Using Powerful Interactions
Quality relationships between children and the adults in their lives create a Powerful Interactions framework, which has a strong effect on a child’s brain development and ongoing learning. These interactions can occur between parents, caregivers and other adults in a child’s life.
What is the Powerful Interactions Framework?
The Powerful Interactions framework was developed by Amy Dombro, Judy Jablon, and Charlotte Stetson to encourage early childhood educators to intentionally create opportunities to interact with young children. The framework can be used by parents and caregivers, as well, as a way to foster healthy relationships between child and adult.
Three Steps of the Powerful Interaction Framework
Families can use Powerful Interactions to better understand what their child already knows and what they may want to learn more about. A meaningful learning opportunity occurs when the family member is present in the child’s learning experience, connects by asking the child questions about their observations, and extends the child’s learning by adding new information about the subject or focus. The three steps include 1) Be Present, 2) Connect and 3) Extend Learning.
If the child is making art with paint:
By being present, the caregiver or teacher gives the child their full attention and talks about what’s going on. Instead of thinking about tasks you have to do, what your spouse did or said, or worrying about something, be in the moment with the child. Sit with the child and really look at what’s being painted on the page. Being present heightens observational skills, leading you to notice more carefully observe the child’s interests, style of play and curiosities.
To connect, simply ask about the painting and what color the child likes best. Ask the child why they painted the animal they chose or which of the colors is their favorite. This action causes the child to think about their actions and understand better why they are doing what they’re doing.
Explaining that there are primary and secondary colors, along with an explanation of each extends the child’s learning. Adding new information to something the child already enjoys will heighten their interest and increase their attention.
The new information should be developmentally appropriate, interesting to the child, and understandable and useful across different situations. Using the language spoken at home helps a child to feel comfortable and is the best way to create a meaningful learning experience.
The Impact of Powerful Interactions
Powerful Interactions can be used in many ways and don’t need to be forced or overly educational. Every day activities like doing chores – sorting lights from the darks while loading laundry – and baking cookies – measuring the ingredients – can support math learning. Literacy development can be improved while riding in the car – pointing out signs – and shopping at the grocery store – reading labels out loud to the child. The experience should always be fun and relaxed.
Parents who employed the Powerful Interactions model reported feeling that their interactions with their children were valued, respected, and appreciated. They were eager for more opportunities to positively engage with their children. Families also expressed that they could understand more clearly how interactions, such as having conversations, contribute to future academic success.
In Powerful Interactions workshops, families thought of ways children could listen for and identify sounds during a walk to the playground (phonological awareness) and make letters with crayons (alphabetic principle). They also came up with different questions adults could ask about a child’s day (comprehension/vocabulary). Asking questions is a powerful engagement tool that can cause a child to think more deeply about why they like drawing with a purple crayon, the purpose of road signs, and the source of different sounds they hear at the park.
How to Start Using Powerful Interactions
The more Powerful Interactions that take place with an adult in a child’s life, the more the child’s brain and cognitive development will be engaged. Early learning is supported by turning the normal daily routine into an educational experience, which helps a child remember and comprehend the lesson in a deeper way. It’s important to follow the child’s lead and be flexible if the activity planned by the adult doesn’t go as planned. Families might hope to do a specific activity with their child, such as read a book together, but it’s okay if the activity takes a different turn and leads to talking about the first page together. If the child needs to stop and come back to the activity later, that’s ok. And if the child does not engage with or respond to his family during an activity, give the child that space. Families can always try again later or do something differently to see if the child then finds the activity more engaging.
For teachers, building the lesson plan around a character or activity that interests the child can be useful. If the child loves superheroes, the teacher can find superhero books to read with the child, ask about the superhero’s special powers, invite the child to draw their favorite superhero, and make up a new superhero story together. Each of these activities engages the child through what is already familiar and comfortable.
Powerful Interactions are all about utilizing every day activities to further a child’s learning in a meaningful and positive way. By taking this approach, parents and teachers can strengthen their relationship with the child.
Read more about it in the book Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning.