Intentional Teaching Strategies in Early Childhood Education


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Intentional Teaching Strategies in Early Childhood Education

Teaching young children is about more than just following a set curriculum or responding to the children when they need help. It requires careful planning and interactions with educators to support children’s development.

Teaching is used in early childhood education, where educators deliberately plan their teaching to achieve specific learning outcomes for children.

They thoughtfully consider how to interact, ask questions, and set up the environment to extend children’s thinking and skills.

In contrast to traditional passive methods, intentional teaching takes a proactive role where educators actively participate in children’s play, ask open-ended questions, and model behaviors to help children learn important concepts.

This article will define intentional teaching strategies, compare them with traditional methods, and discuss the educator’s role in purposeful planning and creating learning environments to support children’s optimal growth.

Definition and significance of intentional teaching in early childhood education

Intentional teaching involves educators consciously thinking about how their everyday actions and interactions with children will influence learning. Educators carefully observe children to understand their interests and abilities. 

They then plan experiences, questions, and activities matched to children’s developmental levels to help push their learning forward. Rather than just letting children play freely, intentional teaching maximizes every opportunity to impact development positively.

Contrast with traditional teaching methods: proactive versus passive approach

Traditional early education has primarily taken a passive approach where educators observe children’s independent play and only intervene if problems arise. In contrast, intentional teaching views educators as playing an active role by joining in children’s activities. 

Educators scaffold higher-order thinking by demonstrating new skills and asking questions that challenge children’s understanding. Instead of just supervising play, intentional educators actively guide learning through modeling, questioning, and hands-on interactions.

Role of purposeful planning and creating suitable learning environments

For intentional teaching to be effective, it requires careful planning from educators. This includes understanding each child’s interests and abilities to create appropriate challenges within learning activities and environments. 

Educators thoughtfully consider how to introduce new concepts, skills, and vocabulary through meaningful play. The learning environment is also intentionally designed and provisioned to inspire exploration and creativity and spark children’s curiosity across different domains of development. 

Purposeful planning and enabling environments allow intentional educators to support each child’s optimal growth fully.

Foundational Concepts of Intentional Teaching


Foundational Concepts of Intentional Teaching


Intentional teaching focuses on understanding each child. Teachers closely observe children to learn their interests, strengths, and needs. This informs how teachers plan engaging activities to encourage learning. 

Planned and spontaneous experiences are used to extend children’s thinking in a fun way. Teachers also interact during play to challenge children. Family knowledge is valued to support each child. Intentional teaching is collaborative, adaptive, and aimed at developing the whole child.

Focus on children’s strengths, interests, ideas, and needs

Intentional teaching means focusing on each child as an individual. Teachers pay close attention to what children like, what they are good at, what they think about, and what they need help with. 

Lessons and activities should build on their strengths and interests to keep children engaged. Teachers also encourage children to share their ideas.

Encouragement of emergent and planned experiences to extend thinking and understanding

Intentional teaching uses both planned and spontaneous learning times. Teachers carefully prepare some activities to teach certain things. But they also go with children’s unexpected interests or questions that come up along the way. 

In planned and unplanned learning, teachers challenge children’s thinking with open-ended questions. They give children tools and information to take their understanding further.

Inclusion of families in the learning process

Families know their children best. Intentional teaching sees families as important partners. Teachers communicate with families about what children are learning. 

They also learn from families about each child’s interests, skills, and culture at home. Teachers find ways for learning at home and school to connect and build on each other.

Also Read: Effective strategies for positive parenting

Key Strategies for Intentional Teaching

Intentional teaching involves carefully planning activities and interactions to support children’s learning and development. Educators use various strategies to maximize learning opportunities and scaffold children’s growth. 

The main strategies used in intentional teaching include challenging children, collaborating with them, providing encouragement, explaining concepts, listening actively, making connections, modeling skills, offering choices, asking questions, facilitating reflection, researching information, and scaffolding the next steps.

Challenging: Extending Knowledge and Skills Using Provocations for Learning

One strategy is to challenge children and extend their knowledge and skills. Educators do this by incorporating provocations or activities that push children’s thinking. For example, an educator may put interesting natural materials like rocks, leaves, or shells on the sensory table. This sparks children’s curiosity to explore, make observations, and ask questions. 

The educator can then ask open-ended questions to encourage problem-solving, such as “I wonder what would happen if we put the wet leaves in the sunny spot” or “How do you think this rock got its shape?”. Posing thoughtful questions or adding new materials challenges children to think beyond their current abilities and learn new concepts.

Collaborating: Allowing Child-Led Learning and Community Involvement

Educators also use collaboration as a key strategy. They set up activities that allow child-led learning and encourage cooperation between children. For instance, an art activity may invite children to work together to paint a mural of their neighborhood. 

During an outdoor play session, they can build and take turns using an obstacle course. Activities like this foster collaboration and teamwork skills. Educators may also involve family members or local community members by inviting them to share skills or knowledge with the children. Working with others expands children’s social skills and connections to people outside the learning environment.

Encouraging: Supporting Comments to Motivate and Encourage Persistence

Encouraging is another important strategy. When children encounter challenges, educators support their efforts with motivating comments. For example, if a child is figuring out how to assemble a puzzle, the teacher may say, “I like how you’re concentrating on finding the edge pieces first. 

Keep trying different ones, and you’ll get it!” Verbal encouragement helps children feel capable and willing to keep practicing a new skill. Educators also motivate children by acknowledging their efforts and progress, which boosts confidence and persistence.

Explaining: Clarifying Concepts and Ideas for Children

Educators explain concepts and ideas to support children’s learning as well. They may describe the steps to complete an activity, define new vocabulary words, or clarify instructions. For example, when reading a storybook, the teacher explains unfamiliar words and expands on the events. 

During a craft, they demonstrate techniques like cutting or gluing while explaining what to do. Explanations help children understand expectations and build knowledge in a way that’s easy to grasp. It enables them to build cities at their level successfully. 

Listening: Promoting Child-Led Conversations and Responsive Engagement

Intentional teachers are skilled listeners. They allow conversations and interactions to be child-led, following children’s cues for topics of interest. For example, if children start talking about dinosaurs during play, an educator listens and asks open-ended questions to encourage sharing more about their knowledge. 

They respond contingently by commenting on the child’s words to further the discussion. This promotes responsive engagement and trusting relationships where children feel heard. It also gives educators insight into future planning around children’s interests and developmental needs.

Making Connections: Facilitating Understanding of Relationships and Inconsistencies

Educators facilitate children’s understanding of relationships and inconsistencies as well. They may point out how concepts are connected or how certain events relate. For example, during a science experiment, the teacher draws links between material changes and broader concepts like states of matter. 

Outside, they help children recognize that while some trees have lost leaves, others still have green leaves. Making connections allows children to recognize patterns and build critical thinking skills. It also supports their ability to transfer learning across different contexts.

Modeling: Demonstrating Skills for Practice and Mastery

Modeling is another key strategy educators employ. They demonstrate desired skills and behaviors for children to observe, practice, and eventually master. For instance, the teacher shows how to hold a paintbrush or mix colors when painting properly. During group time, they model turn-taking skills. 

Outside, they exhibit safe ways to use equipment. By observing educators’ examples, children learn proper techniques and social-emotional skills. Modeling also gives children a benchmark to aim for as they refine their abilities.

Providing Choices and Learning Opportunities: Encouraging Autonomy

Educators provide meaningful choices that support children’s autonomy in their learning. They set up activity stations with open-ended materials and invited children to explore freely. Having options lets children follow their interests and make independent decisions. 

Educators also look for teachable moments to extend learning through conversations at the child’s pace. For example, they may ask an interested child questions about their block building as opportunities arise naturally from play. Offering choices within a supportive environment helps children direct their education.

Questioning: Using Open-Ended Questions for Problem-Solving

Asking open-ended questions is another strategy that challenges children’s thinking. Educators pose questions and prompt children for more details to encourage critical thinking. They may ask, “What do you think would happen if...” or “How could we...” to invite predictions and problem-solving ideas. 

Questions during activities help children learn to reflect on processes. They spur children to build on one another’s ideas in discussions. Asking questions in a curious, non-judgmental way motivates children to think more deeply and explain their reasoning.

Reflecting: Guiding Reflection on Learning to Build on Prior Learning

Educators also guide children’s reflections on what they’ve learned. They ask children to consider what they found interesting or difficult about an experience. For example, after a nature walk, teachers engage children in a shared discussion about what they observe. 

Reflecting helps children connect new information to existing knowledge and recognize their progress. It supports consolidating learning over time. Educators use reflective conversations, photos, and children’s artwork to revisit past concepts and build on earlier understandings.

Researching: Gathering Information for Problem-Solving

When children have questions, educators support finding answers through research. They may look up information in books, on devices, or by observing real objects. For instance, if children are curious about how birds build nests, teachers provide helpful resources. They also encourage children to make explorations of their own, like searching outside for nest examples. 

Guiding research fosters children’s natural desire to learn and empowers them to seek knowledge independently. It develops important lifelong skills of information gathering, critical thinking, and independent investigation.

Scaffolding: Supporting Next Steps Based on Children’s Needs

Finally, educators scaffold children’s learning based on assessed needs. They observe where children require extra assistance to progress further. Then, teachers provide tailored support, like breaking down large tasks into smaller steps. If a child struggles to mix colors, the teacher may initially mix them for the child to pour. 

Over time, they involve the child more in each phase until they can do it independently. Scaffolding helps children build confidence as they gradually gain new abilities with guidance. It ensures they continually move to higher levels of competence.

So, intentional teaching relies on purposefully employing varied strategies to maximize learning opportunities. Educators thoughtfully challenge children, foster collaboration, offer encouragement, explain concepts, listen actively, draw connections, and more. 

They also model skills, provide meaningful choices, ask questions, facilitate reflection, support research, and scaffold the next steps. Combining these methods keeps children engaged while supporting optimal development across all domains. It enables them to grow as self-motivated, capable individuals continuously.

Intentional Teaching Practices and Interactions


Intentional Teaching Practices and Interactions


Intentional teaching involves carefully planning interactions and activities to support children’s learning and development. Here are some key practices and interactions used in intentional teaching:

Positioning objects and materials to encourage participation

When setting up the classroom, educators carefully consider where to place materials like art supplies, books, or toys. Putting materials in certain areas helps guide children to specific activities and encourages them to participate. 

For example, placing paper and crayons on a table signals that the area is for drawing. This makes it easier for children to choose an activity and join in.

Scheduling time for balanced activities based on learning needs

Educators create a schedule for the day that divides time between activities like outdoor play, art projects, group story time, etc. The schedule is based on children’s age groups and individual needs. 

It aims to balance active and quiet individual and group activities. This helps ensure children get a good mix of learning through play, physical exercise, creative expression, social interaction, and other skills.

Facilitation of the learning process through resourceful use

Educators facilitate learning by setting up the classroom with interesting materials, toys, books, and activities. They observe children at play to understand their interests. Educators then find ways to incorporate these interests into the activities and lessons. 

For example, if a child likes dinosaurs, the educator might add dinosaur books and toys to spark learning about science or support their literacy and language development.

Strategic positioning to support learning

Educators consciously position themselves around the classroom based on where children need support. 

They may float between groups, sitting back to observe children’s independent play or problem-solving while being available to assist when needed. Educators also position themselves near children who need extra encouragement to participate.

Effective grouping for learning

Educators group children thoughtfully for certain activities based on their skills, interests, and what they can learn from others. 

For example, grouping children of varying abilities for a puzzle activity allows them to assist each other. It also encourages cooperation and collaboration.

Use of descriptive language to enhance sensory experiences

Educators use rich language when reading stories or describing activities to help children visualize and engage their senses. 

They may describe how something feels, smells, tastes, or sounds to enhance children’s sensory experiences and spark curiosity.

Telling and suggesting ideas while empowering choice

Educators describe possible options for activities or how to use materials. This gives children ideas and introduces new learning. 

At the same time, educators allow children to come up with their own ideas or choose another interest.

Prompting recall for application of past learning

Educators will sometimes prompt children to think back to past experiences or activities to build on prior learning. 

For example, they may ask children to recall the steps for hand washing or parts of a story. This helps children make connections and apply what they’ve learned before.

Feedback through verbal and non-verbal responses

Educators observe children closely and provide feedback through smiles, nods, or comments on their efforts, ideas, and accomplishments. Feedback guides children’s play and reassures them when trying new skills. It also allows educators to identify how to support further development or tailor future activities.

So, intentional teaching involves purposefully planning interactions, activities, and the environment based on individual children’s needs and interests. This helps support each child’s learning and development in a fun, engaging way.

Implementing Intentional Teaching in Early Childhood Education

Intentional teaching is an important approach used in early childhood education to support children’s learning and development. This article will discuss some key aspects of implementing intentional teaching in early childhood under different headings.

Shared prioritization for meaningful interactions

When teachers make time for meaningful talk with each child, it helps children feel special and cared for. Teachers learn what interests each child and plan activities around their ideas. Children are happy to join in when activities interest them.

Utilizing a variety of play forms to meet children’s needs

Teachers prepare toys and activities for different types of play, like pretend play, art play, music, and movement. Children learn best When they play how they like, with things that interest them. Teachers join children’s play to extend their learning with questions and new ideas.

Curriculum design focused on supportive environments

The learning areas are set up with toys and materials that develop different skills. For example, the writing area has paper, crayons, and books to develop early writing. Outdoor, there are balls, hoops, and climbing to develop physical skills. Children learn through play when the environment supports their interests.

Intentional assessment to understand children’s developmental needs

Teachers carefully observe how each child learns and plays. They take notes and photos as a record. This helps teachers know what skills each child is developing. Teachers can then plan activities for each child’s needs and abilities. 

Using the learning environment to support intentional teaching strategies

Teachers thoughtfully choose where to place toys, books, and themselves. For example, building blocks near the book area may lead to imaginative construction play. Teachers sitting with play dough allows them to describe what children are making and introduce new words. The learning environment provides chances for learning through play.

Benefits and Impact of Intentional Teaching

Intentional teaching has many benefits for children in early childhood education. It helps children grow and learn in different ways. Here are some of the main benefits:

Personalized benefits: Fostering a sense of self and encouraging exploration

When teachers use intentional teaching, they carefully observe each child and think about how to help them learn and grow. Teachers get to know each child’s interests, abilities, and needs. They plan activities and interactions that allow children to explore independently. 

This helps children learn about themselves. It boosts their confidence and sense of independence. When children feel comfortable exploring, they develop important skills like problem-solving and creativity. Intentional teaching encourages children’s natural sense of curiosity to learn new things.

Promotion of optimal teaching and learning environments

Teachers create a rich learning environment when they use intentional teaching. They thoughtfully arrange the space and choose materials that spark children’s interests. Teachers observe children to understand their current skills. Then, teachers can introduce new ideas at just the right level of challenge. 

They ask questions and join in children’s play to extend their thinking. This interaction builds a positive relationship where children feel safe to take learning risks. It also gives teachers insights to plan even better. Intentional teaching maximizes every learning opportunity.

Enhanced development of higher-order thinking skills

When teachers use intentional teaching strategies, it deeply enhances the development of children’s thinking abilities. Teachers carefully design activities, questions, and discussions that make children think conceptually. 

During play, teachers may introduce new elements to broaden children’s ideas. They encourage children to see different viewpoints. Teachers also model more advanced thinking skills like reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making. 

Over time, this helps children’s cognitive development to blossom. They learn how to think both independently and collaboratively to solve complex problems. Intentional teaching lays the foundation for lifelong learning success.

Resources and Further Learning

Some helpful resources provide additional information about intentional teaching in early childhood education. These resources can help teachers better understand this important teaching approach.


There are several books written by experts in early childhood education that discuss intentional teaching in detail. These books explain intentional teaching, its effectiveness, and how to incorporate it in the classroom. They include examples of intentional teaching strategies and activities teachers can use.

Some recommended books include “Intentional Teaching” by Bridie Raban, “Intentional Teaching: A Framework for Effective Early Childhood Education” by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter, and “Intentional Talk: How to Examine Your Own and Others’ Perspectives” by Eliza Kane. Reading books is a great way to learn from professionals in the field.


Several websites provide articles and information about intentional teaching. The Education Hub and Aussie Childcare Network have articles that clearly explain what intentional teaching means and how it can be implemented. They include examples and suggestions for activities.

The Education Hub also has videos of real teachers demonstrating intentional teaching strategies. Seeing examples brings the concepts to life. Websites are a useful starting point for learning the basics of intentional teaching.

Professional development courses:

Many early childhood organizations offer online or in-person professional development courses focused on intentional teaching. Courses give a more in-depth learning experience than websites or books alone. Teachers can learn strategies, get feedback on their practice, and network with others.

The Education Hub, for example, has multiple online courses that cover topics like intentional teaching for early math, literacy, and more. Courses are a valuable way to gain skills and apply learning directly to the classroom.

Conducting research to improve intentional teaching

Continuous learning is important for high-quality teaching. Teachers can conduct their research to develop intentional teaching practices further. This involves collecting information to understand better what works well and how to enhance children’s experiences.

Observe children:

Close observation of children during activities and play provides essential information. Teachers can pay attention to how children respond to different intentional teaching strategies. This shows what engages them and supports their learning best.

Reflect on practice:

After trying new approaches, teachers should reflect on what went well and how things could be improved. This may involve discussing with other teachers, reviewing documentation, or analyzing assessments. Reflection helps strengthen effective practices.

Seek child feedback:

Asking children open-ended questions about their experiences gives insight from their perspective. Children may provide ideas to help make activities even more interesting and tailored to their needs and interests.

Try new methods:

With experience, teachers’ intentional teaching skills will evolve. Continually practicing new techniques, even on a small scale initially, helps research what enhances outcomes. Teachers can then adopt the most successful strategies.

Share knowledge:

By discussing findings with other teachers, the early childhood community benefits. Collaboration helps spread strategies that work well. It also prevents reinventing approaches when others may have already found effective solutions.

Research provides an ongoing learning process that allows intentional teaching to develop based on evidence. With reflection and effort, practices continue improving to support all children best.

Connection with Broader Teaching Theories and Philosophies

Intentional teaching aligns with many established early childhood education theories and frameworks. It shares key ideas with developmental, constructivist, and sociocultural approaches.

Alignment with developmental, constructivist, and sociocultural theories

Intentional teaching fits the idea that children learn by exploring their world and interacting with others. It sees the teacher supporting each child’s unique developmental path. By following children’s interests and assessing their skills, the teacher can design activities and conversations that help learning. This aligns with theories that see children as active learners constructing knowledge through experiences.

The role of intentional teaching within the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)

Australia’s Early Years Learning Framework provides guidelines for early education. It focuses on identity, community, well-being, learning, and communication. Intentional teaching directly supports all areas of the EYLF. Teachers observing each child can plan experiences tailored to their needs. Interactions are also intentionally guided to foster each child’s development across different domains.

So, intentional teaching strategies are there to help primary students learn and grow. Teachers can best support each child by understanding developmental theories and the EYLF.

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