How to Help Your Child Learn in the Natural Environment

March 27, 2020

You don’t have to be a teacher in a classroom to help your child learn something new! Many children on and off the autism spectrum learn some of the most important skills away from the classroom. It can be anything, from taking a nature walk and labeling sounds outside, to learning how to play a game on a tablet or iPad. Learning is non-stop for children, and the natural environment is one of the best ways to capture your child’s attention and teach skills they will maintain for the long run. With some of these tips, we can make learning fun and effortless while taking away some of the stresses of being a parent or caregiver.

Regarding learning outside of the classroom, the term commonly used within Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is Natural Environment Teaching (NET), which means that skills are learned or generalized within the natural environment. As a busy, full-time working parent, this is something I live by in and out of work! 24-hours in a day can sometimes feel like 24 minutes, there is simply not enough time. One of the things I love to do with my 3-year-old toddler is a fun activity you can do while driving too. Point out things you see and describe them; colors, sounds in the environment, types of vehicles, animals  (since we live in Texas we see a lot of cows on the way home). This is a great activity for increasing receptive language (what your child understands) and expressive language (what your child says), making it effective for children at various developmental stages. Fun counting games can also increase learning while driving; count the number of school buses you pass, count the number of airplanes, or the number of cows! Additional activities include having your child find non-examples by pointing (which one is not a truck?). You can also easily incorporate these activities at a grocery store, by labeling the colors of fruits and vegetables, or asking “which one is not a fruit?”.

Within NET, we are often given the chance to embed learning opportunities in ongoing, everyday activities with a focus on child’s interests and initiations; this is what we call incidental teaching. One of the things we love to focus on at Spectacular Kids,  is allowing the kiddos to lead us to things they are interested in during downtime. If they love pretend play, dress up with them and push for language and different actions for those specific themes. For example, if pretending to be a firefighter, you can talk about the specific equipment that a firefighter has, the colors on the uniform, and what a fire fighter does, and pretend to put out a fire. You can do the same with other community helpers such as a police officer, chef, or dentist! Pretending to be a chef can include allowing your child to imitate your actions of putting food in the microwave, cooking food on the pretend stove, serving and washing dishes, or even taking food orders from you as if eating in a restaurant. Utilize this time to vary phrases and actions that you use to ensure that your child learns to use a variety of phrases within play.

The last and most important tip is to be genuine and have fun! When choosing an opportunity to learn something naturally, the key is to choose something you can easily incorporate into your daily routines. Although it may not be perfect each time, keep trying! It gets easier the more you work at it! Children learn something new every day, and there is no better feeling than to know that you had a part of that success!


Management of Problem Behaviors for More Effective Speech SessionsActivities for the Holidays