Post: Understanding pedagogy and active learning in early childhood settings



Understanding pedagogy and active learning in early childhood settings

Help children reach key learning outcomes by giving them opportunities to challenge their existing knowledge and investigate new ideas. Author Kay Margetts explains the value of active learning and shares tips for planning activities that inspire growth.
active learning and pedagogy in early childhood settings

Guest author and expert academic in early childhood development and pedagogy, Kay Margetts, shares her insights into active learning. Kay is highly engaged in the education sector and has a strong record of publications including Get Them Talking, Get Them Learning and 50 Fantastic Ideas for Exploring Emotions.

In this blog, she explains how giving children opportunities for autonomous learning can empower them to reach learning outcomes. Focussing on active learning, she gives practical advice on how to create engaging learning opportunities in your early years setting.

Understanding pedagogy and active learning

Active learning and pedagogy in early childhood education are essential ingredients for creating safe, engaging and inclusive learning environments that foster holistic outcomes for children’s learning, development and wellbeing.

Pedagogy is everything we do as teachers and educators. Pedagogy is our knowledge, our skills and our professional practice.

And relationships and interactions are critical: with children, with families, with colleagues, with community members and other professionals.

What is pedagogy?

Pedagogy is…

  • building trusting, positive relationships through our interactions with each child, their families and local community members
  • valuing and responding to the diversity of experiences that impact children, including their home life, care experiences and their social and cultural identities
  • planning, assessing and reflecting of everything that happens in our early childhood settings, including the spontaneous things
  • creating and adapting rich, engaging and responsive indoor and outdoor learning environments
  • linking learning outcomes with children’s knowledge, skills, interests and abilities
  • collaborating with families, colleagues, children, community members and school teachers to support children’s learning, development and wellbeing
  • promoting sustainable practices including concepts of social justice, fairness, sharing, democracy and responsible citizenship
  • being open-minded and receptive to new ideas, points of view and ways of doing things.

Implementing ‘active learning’

Active learning is interactive and hands-on. It involves children participating in experiences and activities rather than passively receiving information or being told exactly what to do. In active learning, children ‘exercise their agency, intentionality, capacity to initiate and lead learning, and their right to participate in decisions that affect them (EYLF, p.8).

Active learning promotes children’s holistic learning and development: physical, social, emotional, cognitive, language and creative.

Active learning occurs in many ways and is best when children are interested and engaged. Active learning responds to children’s natural inclination to investigate, explore, create and imagine. It empowers them to follow their own interests and engage with ideas, objects and the world around them. This enables them to make sense of and connect new ideas with what they already know and can do and to apply to various situations. Active learning occurs through play, discussions, problem-solving, hands-on projects and when children have opportunities to ask questions and think critically. Their brains ‘are stimulated … as they make plans, create characters, solve problems, develop self-awareness and learn how to socialise, negotiate and think with others’ (EYLF, p.21).

Questions to ask yourself when planning for active learning

  • Can children be creative and use the materials/resources in different ways?
  • Can children make choices and be autonomous – can they have agency?
  • Does it promote exploration, problem-solving, critical thinking?
  • Does this challenge children and build on what they already know or can do?
  • Are there opportunities for children to interact with others, to cooperate and share?
  • Are there sufficient materials and resources and space?

Other more focused questions are:

  • Will this art project allow children to express their individual creativity?
  • Are there multiple ways for children to dance and move and to express themselves in their own ways?
  • Does this science experiment encourage children to ask questions and make predictions?
  • Can children interact with the materials and observe outcomes directly?
  • Will this drama activity encourage children to use their imagination and take on different roles?
  • Are there opportunities for children to contribute their own ideas to the story?

Last thoughts

Active learning encourages exploration, problem-solving, and critical thinking. It empowers children to engage with their interests and the world around them. By asking the right questions and providing opportunities for creativity and autonomy, educators can foster an enriching educational experience.

For more information on implementing active learning, check out the new releases below.


Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Australian Government. Retrieved from

About the author

Kay Margetts is an Honorary Principal Fellow and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, The University of Melbourne. She has a strong background in early childhood development, learning and teaching both as a practitioner and as an academic. Her main areas of research are transition and adjustment to school, accompanied by a strong record of publications. Kay is regularly engaged in knowledge exchange activities with the education sector including teachers, educators and parents.


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