How to Embed a Collaborative Learning Culture within your Setting
In early years settings, fostering a collaborative learning culture is essential for creating a rich and engaging environment for young children. Collaboration not only enhances cognitive development but also promotes social skills, creativity, and a sense of community.
A welcoming and inclusive environment lays the foundation for collaboration. As practitioners we need to arrange the physical space to encourage group activities and interactions, ensuring that materials are easily accessible and clearly labelled, allowing children to choose their activities independently and work together to create and play.
We know that children learn by example and so adults should model collaboration by working together and demonstrating effective communication, sharing, and problem solving throughout the setting and the routines of the setting. Children should also witness adults using positive language and demonstrating turn taking to reinforce the value of working together.
Building strong relationships among peer groups and between children and adults is essential. We should encourage conversations, active listening, and empathy. Practitioners should also provide opportunities for small group activities where children can work closely with their peers and engage in team projects that require cooperation. These projects could be related to a specific theme, problem solving task, or creative opportunity and will be more successful if based on children’s interests and support their strengths, for older children we should also provide opportunities for brainstorming, planning, and executing ideas together.
Effective communication skills are crucial for collaboration. Practitioners should encourage children to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings in every aspect of the routine and through play. Circle time or group discussions are key opportunities to facilitate conversation that also provide prompts to spark meaningful exchanges.
It is fundamental that we recognise and celebrate the diverse strengths and talents of each child. We should encourage children to share their unique skills and interests with the group and be proud of their uniqueness and individual skills and strengths. This type of inclusivity and diversity builds confidence and allows others to appreciate and learn from one another.
For older children, we should also model how to give and receive constructive feedback by encouraging them to offer specific praise and suggestions for improvement during group tasks and exchanges. This can help children develop a growth mindset and an understanding that learning is a continuous process and that challenges or difficulties help us to grow and learn.
We can also embed a collaborative learning culture in our settings by assigning and rotating leadership roles within the peer group. This could involve a child being the group leader for a specific activity, taking turns being the “helper,” or leading discussions. By then rotating these roles allows children to experience different aspects of collaboration and build a sense of responsibility.
As practitioners we should present children with challenges and scenarios that require teamwork and problem solving; guiding children through the process of identifying the issue, brainstorming solutions, and implementing them collectively. This fosters critical thinking and cooperation. We should also regularly reflect on collaborative experiences with the children. Discussing what went well and areas that could be improved. It is imperative that in early years we celebrate achievements, no matter how small, to reinforce the value of working together and the benefits of teamwork and collaboration.
Embedding a collaborative learning culture in early years settings creates a foundation for lifelong learning and social development. By creating an inclusive environment, modelling collaboration, and providing opportunities for teamwork, children thrive academically and socially.
Fostering collaboration is a continuous journey that requires patience, guidance, and a commitment to creating a positive learning community and building a collaborative approach and an enriching early years setting.