Incidental Teaching

Have you ever built learning opportunities into your child’s daily routine? If so, you are using a teaching method called incidental teaching and it occurs around your child all of the time. Incidental teaching is one of the five ABA instructional/educational methods for teaching new skills. Incidental teaching is an effective and popular teaching method for many parents and teachers because it occurs in the child’s natural environment which can promote generalization of skills.          By definition, incidental teaching is embedding learning opportunities in ongoing, everyday activities with a focus on the child’s interests and initiations. Incidental teaching follows six guiding principles which include:

  1. Teaching in the natural environment in settings that will maintain the newly acquired verbal skills.
  2. The time incidental teaching is used is throughout the child’s day, naturally, and by everyone involved.
  3. Incidental teaching trains loosely which means it is a non-intensive teaching style where you take advantage of reinforcers selected by the child. You also use a variety of materials.
  4. There are indiscriminable contingencies which makes it different from discrete trial teaching. The child cannot distinguish whether the next response will give them reinforcement. This also helps with maintenance and generalization of skills.
  5. Generalization!! Incidental teaching promotes generalization of skills better than all other instructional teaching methods because you train loosely from the start.
  6. Increases language use/verbal skills because incidental teaching uses MOs (motivating operations: what your child is motivated for at the time) to build verbal skills to request items.

To use incidental teaching, you should select one of your child’s goals to teach/generalize to the natural environment. This could be a goal selected from your child’s treatment plan. Next, identify times throughout your child’s day that you will target the skill using incidental teaching. Be sure to follow your child’s lead and interests at that time. You will use their interest to establish an MO (motivating operation) to increase the chance they will use the skill. For example, during playtime with your child you are completing a puzzle with her. The puzzle is almost complete and you withhold the last piece until your child requests “puzzle piece please.” Incidental teaching a great way to teach language/verbal skills! Here are some more examples:

  • You are pushing your child on a swing outside and you stop and hold him at the top of a push until they request “push.”
  • You place your child’s favorite car on top of a high shelf that he can see but can’t reach. You wait until your child says “I want the car please” to give him the car.
  • Your child is thirsty, and you leave an empty cup on the table so she can request “water.”

Every child is different. Incidental teaching can be done with individuals who are verbal or nonverbal. If your child has limited language skills, he or she can use pictures or gestures to communicate. Some children may be able to use full sentences and some only one or two words. Incidental teaching is an effective and fun way to teach your child new skills!