Discovering pedagogical approaches in early years education.

The term ‘pedagogy’ is used to describe the art and science of teaching. It comes from the Greek word ‘paidagogos,’ which itself is a combination of ‘paidos’ (child) and ‘agogos’ (leader/teacher) and really refers to how things are taught when referring to education. Pedagogical approaches can cover:

  • The method used in teaching (e.g. ‘chalk and talk’, hands-on, visual-learning etc.)
  • The things (practices) used to impart information (e.g. rote learning, repetition, learning through play)
  • The input and autonomy of child and teacher (child-led or teacher-led)
  • How the interactions between the teacher and the student affect the outcome for the student
  • The mindset of both the student and the teacher
  • Where and when the education takes place

Looking at your early years practice in terms of the above concept will help you get an idea of how pedagogical approaches differ and begin to determine which ones you prefer.

Who can start a pedagogy?

Anyone can introduce a new pedagogy into current thinking. That was what people like Rudolph Steiner, Friedrich Froebel and Maria Montessori did in the late 1800s/early 1900s. They looked at what was happening in education, challenged it and came up with a different approach. This is still happening today, through current research. It can also be happening in your own setting as you assess and revaluate your own practice. Nowadays, practice tends to be evidence-based, whether national, international or within your own setting.

What are pedagogical approaches for?

Some pedagogical approaches may help children to learn better than others but there is no hard and fast rule as to which will be better for which children. That is why having an evidence-based approach is important. Where researchers can prove that certain practices are helping in teaching, these practices can be adopted to benefit others. For example, using phonics to help children learn to read has been adopted by many schools and is championed by Ofsted. However, it is not the only method to teach children to read. What is important when considering which pedagogy to follow, is to look at the children in your cohort and choose methods and practices which will best suit their needs.

Pedagogies usually fall into one of two categories:

  • A pedagogical approach that encompasses a broad teaching philosophy (e.g. Forest schools, child-centred learning)
  • A pedagogy attributed to the theories of a particular person (e.g. Steiner, Montessori, Dweck)

It is not possible to discuss all relevant pedagogies in detail in this article, although we hope to give you a flavour of a few, and a place to begin your own research.

Different educational pedagogies approaches.

Forest School

Forest School originated in Denmark in the last century, and focuses on creating opportunities to learn through hands-on experiences in an outdoor/woodland environment. Almost all learning takes place outside where children are trusted to explore and discover and engage in ‘risky play’, overseen by specially-trained staff.


In constructivism, learners are believed to create their own understanding of the world around them, based on their own experiences in everyday life. This pedagogical approach would allow children to take a more active role in their learning, using their existing knowledge as a foundation on which to build more. Practitioners may use a lot of hands-on techniques and ask children to form their own conclusions about their discoveries for example, “the taller you build the blocks, the more likely they are to tumble”.


Adopting a child-centred approach to learning is similar to the constructivist approach in that children lead their own learning, and the practitioners are facilitators, helping and enabling the students to learn. In practice this means that children are no longer confined to desks, listening to the teacher impart information. Children are encouraged to find their own project through play, move around as the motivation takes them and learn as they go.

Influential thinkers in educational pedagogy (in no particular order)

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori opened a house for children in 1907 in Italy. She taught five main curriculum areas: practical life, sensorial, maths, language and culture and used a prepared environment to help her children learn. She often advocated a less-cluttered environment with more space and open-ended resources that allow children to make their own decisions.

Friedrich Froebel

This German pedagogue is knowns as the father of kindergartens and his work outlined the importance of play in learning.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck first coined the term 'growth mindset' which proports that intelligence and learning can be developed and improved. It is the opposite of a ‘fixed mindset’ in which the person believes that they have a limited intelligence or set of abilities that cannot be extended beyond a certain limit.

Jean Piaget

Piaget influenced pedagogy with his theories of cognitive development. He suggested that children differ from adults in their view of the world and the best way to understand them was to see the world from their perspective and understand how they develop over time.

Howard Gardner

Garner suggested that there are ‘multiple intelligences’, and some children naturally lean towards maths say, whilst others gravitate towards arts or music, with none seen as better than the others. His theories suggest an individual approach to teaching. One article states that: “Gardner points out that everyone has strengths and weaknesses in various intelligences, which is why educators should decide how best to present course material given the subject-matter and individual class of students”.

Lev Vygotsky

This Russian theorist focused on the value of play and how children learn based on their environment and coined the term ‘zone of proximal development’. He suggested that children learn with the help of a ‘more knowledgeable other’ (the teacher/practitioner) who helps them develop their knowledge to the next level. His work has influenced our view of ‘scaffolding’ where children are helped to learn something new in small steps.

Ways of using different pedagogical approaches in your setting

Many early years settings use a mixture of pedagogies and it is useful to research and read about different pedagogical approaches and how to use them in your own everyday work. You can always try out an idea and evaluate whether it has improved the outcomes for your children. If it does, you can adopt it into your practice. If not, then you can adapt it or research and try something else. Learning is not just for the children in our care… we also need to keep learning too!

See how you can introduce pedagogical approaches in your setting by watching our FREE webinar!



Expression of interest

Complete the form below if you are interested in joining our family. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This