As educators understand the characteristics of young children as curious and active learners the environments they create and the experiences they set up amplify children’s natural development. They understand that young children do not learn through formal structure and specific subject matters but across all areas of learning through play, both self-directed and educator-directed.
As children cooperate to build a dam in the sandpit, they are sharing ideas on how to create it, working together as they dig it out, using mathematical language as they decide if its big and deep enough, negotiate who will hold the hose first to fill it up, become involved in scientific thinking as to why the water keeps disappearing and problem solving a solution.
As educators engage with children in these self-chosen experiences, they extend on children’s ideas and knowledge and scaffold learning through their interest, prompts and support.
Early learning settings that are rich in natural materials support young children to use and reuse materials in different ways.
In one centre:
Many of the children had been camping over the summer break and wanted to ‘relive’ these experiences in the early learning setting. They draped large pieces of hessian over the climbing frames to make ‘tents’ then gathered together rocks, sticks, leaves and seedpods to create a camp fire. Other children who had no experience of camping joined in the play. An educator, herself a keen camper, shared her experiences, made and cooked damper in the safety of the setting’s fire pit.
For young children, role play or acting out situations is a way to try and make sense of their world. Early learning settings boost children’s natural desire and ability to use their imagination by providing props such as dress ups, toys that mimic home appliances and professional tools and dolls.
These kinds of games can also support young children to act out their feelings. For example, a three-year-old playing with a doll may say things that reveal her feelings about her new baby sister. Educators who are close by, who are watching and listening closely, can find ways to support her to acknowledge and accept those feelings.
Early learning settings are ideal places for children to satisfy their natural desire to play with and alongside others. As children play, educators guide them through many social situations and help them to develop skills required for life.
We ask our friends if we can have a turn on the swing when they are finished, we kick the ball to each other, we share out the playdough so everyone has some, we have several pieces of identical equipment so everyone has a turn on the red bike, we give children words to say and use when someone does something they do not like, we support older children to negotiate and work things out, we set limits on behaviour to ensure everyone is safe.
Because qualified early childhood educators understand how children’s minds work and what they need at each stage of development, they create a rich and vibrant setting that is an ideal environment for children’s natural imagination and inquisitive natures to express fully. They amplify the abilities the children naturally possess and allow those gifts to bloom to their best potential.
- Young children learn by doing and they need time, space and resources to practise and refine skills.
- Learning is holistic and occurs over several learning domains at once.
- As children play they are self-absorbed and task orientated.
- Young children use resources, both man-made and natural in ways that support their play.
- Children use play as a way to express feelings and make sense of their world.
- Young children are social beings and over time like to play and make friends with others.
- Early learning settings build and extend on the work of families.
- Infants are rapidly changing and growing and experiencing the environment through their senses—seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting.
- Infants need attention and social contact with adults who tune in on their uniqueness and respond quickly and warmly through touch and eye contact.
- One-on-one care for feeding, changing and nurturing, to establish cause-and effect response and interaction, including conversations, is important for infants.
- Infants need safe, secure spaces to move, practise and master new body skills.
- Provide infants with objects to observe and touch, some that respond to their action on them and an adult who will carry them to observe interesting things—the leaves moving in the breeze.
- Toddlers are egocentric and self-absorbed and are learning the meaning of me, my, mine—a sense of self.
- Toddlers require opportunities for parallel play and interaction with other children.
- Toddlers need safe and stimulating environments that respond to their curious, exploratory and physical characteristics.
- Provide toddlers with opportunities to practise, refine and master skills, with lots of time, space and equipment.
- Toddlers are dependent on a significant adult to help manage feelings and behaviours expressed by crying, facial expressions, body language and sounds.
- Toddlers need educators who talk with them, listen and understand their language is still developing.
- Toddlers are beginning to understand limits and working on social skills.
- Preschoolers need to learn by doing in a safe and stimulating environment that has hands-on opportunity for repetitive play; props for role/dramatic play; physical play; creativity.
- Provide preschoolers with materials and time for exploration and learning on their own, with a friend, and in small, frequently changing groups.
- Verbal interaction with children and adults and opportunities to talk and be heard and practise pronunciation, grammar and build vocabularies is important for preschoolers.
- A rich print environment that includes books, story reading and story-telling and multi- media is valuable for preschool aged children.
- Provide preschoolers with holistic learning opportunities that build learning across different domains—cognitive, social and emotional, physical, language.
- Enthusiastic and knowledgeable educators who know each child well and build on their strengths, interests and emerging skills, are important for preschoolers.