Responsive Interactions and Environments

The INSPIRE ACTION framework was developed to assist those responsible for administrative oversight of local early childhood special education programs to identify and celebrate strong program components and to identify those program components most in need of improvement. The development was sparked by recognition that many local program leaders (e.g., Directors of Special Education, elementary principals, some special education coordinators) have limited knowledge of early childhood special education and are unable to consistently determine the presence or absence of ECSE program quality.


High-quality, responsive instructional interactions occur when teachers, related service providers and paraprofessionals provide children with feedback about their ideas, comment in ways that extend and expand their skills and attention, and regularly use discussions and activities to promote more complex thinking. Teachers and other classroom adults who provide high emotional support smile and laugh with children, are enthusiastic and provide comfort and assistance to children throughout the day. Respectful relationships and responsive engagement must be considered in terms of relationships and engagement with families as well as children. Relationships are enhanced when staff share information about children’s learning with the family and actively listen to each family’s values, views and opinions.

“The physical space and emotional environment…actively engages all children in a variety of learning experiences and settings and supports the health and wellness of children and adults” (Kauerz & Coffman 2013, p. 17).

Professional Standards

DEC Recommended Practices
DEC Recommended Practices are a DEC initiative that bridges the gap between research and practice, offering guidance to parents and professionals who work with young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays or disabilities.

Minnesota Early Childhood Indicators of Progress (ECIPs)
The ECIPs are Minnesota’s early learning standards. Revised and expanded in 2016, these standards are a framework for a common set of developmentally appropriate expectations for children ages birth to kindergarten, within a context of shared responsibility for helping children meet these expectations. The ECIPs are aligned to the Minnesota Kindergarten Academic Standards

Foundational Resources: Understand the Basics

Harvard University Center on the Developing Child video and brief – 5 Steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return
This quick video and brief offers the rationale as to why a responsive relationship between an adult caregiver and young child is critical for optimizing a child’s learning and healthy development over the life course.

Southern Early - The 3 R’s: Gateway to Infant and Toddler Learning
Focusing on the three Rs – Respect, Response and Relationship, this brief is a great resource to share with all those working and assisting in early childhood classrooms and care settings. It outlines how these three components support children’s development in many domains

Early Childhood News Training Solutions – The Developmentally Appropriate Classroom
The developmentally appropriate classroom is a safe, secure, and stimulating place where each child can grow physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively. In these articles, learn about both the components of a responsive environment and how to create one.

Readiness Resources: Deepen Knowledge and Prepare to Implement

Head Start Early Childhood Early Learning and Knowledge Center - Engaging Interactions and Environments
These 15-minute In-service Suites provide a wealth of resources for staff in busy, active early childhood centers and programs. Organized around Engaging Interactions and Environments, the videos and companion materials offer strategies on a wide variety of strategies and considerations for teaching.

ECTA Practice Guides and Companion Videos

Everyday classroom activities provide children many different opportunities for learning. Increasing children’s participation and learning in these natural learning environments involves providing children activities that are interest-based, paying attention and noticing how children participate in the activities, supporting children’s use of existing abilities, and encouraging new skills.

Teachers can support children’s participation, independence, and learning in everyday classroom activities by using a practice called “following the child’s lead.” Child-initiated interactions are a key characteristic of this practice

Implementation Resources: Apply and Practice

Iris Center module - Early Childhood Environments: Designing Effective Classrooms
This Module, a DEC-recommended resource, offers information on how to set up effective inclusive early childhood classroom environments for young children. It also provides details about the interrelated physical, social, and temporal components of those environments, as well as adaptations to help teachers meet the needs of children with disabilities.

Connect Module - Communication for Collaboration
Describe effective practices for communicating with professionals and families in the context of early education and intervention. Use a decision-making process to select communication practices linked to specific purposes including attending and active listening, seeking and verifying, and supporting and joining.

Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University

Visit this web page to view video examples and read descriptions of various responsive interaction strategies classroom staff can employ in response to children’s play.

Discover strategies through video examples and descriptions that can be used to improve adult-child interactions.

Through video examples and descriptions, learn the definition of AAC, and find guidance on various aspects of utilizing ACC in the classroom to support and extend positive communication.

Environmental arrangement involves purposefully planning the placement and organization of classroom materials, furniture, and activities to promote appropriate behaviors and engagement, and decrease the likelihood of problem behavior. Watch video examples and read descriptions of strategies to use.

Intentional scheduling is an environmental arrangement strategy important for all early childhood classrooms. Learn about descriptions of schedules for children (e.g., visual schedules) and scheduling strategies for adults.

PDF-Guided Resources and Support

Please contact your regional PDF if you have investigated all resources provided here, but continue to have questions or concerns related to this core component of INSPIRE ACTION.

If you have an additional resource that supports professional development in this core component, please share it with your regional PDF. Your participation in this site's continued growth is encouraged and welcome!