3rd June 2024 Early Years Foundation Stage All Posts

How to Get the Most from Adult-Led Activities

In a recent blog post, we explored the power of child-led learning in “Letting Them Lead: How Child-Led Learning Sparks Creativity and Engagement.” We highlighted the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework’s emphasis on the role of play in children’s development. According to the EYFS, “play is essential for children’s development, building their confidence as they learn to explore, relate to others, set their own goals, and solve problems.” It suggests that children learn through both self-directed play and adult-led learning experiences. This balanced approach is important in early years settings to ensure children experience all areas of learning in the EYFS.

As an early years educator, we’re sure you already know how important it is to strike the right balance between child-led and adult-led learning. Children are more engaged in play when they can follow their own interests, shaping their developmental and learning journeys. Here, the adult’s role is to identify these interests and tailor learning experiences to keep children engaged and motivated. Ensuring a blend of both child-led and adult-led activities helps maximise the benefits of play.

To provide high-quality experiences for children, educators should aim for a balanced approach. Ideally, one-third of activities should be adult-directed, another third child-initiated, and the remaining third should consist of child-initiated activities that are then supported and extended by an adult. This approach allows for “sustained shared thinking,” where educators can build on children’s interests and create deeper learning and engagement.

What is adult-led play?

Adult-led play refers to structured periods where adults take an active role in guiding children’s play. In this method of play, an adult selects the game or activity and leads the group of children, providing support and direction throughout. Although adults might not participate directly in the play, they ensure the activity aligns with learning and developmental goals.

Adult-led activities are informed by educators’ professional understanding of what children need to learn and experience. Through these activities, educators have the opportunity to introduce new concepts, help children develop specific skills, and cover different areas of learning outlined in the EYFS.

While adult-led learning allows educators to control the teaching process, the actual learning outcomes for children can vary. This highlights the importance of balancing adult-led activities with opportunities for children to explore independently. By allowing children to follow their interests, play with resources, and use their imagination, educators help them take ownership of their learning. Practising these skills in a self-directed way enables children to apply what they have learned in diverse situations.

Adult-led play offers several benefits for children:

Structured learning: clear rules and guidelines provide a sense of structure, helping children engage confidently and understand directions.

Enhanced learning: activities target specific skills, such as hand-eye coordination or language development, supporting individual, group or cohort needs.

Inclusive participation: adults ensure every child feels included and has opportunities to participate, building confidence and social development.

Supporting children’s learning to extend their learning experience

Lev Vygotsky’s theory underscores the influence of culture on a child’s cognitive development, including reasoning and communication skills. According to Vygotsky, adults in society play a crucial role in aiding children’s cognitive growth through meaningful and challenging activities.

Vygotsky’s theory suggests a progressive sequence of development, with each stage building upon the previous ones. He emphasised the relationship between adults and children, suggesting that adults learn from observing children’s behaviours and interactions. 

Drawing on Vygotsky’s insights, it becomes clear that children’s learning experiences can be enhanced by allowing them to learn through play. However, extending their learning further is essential. One effective approach is through “effective questioning,” which offers insights into children’s thought processes and facilitates a deeper understanding of concepts. Educators can encourage children to engage in reflective dialogue to support their cognitive development and create a rich learning environment.

Effective questions to extend learning:

Here are some examples of questions that can deepen children’s learning experiences:

“Can you tell me how you made that?”

“Why is the chocolate melting?”

“How could you make the tower even taller?”

“What does this fabric feel like?”

“How is that person feeling?”

“How could you make your friend feel happier?”

Effective questioning can lead to valuable observations in areas like Understanding the World and Communication and Language. When questioning children, try not to limit their learning. Encourage them to explore and take their learning in new directions. Trusting children to create their own learning paths, while offering gentle challenges along the way, can lead to surprising and rewarding outcomes.

The role of the adult in child-initiated learning

In child-initiated learning, adults play a vital role in:

  • Organising a safe and exciting physical environment by providing access to a variety of open-ended resources and loose parts to stimulate exploration and imagination.
  • Creating a supportive atmosphere to encourage children to share ideas and try new things without fear or judgment.
  • Demonstrating routine and structuring the day to allow time for self-initiated play.
  • Teaching practical skills and demonstrating to children how to handle tools and equipment safely to promote safe play and confidence.
  • Supporting children in group activities and taking part in teamwork to build social skills.
  • Observing and documenting learning experiences to inform future planning, ensuring continued growth and development.

By embracing these roles, educators enrich children’s learning experiences, nurturing curiosity, creativity, and collaboration.

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About the Author

Content Marketing Executive at Connect Childcare