Floor Time, a technique developed by Dr. Stanley I Greenspan, involves engaging children in partnerships; tuning in to their individual rhythms, moods, and needs; listening to them carefully; and observing their behaviors and unspoken messages-all to enhance healthy emotional development.

Successful Floor Time interactions consist of the five simple steps outlined below. Keep them in mind as you get to know the children in your program.

1. Observe

Both listening to and watching a child are essential for effective observation. Facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, body posture, and words (or lack thereof) are all important clues to help you determine how to approach a child. For example, is her behavior relaxed and outgoing? Withdrawn or uncommunicative? Bubbling with excitement?

2. Approach

Once you have a feel for the child's mood and style, approach her with the appropriate words and gestures. Open the circle of communication by acknowledging her emotional tone and what she is doing. Then elaborate and build on whatever she's involved in at the moment.

3. Follow the child's lead

Following the child's lead simply means being a supportive play partner--an "assistant" who allows the child to set the tone, direct the action, and create her own dramas. This enhances a child's self-esteem and ability to be assertive and gives her a feeling that "I can have an impact on the world." As you support children's play, they benefit from a sense of warmth, connectedness, and being understood.

4. Extend and expand play

As you follow the child's lead, extend and expand her play themes. Make supportive comments about the play without being intrusive. This helps the child express her own ideas and define the direction of the drama. Next, ask questions to stimulate creative thinking and keep the drama going while helping the child clarify the emotional themes involved. For example, suppose a child is crashing cars. Rather than remarking, "Why are those cars crashing?" you might respond emphatically, "Those cars have so much energy and are moving so fast! Are they trying to get somewhere?"

5. Let the child close the circle of communication

You open the circle of communication when you approach a child; the child closes the circle when she builds on your comments and gestures with comments and gestures of her own. One circle flows into another, and many circles may be opened and closed in quick succession as you interact with a child. By building on each other's ideas and gestures, children begin to appreciate and understand the value of two-way communication.

Adapted from the professional development guide to Scholastic's training video Floor Time: Tuning in to Each Child, written by Sheila Hanna and Sara Wilford; foreword by Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D. To order, call 1-800-325-6149