Learning Experiences
  • 17 Oct 2023
  • 5 Minutes to read

Learning Experiences

Article summary

This article contains the following topics:

  • Complexity and Depth
  • Linking the Standards
  • Planning and Reflection
  • Play and Authenticity
  • Standards-Based Learning

Use the table of contents to the right to navigate to each section.

Complexity and Depth

Within the Learning Beyond Paper curriculum, it is essential to know that all children, and especially infants and toddlers, will begin in your classroom with varying levels of skills and knowledge. This can be due to huge variation in month-by-month development, experience (or lack of), or possibly developmental delay (identified or not). It is important to keep expectations positive and high for children. Children will work up to your age-realistic expectations and necessary level, with the right encouragement, scaffolding, and modeling, as described in the teacher guide and professional development. While individual children may have challenges, use these challenges to understand how to best support the child’s learning rather than to lower expectations for what a child can achieve.

The Scope and Sequence provided is valuable to ensuring that your planning will help typically-developing children are progressing in a way to make sure that they will be able to meet age-appropriate standards by the end of the year, or consistent with their age. The Scope and Sequence covers an entire calendar year and breaks down the year’s standard into quarterly targets.

When you think about the topics of scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development, presented earlier in this guide, breaking down skills into smaller steps along the way is a way to build competence of skills through practice and building along the way. Imagine if you were going to run a marathon on a certain date, there would be training along the way, building up endurance and distance over time, rather than arriving at the gate expecting to do well without the necessary steps along the way.

Linking the Standards

The term intentional has been used repeatedly in this teacher’s manual. As a teacher, intentionality and reflective practice are symbiotic - one cannot exist without the other. When thinking about the curriculum, the actual activities and experiences children take part in through the day; it is critical to plan the steps to help children achieve standards (state, local, or program) by the end of the program year. Standards are the finish line, but there are many incremental steps to get to that point. For infants and toddlers, standards or benchmarks are often typical developmental milestones.

As the teacher, it is your job to plan, scaffold, and create experiences that tie to the incremental progress infants and toddlers will make through the year. It is never enough that an activity is cute or fun. It must be intentional, meaningful, engaging, and targeted toward building children’s competencies: focusing on what each child can do, challenging them, and planning the next steps. This is especially important for infants and toddlers, because their attention span is generally shorter the younger they are. The more meaningful and engaging things are, the more targeted to the specific individual child or class, the better conditions are for learning and connection.

Learning Beyond Paper is designed to scaffold children’s skills and developmental progression across domains to meet general standards adopted by most states and programs. Remember, especially for infants and toddlers, this is tied to developmental milestones. Your small groups will help you work strategically with children who need additional scaffolding and opportunities for practice.

Planning and Reflection

You should plan regularly, updating plans based on the curriculum as well as observation of the children in your class. As you complete any progress monitoring or assessment, it is important to use these data to inform your next steps.

Minimally, play with your colleagues that teach with you in the same class. For maximum benefit, work with the director to determine if planning can occur with other preschool teachers. You can gain efficiency, get additional ideas and insights, and build collaboration in this way.

Throughout the day or by the end of the day, take a few minutes to make notes about the day. Within the week, have a planned time to actively reflect - with colleagues, if possible - on the learning based on what you have planned and how children responded to plans. This involves thinking about the progress of individual children, groups of children, and the group as a whole. It includes you thinking about your perspective, challenging yourself on things that you could do differently or better (even if you don’t yet know how to do something differently yet), and reflecting on what went well or what could have gone better. It is not about being critical or judgmental; rather, seeing things accurately and from different lenses.

Play and Authenticity

Play is the vehicle for learning with young children. Through play, children learn things more quickly in a way that sticks. Play is the manner in which children practice and refine their skills, have fun (a necessary component in learning), and try things they otherwise may not. Vygotsky famously stated, “In play, a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play, it is as though he were a head taller than himself.

You can plan authentic experiences - solving real problems that come up throughout the day WITH children, involving even infants and toddlers in small ways with set-up and clean-up, helping to make play dough for the class, and numerous activities that are necessary and important. Children prefer “real” to busy work and will remain attentive for longer when engaged and the vision is viewed as important.

One important way that teachers of infants and toddlers encourage play is to provide the right activity or toy at the right time, and ensure children have time to explore, as most things they encounter are novel to them as less-experienced humans.

Another important way that teachers of infants and toddlers encourage play is through teacher-guided experiences where the teacher is sportscasting (talking aloud about what is going on in an enthusiastic, positive voice) and interacting with the child(ren).

There are some skills that are highly unlikely to spontaneously occur during play alone. Skills can be practiced in teacher-guided experiences (e.g., circle time, small groups, or even 1:1 experiences), but still retain the most benefit when this is done in a playful way where children’s senses are activated and there is active engagement.

Standards-Based Learning

Early childhood educators, more than most people, realize that young children do not divide their learning into subjects or neat and tidy lessons. More often than not, learning comes through repeated experiences that build upon past experiences. The scaffolding, modeling, and language support you provide as the teacher is invaluable to each child’s development. To provide the best scaffolding and ability for children to reach their full potential, you must understand the standards your program uses well. Often, standards are known as child outcomes or Early Learning and Development Guidelines (ELDG), and these terms are interchangeable in this guide. These will vary from state to state, or even by program funding (i.e., state PreK or Head Start), but these documents have many commonalities. Visit the Resources section to view additional support and links.

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