Based on a longitudinal study of parent-child interactions and decades of reviewed research, Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) is a coaching program for parents, which utilizes video exemplars to model specific, targeted strategies parents can utilize in their interactions with their infants, toddlers, and pre-school-aged children. Developed by the Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston), the PALS strategies build on responsive, or serve-and-return, skills that increase bonding, with an impact on the child’s development through stronger social-emotional, cognitive, and language skills. 

PALS curriculum is available in English and Spanish and can be implemented individually with parents in their homes, remotely, or with a group of parents at a center. 

How it Works 

Mom and daughter using colored pencils on a coloring book.

PALS’ strength lies in the parent practice and video review of their behaviors. Parents, with the support of a trained, certified coach (also known as a specialist which is an early childhood professional who provides coaching, mentoring and/or training, to support practitioners and other professionals in continuous quality improvement efforts) and carefully scripted sessions, learn to be their own observer and instructor as they take the rare opportunity to step back and review their interactions with their child; identifying for themselves what is effective as they increase their child’s confidence, abilities, and cooperation. Parents feel empowered, as they more deeply understand the effect their actions have on their child’s development. 

Through the 11-week infant (5-15 months) and 14-week toddler/preschooler (18months-4 years) programs, parents learn how to: 

  • Recognize and respond appropriately to their child’s signals 
  • Maintain their child’s focus of attention 
  • Stimulate language development and thinking skills
  • Support their child’s autonomy-seeking 
  • Respond to limit-testing behaviors 

The online version of Play and Learning Strategies (known as ePALS), housed on the Children’s Learning Institute’s platform, CLI Engage, allows parents to log in and access the content of each strategy session independently at a time that is most convenient for them. Once they have completed a session, they are encouraged to practice the strategy with their child throughout the week, record two brief examples of the practice and have a video call with their coach where they: 

  • Review the week’s practice and observe any changes in interactions 
  • Review and reinforce the strategy highlighted in the online session 
  • Review their video practice, with opportunities to evaluate which interactions are most effective in supporting their child’s growth and development