Join in with children’s play, take cues from the children to understand the nature and purposes of the play and offer an opportunity to extend children’s learning. Children learn from others in play – often they learn from their peers, and they also learn from a knowledgeable, skilled and sensitive adult who plays with them. Chatting, playing and reading with children every day helps them learn lots of new words.
Collaborate on a task, where the adult’s strategies are highly tuned into the child’s existing skills and motivations. The adult uses a range of strategies that are responsive to the child’s intentions, focused on the spontaneous learning, and provide opportunities for the child’s feedback. Talking together is a primary tool, using open questions and exploring what the child is thinking about to help the child to go beyond what they understood before.
Provide assistance: Children learn to choose and direct their own activities, but many will need assistance to develop their skills and confidence to express their own ideas, and share these with their peers.
Directly teach: Sometimes it is not appropriate to allow children to explore and discover when an adult can see that direct teaching is the most appropriate strategy. This can include teaching a skill or giving facts/information – or possibly correcting a child’s misconception, although often encouraging children to think through and explore their misconceptions can provide rich opportunities for learning.
Adults are most effective when a mix of these different approaches is used. Adults often combine play and guidance. When supporting young children, we draw on the “motivation and creativity that children bring to their free play with a Vygotskian recognition that children’s learning can be expanded when sensitively supported by an adult.” Williams (2022)