Family’s lives are not a blank slate. They have a history of thinking about, seeking to understand, and meeting their vision and priorities around what they want for their child, within their family’s cultural values and how they work. It’s about… What families already do, think and feel.

Early childhood intervention (EI) professionals frequently identify the importance of working from family strengths. EI professionals are expected to identify what families are doing to help their child learn and develop. In other words, strategies. Identifying those strengths is important because families frequently don’t realize all the great things they’re actually doing, most particularly those everyday parent-child interactions and environmental strengths they see as “just being a parent.”

However, we at The Envelope contend that what families DO is necessary but not sufficient for truly understanding the family’s intentions. What they THINK and FEEL about what they are doing to help their child learn and develop is equally important. By exploring what families DO, THINK, and FEEL, EI professionals can hear and learn the family’s history of what they’ve tried, why they’ve tried it, and why they continue with what they’re doing. So instead of looking at family “strengths” through a professional lens, our approach seeks to understand the perspective of the family not as a mediator of professional interventions but the actual developmental promoters – the designers, implementers, and evaluators.

Kate, a preschool teacher, and Stephen, an Early Intervention coach, discuss their experiences using the approaches shared in the Doing-Thinking-Feeling pages.

In this overview video, Kate and Stephen share how the approach differed from their usual family practices and how their perspectives, practices, and relationships with families evolved.

Note: In Australia, where Stephen lives and practices, early childhood intervention practitioners are called “key workers.”

(Time: 41:28 minutes)

We at The Envelope recognize that we don’t know what family’s perspectives are and we don’t want to assume. Therefore, our approach advocates for not only taking the time to understand, but coming from a place of true curiosity and wondering. This means the professional suspends their lens, specifically what the professional thinks about…

– Why the family chooses to use a particular strategy

– What outcomes can be met by using that strategy

– How effective or aligned to the child’s developmental status the strategy is.

In our approach, we consciously set that thinking aside. While we use the same overarching processes of observation, discussion, planning, and intervention, we practice with a focus on what families are already doing. This is summarized below and further explored throughout the Doing-Thinking-Feeling pages.

To start, we (family and professional) interact and observe naturally to identify what families are doing – how they interact with their child and what the environment looks like (even if not intentionally designed for learning). This time can be of any interactions since we are focused on what’s happening within the interactions rather than routines or activities. It’s whatever the family is doing.

Then, we (family and professional) uncover family’s intentions by having a reflective conversation about those strategies. Professionals have to take care not to prioritize (e.g., bias) the discussion on strategies that fit our thinking.  For each strategy from interacting and observing naturally, the professional asks the family questions to understand why they used the strategy and how effective they thought the strategy was. From there, we (family and professional) learn a lot about the family’s priorities and their thinking about why they do what they do, as well as how EI professionals can be a trusted other, a go-to resource the family chooses to use for certain parenting decisions.

This approach doesn’t stop at simply understanding the family. This information is then USED specifically in planning and intervention.

In planning, we (family and professional) reveal priorities and strategies uncovered during the conversation, explicitly focusing on what is already working well for the family’s priorities that emerged from the conversation. The professional documents those already effective strategies right alongside any other strategies or ideas. We (family and professional) then identify ways to “tweak” the strategies the family thought could be more effective. And then we (family and professional) judiciously identify new strategies. That way, we are illustrating in our planning that what families are already doing significantly contribute to their child’s learning and development and the professional is truly a resource (rather than an intervener) as the family helps their child develop.

During intervention visits, we (family and professional) continually refine priorities and strategies through naturalistic observations, engaging in conversations, affirming and tweaking current strategies, and identifying new strategies as needed. The approach gives agency to the family to be those developmental promoters families expect to be.