The Scaffolding Method in Early Childhood Education

teacher reading to a group of preschool students

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In education, there are a variety of different teaching methods all designed to help children learn effectively and thoroughly. Some methods work well together, while others do better when they are applied individually.

Scaffolding (also known as scaffold learning, scaffold method, scaffold teaching, and instructional scaffolding) is a very popular method in early childhood education. It functions well when applied alongside other strategies and works similarly to how scaffolding is used in construction. 

What Is Scaffolding?

When building, scaffolding is a temporary structure used to support a work crew and materials to aid in the construction, maintenance, and repair of buildings.

The philosophy is similar in early childhood education and works almost the same way to build independence in children.

The idea is that new lessons and concepts can be more readily understood and comprehended if support is given to a child as they're learning.

It can also involve teaching a child something new by utilizing things they already know or can already do.

How Scaffolding Works in Early Childhood Education

When using scaffolding with young children, a teacher will provide students with support and guidance while the students are learning something new and age-appropriate or just slightly above what a student can do him or herself. As the children learn the skill, the support is lessened as their abilities develop and until they can do the new skill all on their own.

Scaffolding works best when educators employ the method in different ways, including:

  • Making suggestions: If a child is having trouble completing a project, an educator could offer hints or partial solutions that might help solve the problem, while still encouraging the child to problem solve on their own. For example, "That block tower keeps falling down. One way we could fix it is by putting all the bigger blocks on the bottom. What other ways do you think we could help it stay up?"
  • Asking probing questions: This encourages a child to come up with an answer independently. In the block tower example, a teacher could ask, "What do you think would happen if we didn't build the tower quite so tall?"
  • Using demonstrations: In the block tower example, an educator who is scaffolding could make their own smaller version of a block tower to demonstrate how the blocks work best.
  • Introducing a prop: Additionally, the teacher could encourage the child to use different resources to help the block tower stay up and think out of the box by coming up with a creative solution. "What do you see in our classroom that would help support our block tower? Maybe if we turn that pencil holder upside down, that could help. Can you think of anything else?"
  • Posing limited-answer questions: If a child is having trouble coming up with an answer to a question on their own, a teacher who's scaffolding can provide multiple answers to choose from in order to help the child come up with a correct response independently.
  • Providing support: When a task is proving tough, the teacher could help a child think through alternatives. Or get a child off on the right foot by discussing the steps needed to complete a task.
  • Offering encouragement: Praising a child for attempting or completing a task, with even a simple "Good job!" increases a child's confidence and sense of self-competence.

In early childhood education, scaffolding can be implemented in many ways. For example:

  • If a child knows how to draw a straight vertical line, you can then show them how to draw a straight horizontal line. Once those two skills are mastered, they can put it together to draw a square.
  • Once a child recognizes a specific letter, you can teach the sound and then words that start with that sound.
  • A child that can use safety scissors can utilize that skill to use a hole punch.

Why Scaffolding Aids Child Development

Scaffolding is helpful because it helps young children who are new to a school environment build confidence while learning. If a child gives the wrong answer to a question, a teacher using a scaffolding method can use that incorrect response coupled with a previously learned skill to help the child come to the correct conclusion on their own.

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Article Sources

  1. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Rocking and Rolling: Empowering Infants' and Toddlers' Learning Through Scaffolding.