Early Learning Tip: Build on what kids know

Favorite (AKA great) teachers connect existing knowledge to new knowledge. The teacher is strategic in observing the child, being supportive and actively engaging the child. This strategy, called scaffolding, is a popular teaching method.

mom and toddler boy playing with toy phoneIn a construction setting scaffolding supports a work crew and provides access to materials. In a classroom scaffolding involves teaching a child something new by building on what they know. Teachers provide just the right amount of help, at the right time and in the right way. This enables the child to complete a new task that is age appropriate.

Scaffolding builds confidence as a child learns something new and perhaps something they did not think they could do. With support, young children are primed to understand new ideas and concepts. Scaffolding also works at home because you support your child’s development.

As a parent, you engage your child in play and you model how to play. Consider peek-a-boo, a parent using the strategy of scaffolding, models how to play. The parent adjusts his play to match his child’s attention and interest. A parent may even vary the game to engage their child’s interest longer. This strategy encourages active participation and responsive parenting.

Ways to try scaffolding at home

  • Portrait of a happy father and son having fun making homemade bread and smiling with flour on their hands and facesBe patient as your child masters a skill on their own
  • Allow your child to explore or experiment with something new
  • Ask questions “Do the bigger blocks work better on the bottom?”
  • Encourage your child to break a task into small pieces – find the edges of a puzzle first
  • Observe, listen and provide guidance
  • Make a specific suggestion “flip over the puzzle piece”
  • Share your child’s feeling of pride and accomplishment
  • Offer praise


View complete list

As the Early Childhood Learning Coordinator, Sherry is focused on engaging young children and their families in play-based early learning experiences. The Learn & Play Bus and its service are at the heart of her work. Sherry has a background in early childhood education.