8.1 Structured Child-Focused Home Visiting

What Is It?

Home visitors help parents identify their child’s emerging skills and learn how they can strengthen these skills and develop new ones. In a home-based program, staff have very little time with children and families. Parents who are with their child every day have many opportunities to facilitate learning experiences. Home visitors recognize, encourage, and help families build on their efforts to support their children. For example, the goals for a 6-month-old infant might be to begin eating solid foods and learn how to sit unassisted. A toddler might be working on increasing his or her vocabulary or identifying shapes and colors. A preschooler might be learning letters of the alphabet or classification skills (e.g., sorting things into categories based on variables such as color, shape, or size). These skills are learned through interactions and experiences that can be embedded in children’s everyday routines and experiences. As you partner with families to develop learning experiences to foster these emerging skills, it can help parents to explore the importance of certain experiences in promoting development and learning.

While there is structure, there must also be flexibility. As the home visitor, you have unique knowledge about the child, family, and home environment as well as best practices in supporting healthy growth and development. The home visitor can look for opportunities to bring up and integrate all topics into a visit. For example, you may be working on increasing vocabulary, but you may do this around a nutritious meal or while going on a walk, thus also promoting good nutrition and physical activity.

How To

You support structured child-focused home visiting that promotes parents’ ability to support the child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development by:

  • having a deep understanding of early development, based on current research to support families in interpreting the meaning behind a child’s behavior.

  • stressing the importance of the family’s role in the child’s learning.

  • identifying the opportunities in everyday moments when children are working toward their goals.

  • understanding and talking to parents about how particular parent–child interactions and experiences provide opportunities for specific learning.

  • conducting assessments that include parent insight, observations, and feedback while supporting parents’ role in exploring their child and child development.

  • observing closely with the parents to understand the child’s current interests and goals.

  • using an evidence-based curriculum for home-based services to support planning with the parents.

  • planning to use daily routines and household materials to provide interactions and experiences that are developmentally appropriate and match the family’s and child’s interests, goals, and cultural practices.

  • being able to articulate to the parent what the child’s actions mean within the scope of learning and development; for example, “Gia already loves books. I really enjoy watching her study the pictures. She’s so little she isn’t even talking yet, but by reading to her every day, you’ve given her a start at being a strong reader.”

  • asking parents’ permission to show them some ways to support the child’s efforts; for example, “I have an idea about how to help Nico use the spoon; would you like to hear it?”

  • suggesting ways the parents can maintain engagement with the child through his/her actions and interactions.

  • helping the parents recognize the importance of attention regulation. A child, particularly a young child, needs to be both calm enough and interested enough to participate in an experience.

  • helping parents structure a learning environment in their home that follows the child’s interest and allows for safe exploration.

  • providing genuine positive feedback to parents at every opportunity when they observe their children, reflecting on their child’s skills and interests and supporting the child through planning and interactions.

  • having materials ready and available for common interests and issues that may arise for children at each stage of development.

Experience It

Structure Child-Focused Home Visiting Video Clip

This video shows a mother and child engaged in an everyday activity: washing her hands. This took place during a home visit when they were preparing to make a fruit salad for a snack. The home visitor suggested to the mother that she take this opportunity to make hand washing a learning experience for her child. Language development is one of the goals this mother has for her child.


  1. What do you observe?


    Various answers such as:

    • Mother and child wash the child’s hands.

    • Mother talks to child about what she is doing.

    • Child rubs her hands together and briefly splashes the water.

    • Mother uses various words to describe the water and drying her hands.

    • Child dries her hands on the towel with her mother’s help.

  2. What strategies did the mother use to support her child’s language development?


    Various answers such as:

    Talking: vocabulary:

    • clean, warm, water, cool, dry.

    Receptive language:

    • talks about temperature of water, cleaning hands.

    Asking questions:

    • Is the water cool? Are your hands clean?


    • she used descriptive words repeatedly.

    Relating language to the routine in which they are engaged.

  3. What skills and behaviors in other developmental domains did you observe that would promote school readiness?


    Various answers such as:

    Cognition and General Knowledge

    • Active exploration with different textures: feel of water, towel.

    • Asking questions.

    Physical Development and Health

    • Washing hands (before eating).

    • Rubbing hands together.

    Social and Emotional Development

    • Mother and child are spending time together.

    • Mother is holding child.

    • Gentle touches of mother helping her daughter to wash her hands.

    • Mother laughs at something the child says and speaks gently to the child.

    Approaches to Learning

    • Paying attention.

    • Curiosity about water.

  4. What other routines could the mother use to enhance her child’s language development goals?


    Various answers such as:

    All routines could enhance her goals.

    Some examples include:

    • Bath time – Develop vocabulary (washcloth, towel, names of toys, identifying body parts, etc.).

    • Tooth brushing – Explore textures, taste (with toothbrush, toothpaste).

    • Hair brushing – Enhance receptive language (talk about hard, soft, shiny, long, short, tangled, etc.).

    • Meal preparation – Ask questions and describe the different foods you are preparing; describe what you are doing to prepare them and include the child, when possible (measuring, cutting, cooking). Name objects as you set the table. Describe how various objects are used.

    • Laundry – Match like objects and name them; match and name colors.

    • Read books about everyday routines.

Structured Child-Focused Home Visiting Video Clip

This video clip shows a home visit where the home visitor and mother are working on the child’s communication skills.


  1. What do you observe?


    Various answers such as:

    • The home visitor is discussing the child’s communication skills with the mother.

    • The child is sitting in an assisted seating device, with straps crossed on his chest.

    • The home visitor hands purple Pla-Doh to the child, and he returns some to the can and drops some on the floor.

    • The mother points to the child’s face to bring the home visitor’s attention to his expression. The home visitor says “Do you not like it, are you telling me?"

    • The mother rolls the Pla-Doh and says “It’s cold.”

    • The home visitor talks for the child, indicating that he is telling them that he doesn’t like the Pla-Doh.

    • The mother and home visitor suggest reasons why the child may not like the Pla- Doh.

    • The home visitor puts away the purple Pla-Doh and puts a can of blue on the tray in front of the child.

    • The child picks up the can and says “Out”. The home visitor tells the child to give it to mommy to take it out.

    • The child begins to use some words and smiles as he interacts with the Pla-Doh with his mother.

    • The home visitor hands the mother cookie cutters to play with the Pla-Doh with her child. The mother says some of the letters and the child repeats them.

  2. How does the home visitor work with the parent to identify her child’s emerging skills?


    Various answers such as:

    • She talks with the mother about what they observed in the previous activity that made it easy to understand the child’s communication.

    • She attends to what the parent is observing, both verbally and non-verbally, e.g. when the mother draws her attention to her child’s facial expression by pointing at it.

    • She supports the child when he talks and says, “Nice”.

    • She elaborates on the child’s communicative attempts by talking for the child to indicate what he might be saying: “I don’t like that Julie”.

    • She adds new actions and elements to established interaction routines: she provides a different color Pla-Doh; she hands cookie cutters to the mother.

    • She balances support (e.g., suggestion, demonstration) with opportunity and expectation for independence

    • She poses “dilemmas” for child to solve – how to open the can of Pla-Doh, how to use the cookie cutters.

  3. Reflect on techniques you would like to enhance to incorporate daily routines and household materials to provide interactions and experiences that are developmentally appropriate and match the family’s and child’s interests, goals, and cultural practices.


    Various Answers

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


    Various answers such as:

    Physical Development and Health:

    • Fine motor – squeezing the Pla-Doh; using cookie cutters; grasping and releasing

    Social and Emotional:

    • Smiling at the Pla-Doh and at his mother

    • Making eye contact with his mother

    • Smiling when his mother touched his hand

    • Self-regulation while removing an object he didn’t like (the Pla-Doh)

    Language and Literacy:

    • Expressive Language: “out”, “blue”, counting

    • Receptive Language: responds to mother’s suggestion- “count your fingers”

    Approaches to Learning:

    • Showing interest in the blue Pla-Doh and the cookie cutters

    • Showing curiosity about what his mother was doing when she pressed his hand into the Pla-Doh

    • Using a few words to describe what he was interacting with

    • Showing awareness of change from the purple Pla-Doh to the blue Pla-Doh

    • Showing persistence in getting rid of the purple Pla-Doh

    Cognition and General Knowledge:

    • Noticing the color of the Pla-Doh

    • Counting his finger indentations in the Pla-Doh

    • Repeating the names of some of the letters

    • Indicating he wanted Julie to use the rolling pin

Learn More

This guide is based on first- and second-language acquisition. It provides directors, education coordinators, and teachers with practical classroom strategies for serving infants and toddlers of families who speak languages other than English. The authors identify and respond to key questions and concerns voiced by staff who work with infants and toddlers.

Suggestions and recommendations are provided in this report to better serve culturally and linguistically diverse children and families. Head Start service providers will find this information particularly valuable as it offers an in-depth look into the unique needs, challenges, and opportunities related to supporting bilingual and multilingual children. All information was pulled from a national needs assessment of Head Start programs, and its recommendations include both local and national best practices and approaches.

This Tip Sheet describes the role Early Head Start plays in developing the math and science skills of infants and toddlers. The considerations serve as a useful guide for grantee and program administrators. Applicable Program Performance Standards and resources provide additional information.

This Tip Sheet offers considerations for supporting infant and toddler language development when staff members speak a language other than a child's home language. The considerations serve as a useful guide for grantee and program administrators. Applicable Program Performance Standards and resources provide additional information.

Head Start has strong programmatic requirements that specifically refer to the home language, the learning of English, or the cultural background of families and children. Program staff and parents will benefit from the best practices, training models, recent research, and web-based resources identified in this issue. Sections include: The Community and Families; Educational Leaders; Teachers and Home Visitors Speak; Assessment; and Resources.

The partnership between parents and Head Start and Early Head Start staff is fundamental to children's current and future success in school readiness and beyond. Discover how programs can share information with families about children’s learning and development. Staff may use this resource to identify specific strategies that support relationship building with families.