Findings from a national survey of parents’ strengths (personal interests and individual abilities) and how interests and abilities were used as sources of young children’s everyday learning opportunities are reported. The participants were 368 parents of young children birth to 6 years of age residing in 49 of the 50 United States. Participants were asked to indicate if any of 70 everyday activities were personal interests or individual abilities, if their youngest children were routinely involved in the activities, and if involved, if their children learned new behavior or skills. Data analysis was guided by a transactional, participation-based paradigm where children’s everyday learning was examined in terms of parent strengths as sources of child learning opportunities. Results showed that interests and abilities were highly individualized and that the parents’ children were involved in about 80% of the activities and that between 70% and 80% of the children learned new behavior or skills. The pattern of results is consistent with a positive psychology perspective of human strengths and efforts to engage in positive experiences and events. Implications for practice are described.

Keywords: family strengths, personal interests, individual abilities, child participation, child learning, positive psychology

Author Biography

Carl J. Dunst, Ph.D., is Senior Research Scientist, Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute, Asheville, North Carolina (cdunst@puckett.org). His research and practice includes the use of social and family systems theory for investigating the child, parent, family, and environmental factors that contribute to and promote health child and parent functioning, support and strengthen family functioning, and how knowledge of these factors can be used to improve early childhood intervention practices for young children with identified disabilities, developmental delays, and those at-risk for social environmental reasons. This has included the study of how ordinary, everyday life includes experiences having development-instigating and development-enhancing characteristics and consequences.

Key Take Away Points

  • Personal interests and individual abilities are behavioral strengths
  • Parents routinely involve their children in interest-based and ability-based activities
  • Parents report high degrees of child learning in the activities
  • Interest-based and ability-based interventions are associated with a host of positive child, parent and family benefits

Author Biography

Carl J. Dunst is a Senior Research Scientist at the Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute in Asheville, NC. His research and practice has focused on strengths-based practices and the promotion of child, parent, and family competence.


The author declares no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, content, or publication of this manuscript. This manuscript in original work and has not been published or submitted for consideration elsewhere. The study described in the manuscript is part of a line of research and practice by the author and his colleagues investigating the sources of and factors associated with young children’s participation and learning in informal everyday activities as part of routine family and community life. Appreciation is extended to the parents and other primary caregivers who completed the survey of parents’ personal interests and individual abilities and how these were sources of young children’s learning opportunities. The research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department or Office.