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Simple Interactions

Noticing and affirming the essential building blocks of effective relationships between children and adults.

A practice-based, strengths-focused, and community-driven approach to support educators by affirming the importance of positive, responsive, and supportive human interactions in learning and development. If the relationship between a child and an adult is the active ingredient in development, simple interactions between children and adults are the basic building blocks of such relationships.



HundrED has selected this innovation to

Pittsburgh, USA

Web presence






March 2019
Remember how important you are. It is not the resources, curriculum, and other ‘stuff’ of education that is most important, but the presence of those helpers working with children every moment.

About the innovation

How do we encourage, enrich, and empower human relationships around children?

The stories and science of human resilience tell us that children who have overcome poverty and adversity have had at least one positive human relationship with a caring adult. In fact, such relationships serve as the "active ingredient" of healthy human development, without which few practices, programs, or policies can make a meaningful or lasting impact. To improve the quality of children's care and education, especially in resource-deprived communities, our collective action needs to be guided by this essential question: "How do we encourage, enrich, and empower the human relationships around children?"

Simple Interactions (.org) is a collaboratively developed, broadly applied, and freely accessible set of tools and resources to guide teachers, parents, social workers, policymakers, and others to recognize and promote the most important resources in children's lives – their adult helpers. Our approach began with a simple, one-page illustration that captures the essence of what is inside a human interaction that helps a child learn and grow. The underlying elements are not novel, but enduring, well-known, scientific principles of human development – connection, reciprocity, opportunities to belong and to grow. The innovation is to make such big ideas simple, (freely) accessible, language-independent, and culturally universal. The Simple Interactions tools have been used as lenses to examine, analyze, discuss, and improve human interactions anywhere children live, learn, and grow. We support and facilitate communities to use observations, stories, and videos of authentic practices to identify what is already working in their daily practice and widen and deepen the impact of these practices.

Developed first for use in China with orphanage caregivers to discover their own powerful practices helping orphans with disabilities, collaborative teams based in Pittsburgh have since adapted the tools for use across the region and the Remake Learning Network. These teams have applied Simple Interactions to understand and strengthen human interactions in low-resource childcare centers, high-poverty public schools, out-of-school youth development programs, Children's Hospitals, museums and maker spaces, group homes, and with crossing guards on street corners. Through invited keynote addresses and workshops, the tools and messages have traveled to over 25 states and 4 countries, supporting practitioners, community leaders, and policymakers at state and federal levels.

Across these contexts, the application of Simple Interactions enables the following transformations:

1) Allows communities of children's helpers to affirm, discover, and strengthen their own practices with children without being passive recipients of top-down research-prescribed or regulation-mandated solutions.

2) Integrates science and application with powerful messages and video illustrations to focus stakeholders across entire child-serving systems (e.g., teachers/administrators/regulators) on what matters most: the quality of human relationships.

3) Advances equity by dispelling the false equivalence between "quality" and "high-resource settings," advocating at statewide, national, and international platforms the importance of finding and growing what already works even in resource-deprived communities.

To support these efforts, the collaborative teams have successfully maintained the following implementation goals:

1) Using the Creative Commons License to make every tool and resource associated with Simple Interactions free for non-commercial use in perpetuity.

2) Maintaining financial sustainability through a variety of grants and contracts from federal agencies, state governments, and foundations, as well as funded partnerships with non-profit organizations.

3) Acting Locally, growing deeply in a few communities, and Thinking Globally, taking the messages across states and countries to support others to grow the ideas.

Impact & scalability

Academy review results
Read more about our selection process

Implementation steps

Getting Started

The goal of Simple Interactions is to encourage, enrich, and empower thedevelopmental interactions between adults and the children and youth in theircare. As a professional learning approach, the key premise of Simple Interactions isthe belief that the most sustainable best practices can come from what adultsalready do well with children and youth. The SI approach is designed to be practical, flexible, and participatory across a wide range of developmentalcontexts.

Observing and Filming

Observations and filming occur during a typical day, where individuals engage with adults and/or children in ordinary, simple ways. Using small, unobtrusive video cameras, observers capture on film interactions between adults and children or youth.

Learning and Growing Together

In these learning sessions, we use the Simple Interactions Tool to describe, identify, and understand interactions with children as the "active ingredients" of learning and growing. We affirm and empower helpers, especially those who work in settings with limited resources or serve children and youth from under-resourced communities, that they have the capacity to offer just the kind of interactions children need.

In the learning sessions, the group focuses on noticing closely the everyday interactions between adults and children. The participants are invited to be part of a community of practice where they engage in reflection and learning with others. Each community of practice brings their own unique perspective and cultural lens, and learning sessions reflect the strengths and needs of the community.

Using the Simple Interactions Tool

The Simple Interactions Tool is designed to facilitate conversations (one-to-one and in community) regarding what the practitioners notice in ordinary interaction moments. The SI Tool is divided into four dimensions, which are each comprised of three modes of interaction. Each mode of interaction is based upon real practice and provides descriptive language to talk about what is happening in the moment. While practitioners may strive to have interactions characterized by “Z” modes of interaction, it is important to remember that “X” modes of interaction and “Y” modes of interaction reflect real practice. Sometimes, “X” modes of interaction and “Y” modes of interaction may be appropriate in a specific situation. Practitioners and policymakers can use the SI Tool to enrich conversation about actual practice and to think deeply about how to strengthen adult-child interactions.

Take a look at the SI Tool in action here:Simple Interactions Animated Tool

Applying Simple Interactions to Your Context

Any setting in which adults and children or youthinteract may be an appropriate setting to apply Simple Interactions. Simple Interactions has also been used in one-to-one coaching relationships, where a coach or supervisor will observe or film a teacher, then use the SI Tool to talk about what they noticed in practice.

Current SI settings include:

  • Early Childhood Centers

  • Family Child Care

  • Home Visiting Programs

  • Early Intervention Services

  • K-12 Schools

  • Afterschool Programs

  • Summer Camps

  • Libraries

  • Museums

  • Outdoor Education

  • Maker Spaces

  • Residential Care

  • Children’s Hospitals

  • Community Settings

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