6.3 Learning Opportunities

What Is It?

Learning opportunities are child-oriented experiences facilitated by the parents. Young children are learning about everything. Home visitors can work with parents to create engaging experiences that build the child’s school readiness skills and support the parent–child relationship. Knowledge gained during these interactions can help parents incorporate these experiences in their daily routines with their child.

What are children learning?

Through experiences with their parents and the environment in the first five years of life, children establish the physical foundation in the brain for all later learning. They develop the skills and dispositions necessary for learning, such as the ability to pay attention, working memory, curiosity, problem solving, and persistence. They learn the basic concepts needed in order to live within their own culture and family. They learn about their world, language, literacy, mathematical and scientific concepts, and the physics and functions of objects.

Children learn about themselves. They learn how to use their bodies. Each child creates a sense of personal identity in the context of his or her family. The child develops an internal picture of himself/herself through his/her interactions with others and the environment. The child sees himself/herself as competent and likable, adventurous or shy, active or quiet. Each child learns how to be in relationships initially with his family and, increasingly, the outside world.

Children learn through their senses by hearing meaningful language, by exploring and problem solving, and by interacting with peers and adults. The environment and their relationships offer unlimited learning opportunities.

Children who grow up in insecure parenting situations may develop unpredictably. Home visitors can contribute to positive outcomes by working with families to support healthy parent–child relationships and mutually planning meaningful learning experiences. This approach facilitates the use of appropriate developmental materials and routines in the home and can often help to overcome these challenges.

How To

Using your program’s established curriculum, you can help parents offer child-focused, structured learning interactions and experiences by:

  • Observing the child with the parents and sharing your observations and what they might mean about the child’s interests, goals, learning, and development.

  • Using an evidence-based curriculum as a guide for possible interactions and experiences, and planning with the parents to support the child’s learning and school readiness goals.

  • Helping parents explore the learning and developmental progression from earliest infancy to preschool years in every domain. Use Early Learning Guidelines and the School Readiness Goals for Infants and Toddlers in Head Start and Early Head Start Programs: Examples from the Early Head Start National Resource Center.

  • Connecting with parents about the learning opportunities in everyday routines. Parents and other caregivers are already promoting their children’s learning, often without knowing it, as they interact sensitively and responsively during daily caretaking routines. For example, when a father gently tickles his baby’s feet and plays “This Little Piggy Went to Market” with her toes, she is learning that “Daddy takes care of me,” “I can trust him to keep me comfortable,” “we play fun games together,” and “I recognize these words.” When a parent of a toddler lets the child struggle to put on his/her own socks and shoes, that child has a chance to practice small motor skills by using his/her hands and fingers to manipulate the socks and shoes and consequently learns that “I am respected and trusted to do things myself” as well as “Mommy or Daddy is there to help me if I need it.” Similarly, a preschooler who is allowed to help set the table is strengthening motor skills (how to walk and carry items), counting skills (four forks and four plates), color identification (blue place mats and yellow napkins), and self-esteem (“I am a helper,” “I can do things all by myself,” and “Mommy trusts me with an important job”).

  • Using materials from the home for play (e.g., sofa pillows to create an obstacle course for a crawler, measuring cups for stacking, fabric squares to fill and pull out of an empty tissue box), doing finger plays and singing songs, offering a pot and spoon, going outdoors, or joining in what the family was doing (folding laundry, washing dishes, or setting the table and counting).

  • Talking to and listening to the child; and showing photographs or pictures in magazines.

  • Encouraging families to get library cards and bring board books into the house.

  • Helping families recognize health moments/learning opportunities in their daily routines to teach young children healthy habits; for example, how to cover his/her cough or wash hands after toileting.

  • Looking for opportunities to integrate health and learning experiences . . . hand washing together before a meal is both a healthy behavior and an opportunity to sing and rhyme!

Experience It

Learning Opportunities Video Clip

This clip shows a home visitor greeting the mother and child and then working with the mother and child on using homemade materials as a learning opportunity, following the child’s lead, whether it is using the material in the manner intended or not.


  1. What did you observe?


    Various answers such as:

    • Home visitor greets the infant, Mason, and his parent.

    • Baby balances on one arm, and home visitor comments on it and imitates it.

    • Home visitor reviews what she and the mother talked about the week before regarding what Mason is doing and what they planned for this week.

    • Home visitor notices the paper-covered cans the mother made for the child and says to Mason how creative his mom is.

    • Mother demonstrates how Mason can use the cans to grasp blocks and then drop blocks into them.

    • Mason grasps blocks but doesn’t drop them into cans.

    • Home visitor comments that it’s okay if he doesn’t put them in the can; he is still picking them up and grasping.

    • Mother claps the blocks together, and the baby bangs one block on top of the other. Mother says, “Good job.”

    • The home visitor remains behind the baby or to the side of the mother–infant dyad except when she is talking to the mother.

    • The home visitor asks the mother what else she has around the house that she and Mason could use to practice his grasp and release.

    • Mom says they use baby bottle caps and baby-wipes containers to drop things into.

  2. How can you apply what you observe to enhance learning opportunities in your home visits?


    Various answers such as:

    • Use home materials for learning opportunities.

    • Pay attention to your physical position in relation to the parent–child dyad or triad.

    • Discuss the child’s developing skills with the parents and what materials they have in the house that might support those skills.

    • Plan the next home visit using that discussion as a basis.

    • Support the parent in being responsible for the home visit. Scaffold his/her learning as needed (if the baby is not cooperating with activity, reframe what the baby is doing and what he is learning).

  3. Reflect on why your physical position in relationship to the parent–child dyad makes a difference and how it might influence the learning opportunity.


    Various answers such as:

    • It can change the baby’s focus from parent to home visitor.

    • It can make the home visitor the center of attention if she is facing the baby.

    • It may take attention away from the parent, and he/she may withdraw from the learning experience.

    • It may lead to a focus on conversation between the home visitor and parent and take away from engagement with the child.

  4. What dimensions of development contributing to school readiness did you observe?


    Various answers such as:

    Physical Development and Health

    • Fine motor: grasping and releasing; banging.

    • Gross motor: sitting, bending, balancing.

    Social and Emotional

    • Eye contact with mother and home visitor.

    • Back and forth play (banging blocks, imitation).

    • Cuddles/hugs mother.

    Approaches Toward Learning

    • Initiative in balancing and playing with blocks.

    • Attentiveness toward mother and activity.

    • Curiosity in exploring characteristics of blocks; grasping, banging.

    Cognition and General Knowledge

    • Exploration of sound and feel of blocks.

    • Imitation.

    Language and Literacy

    • Says “up”.

    • Makes sounds.

    • Responds to mother’s vocalization.

Learn More

This Early Head Start Tip Sheet identifies play materials in the home that create unique learning opportunities for children. Grantees and program staff may find this information useful. This resource also addresses the Program Performance Standards relating to children's development and play.