Tag Archives: intentional teaching

Conversations With Children

conversations-with-childrenWhen I was working in my center, by the time I got home I was absolutely done talking—at least for a little while. My husband never understood why until one day I explained to him I have conversations all day long. Engaging in conversations with the children was my favorite thing about teaching.  It was tiring some days, but I loved it. To listen to their stories, hopes, concerns, and jokes filled my bucket each day. Conversation is not just talking, but also it is about listening. Extending learning happens by having intentional conversation as well as daily verb exchanges. Children may have limited access with adults engaging in intentional conversations. As early childhood educators, we have the perfect opportunity to engage.

Intentional conversation is key. Positive relationships are created through intentional conversations. These relationships stimulate the building of vocabulary, help with interpersonal skills, help with social-emotional skills because their feelings are validated by your listening and responses, and build the foundation of their perception towards learning (check out my previous blog, Cling to the Positive).

I found a great resource with tips to help create a language-rich environment from UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute’s Blog, More than Baby Talk.

Below is their list of 10 ways to help create the environment to spark those crucial conversations that develop into lifetime learning for the children in your program.

  1. Get Chatty: Engage in meaningful conversations with children. “Hello, Charlie! How was your ride to school today?”
  2. Be a Commentator: Give descriptions of objects, activities or events. “I see that you are using the orange marker to color your picture today.”
  3. Mix It Up: Use different types of words and grammar. “Alice was aggravated that she couldn’t find the white rabbit”
  4. Label It: Provide children with the names of objects or actions. You can label shelves, coat hooks, cubbies, etc.
  5. Tune In: Engage in activities or objects that interest children.
  6. Read Interactively: Use books to engage children’s participation.
  7. Read It Again: Read books multiple times. This creates opportunities for sequencing/ problem-solving.
  8. Props: Introduce objects that spark conversations.
  9. Make Music: Engage in musical activities. Make your own instruments!
  10. Sign It: Use gestures or simple signs with words.

Bringing more of these new (or not so new) crucial conversation activities into the classroom and making it fun can give you more insight about what the children in your program need! Let the conversations start and have your listening ears (and listening heart) on!

Invitations to Learn

When children are comfortable and engaged in their environment, we find that productivity increases, challenging behavior decreases, and child-directed learning is plentiful! Using the physical classroom space effectively can be a teacher’s most useful tool.

One of my favorite tips to build excitement about learning opportunities in the classroom is to create invitations to learn that are ready and waiting when the children arrive. An invitation to learn involves arranging the space in a way that “invites” the children to come to a particular area to explore open-ended and meaningful materials.

A personal favorite from my time in the classroom involved setting up a table with a real pumpkin during the fall season. In addition to the pumpkin, I provided a variety of spoons and other tools, plastic trays, and also some paint with brushes. When the children entered the room, that morning they were excited by the new addition and intrigued about what activities were in store for the day.  My overall objective was working on motor skills by scooping out the insides with the tools and picking out the seeds, but the freedom to choose how they explored the pumpkin provided a multitude of other experiences. The children chose to sort and count the seeds, spread them on the plastic trays, pretending to bake and sell yummy treats to their friends. Some chose to paint and decorate the outside of the pumpkin, while others painted the seeds. They talked about the textures and shrieked when the gooey pumpkin guts grazed across their tiny fingers. By simply setting the stage with materials that were already in our space and adding something a little extra, an entirely new and engaging experience occurred!

While creating an invitation to learn doesn’t need to be time-consuming or expensive, it should be intentional. When planning, keep a broad goal of what you think might occur (like the strengthening motor skills in the pumpkin example above) while leaving room for their imaginations to run wild.

Some questions to keep in mind during preparation:

  • Will this activity capture the interest and curiosity of the child?
  • Are the activity and materials age-appropriate?
  • Are there enough materials for all children to participate?
  • Are the materials hands-on and open-ended?
  • Are there opportunities to be challenged and express creativity?

With a little planning and preparation, a teacher can use the classroom environment to spark engagement, inspiration and joy!

Planning Individually


Often times when I talk about planning for children, eyes widen at the thought of planning for each child in the classroom. There are many benefits when every child is considered in what goes on an activity plan. Children’s needs are met and they receive the quality care and education that they deserve. Below are some questions and thoughts around why planning individually is necessary and important for all age groups.

Why is planning for individual children important?

Every child is unique. This uniqueness should not be forgotten about or suppressed because group care is a reality and necessity for families. Although it may feel overwhelming at first, it is doable to plan for individual children within a larger group. Children benefit from individual planning when all aspects of development are considered. When you value a child’s uniqueness and learn about their strengths, these strengths can be used as tools to support other areas of learning and development.

What is considered when planning for individual children?

First and foremost, you need to understand child development when considering how to plan for all children in your care. This will help you plan for appropriate expectations and guidance no matter what age group. Children develop and learn in a certain sequence and there is a set of milestones to help assess if children are on the right track. Each child develops at their own rate and providing an enriching and open-ended environment can help children to achieve those milestones. In order to truly grasp “Approaches Towards Learning,” caregivers and teachers need to understand that their own agenda may not be the most appropriate for children. To truly support children’s learning and understanding of their world is to offer choices and freedom to play at their own risk.

How can you create a plan?

Routines and experiences can be individually planned for each child in your classroom and it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may seem. Planning for routines means we consider how children may need support during events that happen consistently throughout each day, such as diapering/toileting, mealtimes, drop-off and pick-up.

Consider a newborn infant that is beginning group care at 6 weeks of age. They have already developed preferences. Their experiences and interactions with other people are their family. The family can give information about how much an infant is eating, how often, how they like to be held or not held. Gathering this information is all a part of planning for the individual child.

Experiences and activities can also be used to plan individually. A specific activity can be available to the whole group while intentionally giving a child that may need extra practice with a certain skill. Integrating learning concepts into a child’s favorite learning center, such as providing pretend cookies and a cookie sheet with a grid taped to it can be a way to introduce math concepts in the dramatic play area. Open-ended activities can offer many ways for children to use materials how they choose to and can offer insight on how to plan for each child

Although planning individually can seem daunting at first, there are several ways to simplify the process. Find time to observe children in the environment, watch and listen to what children have to say. Ask them what they want to learn about. Remember to consider every child in your care!

Assuming children are friends does not teach them social skills.

Assuming children are friends doesn't teach them social skillsMany times I hear adults who work with children referring to a group of peers as friends. For example when two children start fighting over a toy, I often hear, “Be nice to your friend,” or “Your friend wants a turn.” What is a friend? Who in your life do you truly consider your friends? What signs do children give us that convey to us that they are friends? It is not enough nor appropriate to assume that all children are automatically friends—instead we should focus on how to help children learn what it means to be kind and respectful to others. Children also need our support to learn about empathy, how to express themselves through words, as well as learning about how to problem solve with one another. Here are some ways to support children’s social development:

Model using your own behavior. Children learn by imitating those around them. When they see others treated with kindness and respect, it teaches them what is socially acceptable. This also includes being transparent to children. It is okay to express your feelings aloud to children along with owning up to your mistakes. This can teach children that feelings and mistakes are natural and normal to experience.

Make it clear that everyone is entitled to their feelings. Labeling and validating emotions helps young children not only learn about what they are feeling but also that it is okay to feel them. When children understand that it is safe to feel their emotions they can learn to self-regulate and work to understand why they may be feeling a certain way. This is when they can move past problems and work with their peers to solve problems; not to mention make friends.

Refrain from fixing conflicts. Telling children how to solve a conflict—whether it is through forced sharing, time limits for turn taking and taking away the object or toy that is the source of the conflict—hinders children from learning how to problem-solve on their own. This can be a challenge because conflict can be uncomfortable for many people. It takes trust and patience to help children learn these skills.

Facilitate conversation. Sometimes starting a conversation with, “What is the problem here?” or “How can you work this out?” is enough to get to the root of the problem. Adults can help facilitate conversations so that children can learn to identify what the issue is and then figure out steps to a resolution. Remain neutral, stay calm and do not take sides. Repeat what you hear children saying or see them doing through their actions. Ask, “What should we do about this?” You will be surprised what children can come up with on their own.

“Intentionality” has become a buzz word in the world of early care and education for good reason. We should not only be aware of what activities are being planned and why but we should also be intentional about the words we use when speaking to children. Being intentional supports social development and a lifetime of skills that will help children initiate play, resolve conflicts and make friends.



How to embrace teachable moments

teachablemomentOne of my favorite things to observe is when a child care provider takes an opportunity to make a meaningful learning experience out of something unexpected. I was in a program recently and was pleased to observe this a couple of times.

One child was very interested in looking for rocks on the playground. I observed this child get a bucket from a nearby shelf when lining up to go outside. He put pebbles and rocks in the bucket as he went around on a hunt during nearly the entire outside playtime (other children also helped fill his bucket) and then, when playtime was over, he placed the bucket, filled with rocks, back on the shelf in the classroom. At some point during the work time, when the children chose their activity, a provider approached the child. She asked about the rocks he had collected. She began telling him about rocks—that there are different kinds and so on. I later asked the provider about the bucket (purely out of my own curiosity) and found out the child takes the bucket home every day, adds the rocks to his collection at home and brings it back empty the next day.

I was visiting that same classroom another morning. The provider was sitting at a table with several gallon-sized Ziploc bags, filled with realistic-looking, miniature animals. She was pulling out several water animals and several animals that fly for a sorting activity she was planning to add to the work shelves. Three children came up to see what she was doing and naturally became very interested in looking through all the bags and playing with the animals. One child was hunting for and pulling out all the turtles. Another child had an alligator that was “eating” other animals and seemed quite content in his dramatic play. The third child was going between the other two children, offering up what he knew about the animals each one was working with, such as, “That’s not a buffalo, that’s a yak,” and “That’s a mommy turtle and those are her babies…they are the same kind of turtle.” The provider did a lot of watching and would ask questions from time to time. She asked about where the animals lived, which were similar, which were different, etc. She would add in some names such as “leatherback” and “Galapagos” when appropriate as well.

I’m such a planner. I know I sometimes get uncomfortable when something is happening that I hadn’t planned on; especially when I hadn’t thought of good questions to ask or vocabulary to provide. And there is a lot of planning that is involved in an early childhood classroom. However, there is something to be said for letting things just flow in the moments when the children are a captive audience (even one or a few) to facilitate a learning experience. The provider in this room really understands the importance of these teachable moments. Neither of the above experiences were planned, yet the teacher engaged with the children to create an experience that was meaningful and supported their development.

Quality early care and education does not take a summer break

There are lots of opportunities for learning through play outdoors in the summer!

Summer is here! I’m sure most programs have several special events and activities planned during these summer months. As a classroom teacher, I remember incorporating some of my favorite activities and field trips during this time. I loved utilizing the outdoors as an extension of my classroom. Children learning through their experiences and building knowledge based on their interactions with nature brought me such joy as an educator. Plus, we were outdoors most of the time. We were enjoying the sunshine while learning new skills, interacting with each other, and building relationships! Summertime is a great opportunity to enhance children’s learning and development—which means high-quality care should not stop. In fact, summer activities provide many hands-on learning opportunities for early childhood programs.

In order to maintain high-quality care and education during the summer months, teachers must continue to focus on best practices. Lesson planning is a major component of best practice. The activities on your lesson plans should be fun and hands-on, but they should also be educational and based on the interests of the children. The activities should be planned according to the developmental levels of your children and challenge them to a higher level of thinking. These activities should promote problem-solving skills both socially and academically. They should help children build upon their previous experiences and comprehension while at the same time encouraging them to create new knowledge. These activities should be intentional.

As you continue to sustain high-quality care and education during the summer months, please remember how important engagement is with the children! The activities you are planning should be built around meaningful interactions with the children. Teachers should see themselves as a valuable teaching tool, not just as a lifeguard or police officer patrolling the playground. Educators should be present and engaging with children to scaffold their learning by making comments and asking open-ended questions. For example, let’s take a closer look at water play. As children engage with water play they are enhancing many cognitive skills involving math and science. When a teacher asks, “I wonder how many cups it will take to fill that bucket?” they are helping that child enhance counting skills and explore measurement.

High-quality care and education is very important for children—during all seasons! Educators should use the summer months to continue to facilitate and promote learning. Though it is tempting to relax and take a break in the nice weather, the quality of your program or quality of your teaching should not decrease because it’s summertime.