What is DIR-Floortime?

Floortime (www.floortime.org) is a child-centred approach that focuses on building relationships through interaction and play. Floortime is a specific technique to both follow the child’s natural emotional interests (lead) and at the same time challenge the child towards increasing mastery of his social, emotional and intellectual capacities. This means that the adult joins the child in what they are doing, rather than trying to teach the child what the adult wants them to do. In Floortime, adult and child aim to have fun together through playful interactions on the “floor” (hence the name ‘Floortime’), or later through conversations and interactions in other places.

Sometimes children need extra help to grow these mental-emotional skills without which other cognitive, social, emotional, language, and motor skills as well as their sense of self cannot reach its full developmental potential.

 DIR =  Developmental – Individual-Difference – Relationship-Based

The objectives of the DIR®/Floortime™ Model are to build healthy foundations for social, emotional, and intellectual capacities rather than focusing on skills or learning specific behaviours.

Developmental –  There are 6 basic functional developmental levels that form the foundation for all of a child’s relationships and learning, with each level building on the next like a developmental ladder. (See Functional Emotional Developmental Levels, FEDLs, below)

Individual differences –  each child is different with their own unique biologically-based ways of responding to and relating to the world, which needs our careful attention.

Relationship-based –  a child’s mind needs warm relationships with people who care and who tailor their interactions sensitively to the child’s individual differences and developmental capacities to enable progress in mastering the essential foundations


Climbing the ‘Developmental Ladder’:

Functional Emotional Developmental Levels (FEDL):

Adapted from Dr. Solomon’s PLAY-Project™ Materials ©

Level 1: Self-Regulation, Shared Attention + Interest in the World (first learned at 0-3 months).

The child’s ability to enter and sustain a state of shared attention with another person and stay focused, organized and calm.

Adult does 100% of initiation to sustain shared attention, doing almost all of the work to get attention/ looks and modulating the pace of play for regulation.


Level 2: Engagement and Relating (first learned at 2 to 7 months)

The ability to form relationships/ attachment and to engage another person with warmth and pleasure.

Adult still does most of the initiation to ‘woo’ child into engaging, ‘entertaining’ child to get laughter, smiles, affect.

Child will sustain engagement in reciprocal interactions.


Level 3: Two-Way Intentional Communication (first learned at 3-10 months).

Back and forth affective signaling and communication to convey intentions, interests and needs.

Child begins to initiate purposeful back and forth interactions (ping-pong) around desires (opening      circles) and will close circles following adult’s response to his initiative and begins to have his own ideas.

Adult does more waiting for child’s intent and feels some sharing of the work for the first time.                                    

Level 4: Purposeful Problem-Solving Communication (first learned at 9 to 18 months).

The ability to use complex circles of communication by stringing together a series of gestures, actions and words into an elaborate problem solving sequence of inter­actions which helps child develop a sense of self.

Child is now responsible for half of the relationship through initiating 50% with

Adult waiting more/for problem-solving.


Level 5: Creating and Elaborating Ideas (Symbols) (begins between 24 to 30 months).

The child’s ability to create ideas (symbols) observed in pretend play and words (phrases and sentences) to convey some emotional intention

Child can engage in long conversations to communicate interests, feelings, desires and objections … using ideas/words to convey feelings and intentions.

Adult works at expanding child’s pretend play and by asking ‘wh’-questions


Level 6: Building Bridges between Ideas (Logical Thinking) (begins between 36-48 months).

The ability to build logical bridges or make connections between differ­ent emotional ideas (emotional thinking).

Child is challenged to connect his ideas by seeking his opinion, enjoying his debates and             negotiate what he wants using logical reasons.

Adult works with child keeping him ‘on his toes’, challenging child to think as well as opening to other’s perspectives.

16 Key Strategies for DIRFloortime Play

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