An Activity-based Approach To Learning For Young Children

Using story telling to achieve learning goals

Using story telling to achieve learning goals

Understanding the importance of early childhood experience is core to the development of early intervention programmes that are designed for young children who have disabilities or who are at risk of being diagnosed with disabilities. The main purpose of early intervention and education is to improve the developmental growth potential of these children and to minimise the development of secondary disabilities so that they can be easily integrated into the community. SPD’s senior early intervention teacher, Ms Yvonne Chew, elaborates on the AEPS curriculum model and how routine activities can be ideal learning platforms for children with disabilities.

In the Assessment, Evaluation, and Programming System for Infants and Children (AEPS®; Bricker 2002) curriculum, Activity-Based Intervention (ABI) is incorporated linking the assessment outcomes, developmental goals, intervention activities and evaluation strategies together (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Four essential process of linked system in AEPS

Figure 1: Four essential process of linked system in AEPS

Assessment is the first process in the linked system whereby the assessors such as teachers, therapists and psychologists would gather objective information through the observation of the child while he engages in play and daily activities in the classroom. The information collected not only studies the child’s interests, it is also used to identify his strengths and emerging developmental skills such as gross and fine motor skills as well as adaptive, cognitive, social-communication and social skills.

Goal Development is the second phase of the process which involves the development of the Individualised Educational Programme (IEP). At this stage, appropriate goals, functions and important behaviours will be developed to help advance the child’s behavioural repertoires. Therefore, while information is gathered through classroom observation, it is also important to work closely with family members to identify the developmental goals for the child as they know the child best. In an AEPS assessment, a family report is used to record the child’s development and abilities exhibited at home. The family is also involved in prioritising the goals and objectives for the child.

Intervention is the third stage of the AEPS process which looks at integrating goals and objectives through the child’s daily activities and life experiences. Pretti-Frotczak and Bricker (2004) conceptualised this approach based on the following:

1.Developing functional and generative goals to be carried out across settings, events, people and time.

2.Implementing activities to address goals that are routine-based, planned and of interest to the child.

3.Goals are addressed in multiple experiential learning opportunities in the activities.

4.Through learning opportunities, the child will experience timely and integral feedback for desired behaviour change.

Learning in the child’s natural environment

Under AEPS, an early intervention teacher would identify appropriate environments where intervention can occur and plan strategies around the child’s routines and activities.

This taps into the child’s natural environment to help him acquire and generalise developmental skills. The natural settings provide reassurance and a sense of familiarity for the child, allowing him to engage more actively in the activities that interest him and usually for a longer period of time. The child is also more motivated to learn new skills. The teachers usually focus on developing functional skills that grow a child’s independence and improve his quality of life.

To optimise the child’s opportunities for learning, the ABI approach incorporates learning in daily interactions that are meaningful and purposeful to him. The interaction between the child and his physical and social environment will create more varied learning opportunities for the child.

Creating learning opportunities in routine activities

Routines are daily activities that the child encounters and are involved in everyday e.g. bath time, meal time and bed time. In such natural settings, many skills and concepts can be embedded naturally without disrupting the child’s routine. Early intervention professionals focus on including new and more complex learning based on these experiences. Embedding the learning goals through such routines provide meaningful context for the child to learn new skills as they are predictable, functional and occur frequently throughout the day.

Examples of classroom activities

The classroom activities below illustrate how new learning skills can be incorporated in planned activities and routines that are geared towards a child’s interest.

Food preparation – Food preparation during snack time can help the child in grasping qualitative concepts, temporal relations concepts as well as recalling events and retelling them in sequence.
Through food preparation activities, the child can also pick up adaptive skills such as pouring, stirring, mixing and squeezing. When the child listens to directions and observes the teacher before he makes his own drink, he is also learning social skills. Social-communication interactions where the child shares his likes and dislikes and makes connections based on prior knowledge and personal experiences are also encouraged. For example, a child once shared that he had never drunk Milo. This prompted his mother to make him a cup of instant 3-in-1 Milo, extending the learning to the home. The child, who observed some discrepancies in the way she prepared the drink as opposed to what he was taught, was able to question his mother why steps such as adding sugar and milk in preparing the instant drink had been omitted.

Preparation of honey lemon juice. The child learns the concept of sour, sweet, hot, cold, first and last. He also practices on the sequencing of events either by retelling and/or using picture cards.

Preparation of Honey Lemon Juice

Preparation of mashed potato. This activity provides learning of qualitative concepts such as hot, salty and spicy. It also allows the child to learn that food such as potato can be made into different products with different textures – soft for mashed potato and cripsy and hard for potato chips. This activity can be extended to the child by making a trip to the nearest grocery store to buy the mashed potato.

Preparation of Mashed Potato

Art activities – Children enjoy making art pieces, taking pride in showing them to their family members. Art activities allow for learning opportunities in various domains such as cognitive, motor, social and emotional skills. The following is a series of planned art activities using different materials to embed learning of qualitative and spatial relations concepts.
In leaf rubbing, the child learns to identify the back and front of the leaves. He places the leaves under a piece of paper and colours the top side with a crayon, deriving excitement from seeing the imprint of the leaves appear on the paper.

Imprint of the leaves appear on the paper

In aluminium foil painting and collage making, the child learns how to identify the back (dull) and front (shiny) of the foil. The child will discover that the smooth aluminium foil becomes rough with bumps after being crunched and smoothened out.

Photo of an Aluminium Foil painting

Besides meeting the initial goals and objectives, these art activities also provide opportunities for learning in other domains. For instance, in pairing the child with another, he is exposed to peer interaction. Working together with limited art materials also encourages sharing which is part of social skills learning. Painting, printing and writing their names on the back of their art pieces develops fine motor skills while describing how the art work is made is a form of social communication skills training.

Storytelling activities – Through storytelling, the teacher can set learning goals and objectives such as story structure, sequencing, vocabulary and sound of a language for the child. To illustrate, a storytelling lesson was planned using the story “The Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle to embed learning goals on qualitative concepts (small, big, short, tall, fat and thin), temporal relations concepts (days of the week, first, last), as well as recall and event sequencing (the different food items eaten by the caterpillar each day of the week).

After the storytelling session, the child constructed his understanding of the qualitative concepts by using Play-Doh to make the caterpillars.

A child using Play-Doh to make a caterpillar

Activities and their learning goals must be thoughtfully designed in order for learning to be effective and interesting to the child. Not only will daily or weekly monitoring keep the intervention efforts on track, it also helps ascertain the effectiveness of the strategies used. Furthermore, the activities should constantly be revised to modify and adapt instructional strategies to reinforce the child’s developmental skills.

Evaluation, the last stage of the process, measures the impact of the intervention efforts against the goals and objectives set out in the child’s IEP. The early intervention teacher uses the assessment test in the first process to re-administer, measure and compare the children’s progress. The evaluation should be conducted every six months with the family to assess the child’s progress.


Bricker, D. (Series ed.). (2002). Assessment, Evaluation, and Programming System (AEPS®) for Infants and Children (2nd ed., Vols. 1–4). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Pretti-Frontczak, K., & Bricker, D. (2004). An activity-based approach to early intervention (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes