Should Early Childhood Teachers Extend Children’s Interests?

One fundamental lesson of the Early Years Learning Framework instructs early childhood teachers to focus efforts on understanding and developing the interests of children as they participate in play time. It’s an interesting point of contention because formal or rote learning in this area has been shown to deliver little to no benefit to children. On the other hand, approaches to teaching which engage children in fun and interesting play can have an amazing impact. It’s worth considering as an early childhood teacher what your approach to engaging in play is. By nature we attempt to extend on children’s interests by promoting hobbies, asking questions and engaging in play time alongside children. However, this may not be enough to ensure children are engaging meaningfully with their interests. 

Instead of simply promoting recreational activity, children’s interests should be used as teaching tools which can help develop their fundamental understanding of the world as outlined in the Early Years Learning Framework. One example of ineffective vs effective teaching can be demonstrated as follows: “Samuel’s favourite toy is a dinosaur, so we put more dinosaurs in the sand pit for him.” At the end of the day, the question must be asked, “So what?” Sure, Samuel might appreciate having additional toys to play with, but he is not learning anything during playtime. An effective approach would leverage these additional toys to engage in learning, for example, by asking questions like, “How many dinosaurs do we have now?”, “What colour are the dinosaurs” and “I think that dinosaur is upset about something, what could the other dinosaurs say to him?” 

In other words, early childhood teachers shouldn’t teach about childhood interests, they should teach through childhood interests. Interests are the tools teachers use to teach fundamentals, not the topic of conversation. The Early Years Teaching Framework emphasises that teachers must be specific and purposeful in the things they do. It therefore follows that there should be a purpose behind extending children’s interests beyond simply facilitating more engaged play.  

Furthermore, children evaluate teachers according to what they see and hear. A teacher should aim to be evaluated based on the skills they bring to the classroom, not the extra toys they have bought for the sandbox. In saying this, teachers shouldn’t feel pressure to make every play time a teaching opportunity because recreation is important for children. However, when opportunities to extend a child’s interests arise, teachers should focus on the lessons which can be taught by doing so, not simply broadening a child’s knowledge of a topic of interest. 

At Robyn Taylor Early Childhood Centre, we incorporate a range of strategies to help children learn during play time. If you would like to learn more about how we extend children’s interests, book a tour of our education centre or enrol your child, please use our contact page to reach out to us or call on 02 9705 8309.