As an early years practitioner, you will know that children learn through play and that the majority of a child’s time in their early years setting should be spent engaged in child-initiated play. How then, as adults, can we extend a child’s learning even further?

The famous psychologist, Lev Vygotsky introduced a concept called ‘The Zone of Proximal Development’. This refers to the difference between what a child can do without help and what they can do with help. Whilst Vygotksy did believe in the importance of children developing spontaneously (as promoted by Piaget), he also claimed that children should not be left to discover everything on their own. Instead, we should provide them with challenges that are slightly too hard for them and gently ‘pull them along’. Based on this theory, we need to let children learn through play, then extend their learning even further.

So, how do we put this into practice? Well firstly, children need the opportunity to take part in their own learning. Be careful not to just give children experience of directed learning (i.e. telling them what to do), but rather let their tasks be open- ended – let children take their learning where they want to take it. A gentle reminder here, also, to let the children speak. You don’t need practise speaking, they do.

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We need to let children learn through play, then extend their learning even further.

Now that the children are playing, here is your chance to go in and extend their learning through gentle challenges. A few examples of effective questioning: Can you tell me how you made that? Why is the ice melting? How could you make the tower even taller? What do you need to do to make the car go faster? What does the rabbit feel like? How is that person feeling? How could you make your friend feel happier?

Whilst you’re asking all these questions, don’t forget to be armed with paper and a pen – the answers to these questions are going to give you some fantastic observations for the child’s learning journal. Effective questioning can give you some particularly great observations in the areas of Understanding the World and Communication and Language.

When questioning children, be careful not to limit their learning. Let them take it where they are going to take it – this may not be exactly what you had in mind but trust the child to create their own learning path and then challenge them along the way. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!

About the author

gina-new-picGeorgina has had 8 years experience teaching both mainstream and special education. She has created her own website www.sensupport.com which makes learning resources to help children with Special Educational Needs. If you are looking for help or advice to create a reward chart of your own, you can contact @sen_support on Twitter and on Facebook or email Georgina on admin@sensupport.co.uk.

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