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Intentional Teaching for Early Childhood

Intentional teaching for early childhood education is deliberate and dynamic. When intentional teaching practices are adopted though, they create meaningful learning experiences that extend children’s thinking and development.
Intentional Teaching

Stop me if you have heard this before – “Early childhood teachers just play games.” It is often misunderstood the level of planning and teaching involved in early childhood education (ECE). However, the reality is that ECE is purposeful and considered – it requires intentional teaching for early childhood.

What is intentional teaching?

Intentional teaching is where early childhood educators work with purpose. Therefore, it begins with creating specific goals for each child – then adapting these as the child progresses. The aim is to identify children’s strengths and needs, engage their interests, and enable discoveries that foster development.

Intentional teaching practices are both planned and spontaneous. Learning opportunities can emerge through planned activities, or via child-initiated responses. It is the role of early childhood teachers to encourage children when these situations arise. This approach places early childhood teachers as active participants in the learning process.

Intentional teaching practices

Central to the intentional teaching process is establishing priorities. Families’ input is vital at this stage. They need to be offered the opportunity to help create learning goals for their children. This establishes a shared understanding of what knowledge, skills and values are important.

Intentional teaching involves incorporating a variety of teaching practices that encourage learning. These practices can include intentional curriculum design, interactions and environments.

intentional teaching indoors

Designing an intentional curriculum

Effective curricula involve a schedule of lessons with planned and engaging activities in a variety of settings. Intentional curriculum design allows early childhood educators to go beyond this. It involves:

  • creating potential for meaningful experiences in each activity
  • personalising the activities to suit each child’s priorities
  • including literacy and numeracy in experiences in activities
  • planning which questions they will incorporate
  • linking classroom experiences to Te Whāriki and the Early Years Learning Framework.

As a consequence, learning experiences are purposeful and adapt to the changing needs of the children.

Intentional interactions

Intentional teaching in ECE involves interacting with children to maintain their interest and expand their thinking. There are several effective intentional interactions.

Questioning encourages children to make discoveries. Using open-ended questions draws out children’s interests and curiosities. Additionally, it is a way to improve children’s vocabulary and communication skills.

Imagining opens up a world of opportunities for children’s play. It encourages children to explore the boundaries of their imagination. Early childhood teachers can promote creativity by setting out activities with no expectations of the results. This will reward the children’s experimentation and investigation.

Scaffolding is a teaching practice that has been proven to be very beneficial. It uses other interactions (questioning, encouraging and modelling) to give intentional support. Like construction scaffolds, scaffolding is temporary support to assist a child to become more competent in a task. 

The Education Hub explains other intentional interactions and their value in early childhood settings.

Intentional environments

Anne Houghton’s Intentional Teaching describes early childhood settings “as unique environments where children learn through play.” However, it requires thoughtful planning and strategies to create such environments.

  • Timing: One effective strategy is structuring the timing of activities to fit children’s energy and concentration levels. Managing time also ensures children experience a range of activities across the curriculum.
  • Materials: The placement of materials can create meaningful experiences. For example, by placing items together, which are usually not combined, you encourage children to think of different ways to use them. Additionally, involving children in the collection of materials is a way for them to practice counting and sorting.
  • Displays and documentation: Displays can be used to illustrate the proper use of materials and support learning. Similarly, documentation can provide both children and teachers with a visual record of learning experiences.

Thus, the environment is a way to create a rich learning experience. In what other ways can the education environment invite play and foster learning?

intentional teaching outdoors

Intentional teaching transforms children’s play into meaningful learning experiences. It extends beyond intentional curriculum design, interactions and environments though. For early childhood educators wanting a greater understanding of intentional teaching practices, Intentional Teaching provides real-life situations and practical approaches. 

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