Adapt Scaffolding to Early Childhood

As a teacher, being responsive to each child’s needs, strengths and interests requires knowing each child and the developmentally appropriate strategies for each child.  

Scaffolding instruction is a tool that can help provide a natural way to model expectations and allow the student to practice meeting these expectations before turning over more responsibility to the student. Teachers can document lessons with photos.

The goal of scaffolding instruction is to explore concepts in the classroom by starting with the strengths of each learner. In most classrooms, you’ll find a wide range of both social and academic skills. You will be able to tailor lessons to each child, build on their skills and help boost their confidence with scaffolding.

For example, if a child feels shy and afraid to speak, you can crouch down to make eye contact and model a simple greeting while acknowledging their feelings.

As you build a rapport, you can say, “Today, I want to hear your voice when you greet me at morning meeting.” This provides a way to challenge the child and give him more control and input into the process.

Scaffolding can be used in an early childhood setting. Begin by exploring subject matter through projects and hands-on learning. A teacher can guide a child by asking questions, nudging children to explore concepts and building upon prior knowledge. This analysis and synthesis embeds knowledge beyond simple memorization or recall.

Teachers should realize that each child brings his own set of experiences and ideas to a lesson, regardless of the lesson’s subject matter. And teachers can assess what learners know through dialogue, an understanding of the child’s family and observations with children.

The next stage in scaffolding is to ask students what they know. This can be done on an individual basis, in small groups or with the whole group. 

Let’s say the subject of a lesson is light. By using flashlights, light bulbs of various colors or a light table with several objects to explore, a teacher can ignite a child’s innate curiosity. Mining for what they know and what theories they are testing out as they explore these objects becomes easier.

Once you have a sense of what children know and what they want to know, it’s time to begin nudging them. For children actively engaged with flashlight parts at the light table, a teacher silently observing students may be able to document in writing or with an audio recording what is said.

Provocations invite children to explore and teachers to assess what children know and where to nudge them to the next stage in their growth. (right)

A teacher can use open-ended questions that help children connect ideas and use materials. For children who need practice sharing and engaging with peers, this is a good time to model this behavior. Scaffolding for these important social skills can be as simple as modeling language such as, “Lisa, tell Mary that you’d like a turn with the magnifier when she is finished.” 

The first few times, Lisa may need you to provide this type of modeling language, “Lisa, I see that when you asked Mary for the magnifier, she gave it to you as soon as she was done.” As Lisa exhibits more of  the desired behavior, be sure to let Lisa know you notice her effort.

Over time, children begin to learn the give and take requisite to play. Next you can focus on how to use materials in more creative ways or how to problem-solve when exploring materials or issues.

While children explore materials and test their theories about light and objects, it’s important that teachers are documenting what is said and heard. These notes can be shared with children through follow-up conversations or posted on the wall with photographs that document their progress.

Observing and scaffolding allow teachers to record authentic conversations. (right)

By viewing themselves from the outside, children are often better able to make connections about learning or reflect back on where they have come from. “Oh, yeah!  I used to think the light came from a switch inside! Now I know the metal thing touches the metal on the bottom of the teeny tiny light bulb!”

Careful scaffolding enables this kind of connected, engaging learning to unfold for each learner.


Practicing scaffolding is a

Submitted by C on 4 November 2011 - 1:46am.

Practicing scaffolding is a great way to let the children learn by reflecting on something they’ve experienced. While working at the day care I have to do documentation boards and display boards, when the children need to be distracted or they are just looking at their pictures. I would ask them, “do you remember when you were playing with the drums” … something to help them reflect on what they did that day. I defiantly support this. When I was younger there weren’t pictures taken, the teachers didn’t have time to display what any of the children did, I threw away all of the projects I have ever done from my education. Scaffolding was never a tactic used in my educational time.

I agree with is article.

Submitted by Amy on 3 November 2011 - 12:11pm.

I agree with is article. Scaffolding should be used in all classrooms. He helps children explore and learn on their own. It also presents them with the opportunity to use their expressive language skills. When a teacher asks a child an open ended question is causes the child to think deeper and formulate an answer. Scaffolding in a classroom may help with children’s misbehaviors while participating in an activity. If a teacher changes a lesson plan so it has varying degrees of difficulty children who could not previously complete the activity now can. They will not become frustrated when they cannot do something.

Scaffolding is a great way of

Submitted by Kayla on 31 October 2011 - 12:20pm.

Scaffolding is a great way of encouraging children to try something their not good at doing. This is a way of telling the child it's alright if your not very good just as long as you try your hardest. I think scaffolding should be used everywhere for every age child. This way children will be able to build on skills their good at as well as those they need improvement on. I know this works because someone I work with recognized my timidness and not wanting to yell to the back of the kitchen for more fryer foods. So he always acted as if he could not hear me to make me yell louder without feeling as silly and now those in the back hear me when I ask.

A great way to think about

Submitted by ellen montoya on 18 October 2011 - 10:47am.

A great way to think about using scaffolding as a vehicle for tolerance. I often used scaffolding for Algebra lessons to differentiate, but I never really thought of it as a tool for tolerance. I also enjoyed your presentation of it's application at the lower school level - I see break out groups in my son's school, but not scaffolding. Thank you for a great post!