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How to Use Natural Environment Teaching 

One of our favorite techniques to use at Prism Early Advancement Center is Natural Environment Teaching (NET), wherein we use items and activities that are naturally occurring and intrinsically motivating to teach students various things. For instance, if a student is interested in princesses, we can use a princess doll to teach things like colors (what color is her dress? Point to the one with the pink dress!), body parts (where’s her hand?), counting (can you count how many princesses?), and any other skill that we can relate back to that interest. We’re going to find the ways the student interacts with the item and then sneak in some teaching.

Here are 3 ways to incorporate NET into your every day routines: 

1. Name a feature, function, or comparison of a preferred thing before passing it

Throughout the day, kids want all kinds of things in their environment that we, as adults, tend to hand over! It can be anything from a food, to a toy, to a specific song that they want to listen to. The next time you want to sneak in some teaching, capture one of those moments when they ask you for something and slip in a question. For example:

Child: Can I have lucky charms?

Parent: Hm, well, what color is the lucky charms box? 

Child: Red! 

At that point, you can pass over the item! Other questions include the shape of the object (rectangle), what you use that object for (to eat), or what kind of thing the object is (food). You can do this with a favorite toy, or any random ask that your child is motivated to obtain. 

2. Count it 

This is particularly useful with items that kids like a lot of and that you’re willing to give them more than one. For instance, say that they’ve asked for a snack of Goldfish. You can let them know that you’ll give them however many Goldfish they can count. So you can hold out the Goldfish and let them count 1…2…3… all the way up to their highest number. 

The fun part here is that you can help them get to higher numbers by providing verbal models and prompts to get to the desired number of Goldfish. For instance, if your child can only count to 5 and you want to give them 20 Goldfish, you can then give them the answer and let them collect the Goldfish all the way to 20!  

This can be done with any number of objects that a child may be motivated to get more of. 

3. Wait for it 

If you have a student that is just barely learning their words, or learning how to interact with you, you can still do some NET! This is where it’s very important to find the things that they enjoy doing. One of our favorite activities for early learners is bubbles, where we can incorporate teaching requests, teaching orienting to speakers, responding to name, imitation skills, and expanding vocabulary. The trick for all of these is to wait for it. 

In the case of bubbles, if a student we’re working for is working on language, we’ll blow a first round of bubbles, then work on having the child say an approximiation of “more” before giving another round of bubbles, and repeat this until the child can do so independently. If they have some language and we’re working on expanding it, we can require them to provide descriptions of the type of bubbles they want, such as “lots of bubbles!” or “only a few bubbles!” or “high bubbles” or “low bubbles.” Find fun an different ways to work on making children be more descriptive in their language.  

For students that we’re working on responding to name or orienting toward a speaker, we have the adult call their name or simply wait until they glance in their directions, then provide another round of bubbles.  

In any way you want to use a preferred activity, feel free to wait out a student for a short while, and then provide the activity when the desired response occurs! 

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