Play and Learning Strategies


My Baby and Me Photo IconThe Play and Learning Strategies ("PALS") curriculum was developed to facilitate parents’ mastery of specific skills for interacting with their infants and toddlers that lead to better child outcomes, particularly in children from high-risk families. The PALS program was created based on the most current research literature, including findings from the Home Project and related studies, that has highlighted the special developmental needs of infants and toddlers who were born prematurely. The PALS curriculum was designed as a preventive intervention program to strengthen the bond between parent and child and stimulate early language, cognitive, and social development. PALS uses videotaped examples of real mothers and children to demonstrate each concept and allow the parent to critique these examples before practicing new skills with her own child. Guided practice opportunities during each session help parents move from watching, listening, and talking, to doing. The program is designed to be facilitated by a trained parent educator who presents each session to the parent(s) and coaches the parent(s) in utilizing the specific techniques.

The PALS Infant curriculum consists of 10 sessions and is appropriate for parents of infants from about age five months to one year. The PALS Toddler curriculum consists of 12 sessions and is appropriate for parents of toddlers from about age 18 months to 3 years. Both versions of the program emphasize similar skills but at an age-appropriate level. Session topics include: attending to babies’ and toddlers’ communicative signals, responding appropriately to children's positive and negative signals, supporting infants' and toddlers' learning by maintaining their interest and attention rather than redirecting or over stimulating, introducing toys and activities, stimulating language development through labeling and scaffolding, encouraging cooperation and responding to misbehavior, and incorporating these strategies and supportive behaviors throughout the day and during routine activities such as mealtimes, dressing, and bathing, as well as at play times. Throughout the program there is also an emphasis on educating parents about typical behaviors to expect from children at different ages.

The effectiveness of the PALS program in changing mothers’ behaviors and enhancing their children’s development was initially documented through a randomized control design research study (funded by NIH grant HD36099) that included over 240 families (see Publications for more details). Following the initial positive results, in which increases in maternal responsiveness behaviors and children’s language and social interaction were documented, the PALS curriculum has been adapted for use with a variety of populations and in group settings as well as the original home-based individual format (see Projects and Locations for more details).

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