Effective Practice Guides

Attending and Understanding: Do


Try the following practices with infants and toddlers and preschool-aged children. Use as much of the child’s home or tribal language as possible. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.

Infants and Toddlers

  • Acknowledge a baby’s smiles and babbles and respond to her sounds and movements with your own (e.g., “You like the rattle! Can you touch it?”).
  • Narrate caregiving activities; for example:
    • Now, let’s get you a fresh, clean diaper. We’ll tape this side closed—boop! And now the other side—boop! Can you stand up so I can pull up your pants? Thanks. You are good to go.
  • Follow the child’s lead, describing the things in which he’s interested.


  • Model the listening skills you want to see from the children you work with, giving them your full attention and asking them to elaborate on their comments.
  • Assist children in mastering the give-and-take of conversation by encouraging them to wait for their turn to speak (e.g., “Tony, I really want to hear about your new shoes, and you can tell me about them later. Right now, let’s listen and find out more about Gloria’s seashells.”).1

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices listed above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas.

  • Encourage parents to speak their home language(s). Reinforce how this helps their child understand herself, her family, and others. It also helps their child develop and understand concepts about the way the world works.
  • Encourage parents of very young babies to talk to their child. Long before the child can understand words, he will begin to sense to the rhythm of conversation and hear sounds of the home language(s).2
  • Model attentive listening. Notice and comment when parents are attentively listening to their child and how their child responds.
  • Encourage parents to describe the child’s actions, feelings, and surroundings.3 For example:
    • You’re running fast! I can see you breathing hard. But, you have a big smile on your face; it looks like you’re having fun!
  • Support parents in using more language as their child’s understanding increases.4 For example:
    • With a 1-year-old, parents might just name an object:
      • “Mmmm, carrots.”
    • With a 5-year-old, parents could elaborate about the meal:
      • “We’re having your favorite tonight—tacos! Here are some corn tortillas. I cooked onions to go with the chicken. I don’t usually do that, but I read the recipe and it looked good. How do you want to build your taco?”
  • Point out ways their child shows she understands what is being said or asked.

1California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 1 (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2010), 114, Language Use and Conventions, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/psframeworkkvol1.pdf.

2Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC), OpenDoors Home Visitor’s Handbook (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, EHS NRC, 2014), Chapter 10.2, Language and Literacy, How To.



Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: December 3, 2019