an open-mind when working with families.
  • If a formal tool such as the Routines-Based Interview (RBI) has been used to complete the IFSP, consider using the information obtained from the RBI to guide follow-up questions with a family.
  • Published instruments such as the AEPS Family Report and the HELP Family-Centered Interview can also be used for routines assessment.  In addition, simple questionnaires and handouts to guide conversations with families are available online.  Visit http://tactics.fsu.edu for more information.

Finally, remember that routines assessment is an ongoing process.  The routines of a family will change over time just as intervention strategies will change as the child’s strengths and needs change.  By knowing how to gain information about a family’s routines, providers can offer meaningful strategies for a family and increase the child’s participation in activities.

Further Reading:

  1.  Workgroup on Principles and Practices in Natural Environments (February, 2008) Seven Key Principles:  Looks like/doesn’t look like. OSEP TA Community of Practice-Part C Settings. http://www.nectact.org/topics/families/families.asp.
  2. Woods, J. TACTICS. http://tactics.fsu.edu 

— Jamie Holloway