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Activity. Use words or symbols to represent: a group or culture that you consider yourself a part of (choose 1) the amount of TV that a four year old should watch per/day Religion (or not) A situation you were in where you felt marginalized or undervalued.

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Use words or symbols to represent:

  • a group or culture that you consider yourself a part of (choose 1)

  • the amount of TV that a four year old should watch per/day

  • Religion (or not)

  • A situation you were in where you felt marginalized or undervalued.

  • a major accomplishment (professional/personal)

  • the best average time for a 2 year old to go to bed

  • growing up, were you a family/person who had “not enough”, “just enough”, “more than enough”

Natural environments and cultural competence understanding theory and moving into practice

Natural Environments and Cultural Competence: Understanding Theory and Moving into Practice

Sarah H. Pavitt, M.Ed.

Georgeanne B.C. Hirshey, M.Ed.


“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”

-Wade Davis



  • Become comfortable with important terms around the topic of culture.

  • Recognize how our own stories color the “lens” through which we perceive interactions, actions, situations in our work with culturally, linguistically, and ability diverse families and children.

  • Review essential elements of natural environments, according to the research and best practices.

  • Gain awareness of interrelation between cultural competence and working in natural environments.

  • Gain tools for incorporating the essential components of working in natural environments into your own practice with culturally & linguistically diverse children.





Culture is a shared system of meaning, which includes values, beliefs, and assumptions expressed in daily interactions of individuals within a group through a definite pattern of language, behavior, customs, attitudes, and practices.” (Zero to Three).

  • 3 key concepts:

  • Values – relative importance of an action or thing.

  • Beliefs – what is accepted as “the truth”

  • Assumptions – a working hypothesis based upon previous experiences.


Cultural reciprocity

Cultural reciprocity

A multiple-step process which involves professionals developing self-awareness of their own cultural norms, values, and biases, and how those underlie their perspectives on disability and family and which facilitates conversations with families that can identify the values and beliefs that underlie priorities, goals and visions for the child.

-An observed outcome of cultural reciprocity is more positive relationships and more reasonable goals that eventually are implemented.

Cultural reciprocity process

Cultural Reciprocity Process

Learn about the child and family through observation and discussion.

-What are the family’s beliefs and assumptions about the child, about child development and disability?

Reflect on your own thoughts and reactions.

-Reflect on your own values, beliefs and assumptions. Explore how they are similar or different from that of the parents


Develop a culturally responsive plan

-Through discussion and collaboration, determine the most effective way to share professional interpretations or recommendations that can be adapted to the value system of the family.

Explain your perspective/plan to the family.

-Acknowledge and give explicit respect to any cultural differences identified, and fully explain the cultural basis of the professional explanation

Cultural competence

Cultural competence

A set of behaviors, attitudes, and polices that come together to enable systems, agencies, or professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.

Culturally effective services are respectful of and responsive to the beliefs and practices, and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse populations

A developmental process that evolves over an extended period.


No infant or toddler needs physical, occupational, or speech therapy twice a week in order to grow and develop. What young children need is exposure to communication, mobility, play, gradual independence in activities of daily living, and nurturing interaction with family members, everyday, in the places they live, learn and play.”

(Hanft, B. & Pilkington, K., 2000)


What are

“natural environments”?

Yes or No????

Natural environments

Natural Environments

“First, natural learning environments are not places but rather the experiences

afforded children in the context of activity settings that make up the fabric of family

and community life. Second, defining natural environments as necessitating the joint

presence of children with or without disabilities or delays is limited and not consistent

with research.” (Dunst 2001)

Natural environments1

Natural Environments

  • Not just a place

  • The way services are provided

  • a family room in a child’s home, even with a family member and the child present is not a natural environment when professionals bring a therapy office and essentially dump it on the floor of the home…


Cultural Competence in Natural environments


Barriers to working collaboratively with families in natural environments

Barriers to working collaboratively with families in natural environments

  • “Us” vs. “Them” mentality


    I heard that “they” _______.

    Oh, “they” always_________.

  • Bringing “intervention” into homes/pre-planning – coming with a scripted lesson plan, telling families what you are going to work on, or how you are going to do it

  • Cultural stereotypes and biases – especially those we are not aware of, or reflective on

  • Assumptions – about groups of people from specific cultures, about behaviors of people with certain disabilities

  • The BAG

Now what essential elements of collaboration in natural environments

Now what?Essential elements of collaboration in natural environments



  • Are you bringing materials into homes to work with children?? If so, what messages does this send?

  • You don’t have what your child needs to learn and develop.

  • What you have, what you do, is not enough

  • You need these things in order for your child to learn

  • When I leave, the “intervention” is done.

  • Most learning takes place during visits with an interventionist

    What dynamic does that provide between child and family when the “lady with the bag” leaves?

In defense of the bag what interventionists and providers sometimes say

In defense of “the bag” – What interventionists and providers sometimes say…

  • But the kid doesn’t have any toys

  • What are we supposed to work with?

  • The family is counting on me to work with their child

  • What’s wrong with showing families how to play with their child?

  • The kids are bored because they don’t have anything to do/play with

  • But that’s my ‘bag of tricks”

  • It’s my job as a teacher/provider, to come prepared

Doing without the bag

Doing without “the bag”

  • Conversations –

    “It’s really important that we work on her goals with things she has around her every day…”

    “Did you have anything specific you wanted us to work on today?”

    “What activities has your family been doing this week?”

    “Are there any activities that were difficult that you wanted us to work on?”

    What has gone really well this week???

  • Discussions about routines – play time

  • Conversations about literacy – songs, public library, story telling, drawing stories, newspapers/magazines

  • For play - discussion around early childhood play – putting things in, taking them out, banging on things, imitating family routines, sensory play – functional or contrived

  • Varying settings for visits – out on sidewalk, in lobby of apartment, in kitchen, nearby playground, library, indoor play areas

  • Creativity around materials – items around the house, public library, thrift stores

  • Can you ever bring materials???

    It depends – is it something you had a conversation with the family about? Is it something you planned for WITH the family BEFORE the visit???



  • are ongoing, not just at entry to program, but at every session

  • allow interventionists to learn from families rather than about them

  • help a family tell their story – take time to listen

    **How did this family get to be in this place at this time?**

    involves active dialogue, listening, critical reflecting, asking open ended questions

    How does that conversation go?

  • I think I hear you saying that ____ - am I getting that right?

  • Have you had a chance to try (strategy) during dinner that we came up with last time?

  • How do you think that went? (last time, just now)

  • Does that seem like something that would work with Gabby??

  • Why don’t you try it now?

Structure of home visits sessions

Structure of home visits/sessions

  • planning occurs with families during visits, rather than by interventionists

  • triadic approach – we are supporting the relationship, interactions, and learning between the child and a caregiver.

    We move from telling and doing and start listening, and nurturing the capacity of families to support their child’s development.


Dyadic Interaction/Triadic Exchange:



Parent/child dyad




  • Each of us has a story – Those stories color the “lens” through which we perceive all situations that we encounter...

  • Natural environments encompass much more than where we provide services

  • There is a natural connection between cultural competence and working in natural environments.

  • Ongoing reflection is essential in work with culturally, linguistically, and ability diverse families and children.

  • It is possible to gain tools and skills that enable us to better collaborate with families in ways that are not just evidence based, but that most benefits families and children.



Addison, S et al. Agreed Upon Practices for Providing Early Intervention Services in Natural Environment. Retrieved from www.

Coaching in Early Childhood (2006). Natural Learning Environment Practices. Retrieved from

Daniel, J., & Friedman, S. (Nov 2005). Taking the Next Step Preparing Teachers to Work with Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Children. Beyond the Journal – Young Children on the Web.

Davis, K. (1997). Exploring the intersection between cultural competency and managed behavioral health care policy: Implications for state and county mental health agencies. Alexandria, VA: National Technical Assistance Center for State Mental Health Planning.

Forney, P. Providing Early Intervention Services in Natural Environments – Concerns & Tips. Retrieved from

Dunst, C., et al., Characteristics and Consequences of Everyday Natural Learning Opportunities. Topics in Early Childhood Education, Summer, 21:2 (2001): 68-92.

Harry, B., Kalyanpur, M., & Day, M. (1999). Building Cultural Reciprocity with families. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Harry, B., Rueda, R., Kalyanpur, M. Cultural Reciprocity in Socio-cultural Perspective: Adapting the Normalization Principle for Family Collaboration. Exceptional Children.

McWilliam, R. Early Intervention in Natural Environments: A five-Component Model. Early Steps Children’s Medical Services. Retrieved from

Plinkinton, K (March 2009). The ABC’s of Parent Support. Journal – American Association for Home-based Early Intervention, vol 14 issue 1. Retrieved from

Section on Pediatracs, APTA. Natural Environments in Early Intervention Services. Retrieved from

TaCTICS (Nov, 2000). Why is the Natural Environment so Important? Retrieved from

Wagner, C. (Sept. 2001). Cultural Reciprocity Aids Collaboration with Families. Retrieved from

Woods, J. (2008). Providing Early Intervention Services in Natural Environments. The ASHA Leader. Retrieved from



Contact information

Contact information

Sarah H. Pavitt

[email protected]

Georgeanne B.C. Hirshey

[email protected]

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