Educational Curriculum

Principals of the van Dijk Curriculum

In the van Dijk approach, an interpersonal relationship between the child and his/her educator is crucial. It is a fact that the majority of children with congenital deafblindness are at risk of failing to develop a warm relationship with their principal caregiver(s). Healthy attachment is considered fundamental for emotional, social, and cognitive development (J. van Dijk & M. Janssen 1993; Janssen, Riksen-Walraven & J. van Dijk, 2002).

Warm bonds are established when the caregiver responds to the child’s needs, and the child recognizes that the caregiver is available when he/she needs him/her. This idea of following the child (child-centred or child-guided) is a central theme of my work. For example, if a child is interested in a certain sensory stimulation, in a toy, or in an activity, the educator tries to engage the child through these interests. Using this approach, the educator and child might begin to interact.

In my lectures, I often use the following well-known video clip of Suzanne and her mother, Silvia. When the little deafblind girl indicates that she wants her mother to touch her lips, the mother immediately responds by giving her daughter this pleasurable experience. As a result, Suzanne is aware that her mother is available to her. She takes the initiative to reach for her mother’s hand and bring it to her mouth, confident that mother will understand what she wants.

Important elements of the van Dijk Curriculum are:

  • Resonance
  • Co-active movement
  • Imitation
  • Object of reference
  • Calendar systems

Each element will be highlighted in a short video clip, followed by an explanation.

1. Resonance

Watch the video clip of Suzanne and her mother one more time. Suzanne’s mother is completely tuned in to her daughter. She picks up Suzanne’s emotions and responds accordingly. She mirrors Suzanne’s emotions, and the little girl senses her mother’s happiness. Through this approach, child and mother share the world of emotions. Pleasurable situations are repeated over and over again, and they become engraved in the structures of the emotional brain.


- Click on a picture to play video clip -

2. Co-active movement

Here again is Bernadette and her student, Cindy. Bernadette and Cindy move and act together. They are in direct physical contact with each other. Bernadette is very sensitive to Cindy’s initiatives. When Cindy shows intentional behaviour, Bernadette senses the intention through changes in Cindy’s body. She responds by following Cindy’s initiative. In this way, a kind of subtle interaction develops, and the beginning of a dialogue can be seen.

Read more bout Cindy on the about Motor Development under "Jan as Author" on this website.


- Click on a picture to play video clip -

3. Imitation

Now I’ll show you an example of imitation, videotaped during my assessment of Hannah.

Notice that I first imitate Hannah, then gradually encourage her to copy my movements. Imitation initially takes place simultaneously, but as a child’s imitation skills develop, responses can be delayed for increasing lengths of time.

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4. Object of reference

This is Ricardo and his teacher.

The teacher offers Ricardo a bib, which is part of his morning breakfast ritual. In this case, the bib refers to the activity of eating cereal. Presenting an object immediately before an activity creates an association between the object (bib) and the activity (eating). Initially, the complete object is used to represent the activity, but it gradually is made smaller (e.g. a small part of the bib, one link of the swing chain, or a small piece of the mat used during physical therapy).

In this way, objects (and parts of objects) can be used with a calendar or sequence boxes, and with memory books. An important step in the development of symbolization occurs as objects are gradually replaced by pictures, icons or written words.

Google “object of reference van Dijk” or “tangible symbols”.

- Click on a picture to play video clip -

5. Calendar systems

Here is another video clip of Ricardo and his teacher.

Ricardo is ordering the days of the week, using pictures of the places where he will go. As explained in the video clip, this particular week he will not go to school on Thursday, but visit his grandmother instead.

The calendar’s primary purpose is clearly demonstrated here. It is used to get into conversation with the child. A calendar also makes it possible to discuss future events, or activities that are finished.

A calendar board, book or box helps the deafblind child store and organize concepts, and facilitates the development of cohesive structures of knowledge. By discovering that certain sequences exist in events, routines, a child might learn to anticipate the next step in a sequence, and want to communicate about it.

Google “calendar system van Dijk”.

- Click on a picture to play video clip -


For additional information about the van Dijk Curriculum, see Stephanie Z.C. MacFarland, Ph.D. Overview of the van Dijk Curricular Approach:

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