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Naturalistic Teaching

Naturalistic Teaching or Natural Environment Teaching (NET) involves using materials and other activities which an individual finds interesting or enjoyable and arranging the environment using those materials or activities to build new or improve skills. It is all about learning through interaction or play in a natural setting rather than in a structured teaching environment.

With naturalistic teaching, learning is not just occurring at a desk or table, but in a variety of environments and locations while the individual is going about their day. Teaching can occur at home, school, the playground or even in the grocery store, at the bank, or any setting that is directly related to the skills being taught. While structured teaching sessions are effective for building skills, naturalistic teaching is a great companion to help improve generalization, spontaneity, and contextual learning.

The goal is to look for “teachable moments.” when the individual displays interest and excitement about a particular person, item, or activity and take advantage of these moments to teach and build skills. These moments create more opportunities for learning which in turn improves the proficiency of any skills being taught.

Though naturalistic teaching is less structured in design it does require some planning and preparation, mainly around the environment itself. It is important to enrich the environment with a variety of items and activities that will peak the individual’s interest. If you are teaching a skill in the community, make sure to bring anything you will need to make the outing a successful learning experience.


Jessie has been learning to write letters and words. Overnight there was a snowstorm and one of Jessie’s favourite activities in playing in the snow.

Caregivers can prepare squirt bottles with dyed water which can then be
squirted on the snow colouring or writing on it. As Jessie colours on the snow Caregivers can start spelling words or letters and ask Jessie to do the same. Caregivers can change the colours as needed or have Jessie help mix new colours to keep things fun and interesting for her.

Always remember to keep your naturalistic teaching sessions fun, noisy, boisterous, full of language and movement, and stay flexible!

If you would like to learn more about naturalistic teaching watch this YouTube video by Autism Live.

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