As dedicated early years educators, we need to use the opportunities during our interactions with children to keep them engaged. We need to find ways to encourage their thinking and curiosity – that is, to extend children’s learning.
So, when Billy shows an interest in leaf insects, our job is to work with him to research more about leaf insects and share new facts he learns with the other young children. Then we explore ways we can encourage this interest in the experiences we set up around the room. This might involve providing materials for insect art, making play-dough and adding the plastic insects, making a memory game using insect pictures and/or setting up the light table with the insect resin blocks.
Four steps to maximise learning outcomes to extend children’s learning
Every child provides us with opportunities every day to extend their interests and learning. So how can we best use these opportunities to maximise their learning outcomes? It just takes four steps.
- Pay attention to what children are saying and what they are interested in. What are they playing with? Which books are they reading? What do they talk about in their conversations with their friends?
- When you see a child showing interest in a particular topic, show that you are interested in it too. Start by extending the conversation or observing their interactions, so you can learn more about this interest and use what you find out to encourage their ideas and play.
- On the spot, think of at least one way you can extend their interest in that moment. For example, you might grab an engaging resource such as a book or a toy related to the topic, or ask a question that you and the child need to answer by doing some problem-solving research on the internet together.
- Later that day or the next day, create another learning experience that again extends the child’s mind and encourages their interest.
Remember, not all children can find the words to tell you what interests them but every child can clearly show you their interests. While observing a child at play, watch what they play with, what they look at and their facial expressions. This will tell you a lot about their interests and give you several options for the next steps in extending the child’s learning and so enhancing their development.
Involve parents, motivate the team, inspire everyone
In addition, you can talk to the child’s parents, asking what they did as a family on the weekend or what their child enjoys at home. Listen when parents share information on their child and use this to develop your programme and further extend the child’s interests.
To motivate your team and develop their skills in this area, ask everyone to share a scenario they have observed or participated in where an educator followed the four steps set out above. Keep your offerings fresh as a team by drawing on and sharing resources with ideas for building on children’s play-based learning to extend their thinking.
Inspire children, parents and educators alike by developing a project from a topic that interests a child – any topic can provide that foundation. Projects can run for several days, weeks or months and can create real depth in the programme and in the children’s knowledge. The richness that such projects add takes your early years programme to a whole new level.
For inspiration and fresh ideas of ways to present children’s interests to them and extend their thinking, check out Inspiring Ideas to Support Children’s Interests and Inspiring Play Spaces.