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What is Intentional Teaching in Early Childhood Education?

Intentional teaching focuses on a purposeful and deliberate teaching process that targets specific student development goals and outcomes.

What is Intentional Teaching in Early Childhood Education?

In early childhood education, the intentional teaching approach considers children's interests to support learning opportunities and growth.

In this article, you'll learn:

  • What intentional teaching is
  • How intentional teaching works
  • How intentional teaching benefits children
  • Intentional teaching strategies

What is intentional teaching?

The Australian Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) defines intentional teaching as "educators being deliberate, purposeful, and thoughtful in their decisions and actions." Intentional teaching actively uses a child's specific needs, strengths, interests, and ideas to support growth and development.

With intentional teaching, you must create a positive learning experience and environment while remaining aware of a child's specific needs and interests to determine the most appropriate way to interact with them. It also requires deliberate thinking, decision-making, and planning regarding the curriculum, relationships, and administrative duties. 

Intentional teaching encompasses various activities that support active learning, identity development, children's wellbeing, communication, and relationship building. It also relies on all areas of education, such as social, emotional, physical, language, literacy, and cognitive.

How does intentional teaching work?

Intentional teaching relies heavily on a child's curiosities, self-guided discoveries, and the educator's passive observation. As an intentional teacher, you must take a calculated approach to educate a child by establishing a specific goal and a well-thought-out plan for achieving it. You'll use well-defined objectives to enlighten children, regularly assess their progress, and make any necessary changes to your strategies based on the child's performance. 

Although intentional teaching relies on deliberate plans, it also allows you to make spontaneous changes and adjustments based on the child's needs. Your interactions and actions are regularly impacted by the children's responses and competence levels, leading you to adapt to achieve desired learning outcomes. A child's curiosity may influence learning experiences that will guide you to find ways to incorporate them into your curriculum and strategy. 

When using intentional teaching, you can incorporate materials and equipment into your curriculum designed for the child's skills, interests, and needs. Throughout your lesson planning, you must constantly consider what activities to use, when, and for how long. 

You'll also determine if and how to address certain learning areas and how much time you’ll dedicate to that lesson. This teaching method relies heavily on demonstrating skills to the children or guiding them with questions, prompts, and suggestions.

Child painting on large piece of paper on the wall

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Intentional teaching doesn't just fall on the educator; the parents' and educators' aspirations for the children are essential. Therefore, you should have open and effective communication with the parents. You can determine the priorities for the children's learning and how they influence the curriculum, assessment, evaluation, environment, instruction, and interactions. 

In addition, parent engagement can support the process by providing additional insight into the family's cultural and community values and children's interests and strengths. It also lets you keep parents informed of their children's progress against their goals.

How does intentional teaching benefit children?

Intentional teaching offers personalized benefits to each child and a broader array of benefits to the class as a whole. Since the curriculum and lesson planning is partly specific to each child’s needs, interests, and skills, they’ll benefit in various ways. 

All children stand to benefit by:

  • Building a stronger sense of self
  • Learning and building positive relationships
  • Engaging their curiosity by exploring new interests and ideas
  • Sparking new areas of interest and extending their learning potential
  • Collaborating with peers and teachers to build trust and respect for one another

These positive changes and developments can be made by creating an environment that adapts to the children's needs and them to explore new topics and subjects, engage with their peers, and ask thought-provoking questions. This teaching method can also foster and support autonomy, positive attitudes, social and emotional development, and communication skills and prepare children to transition to a more formal school setting. 

Whatever areas are identified as priorities for the child, intentional teaching will provide them with meaningful experiences that contribute positively to their growth. For example, a child may struggle with solving problems or completing tasks unassisted. To develop greater independence, an intentional teaching curriculum may incorporate activities that prompt them to take responsibility for their items or tasks, such as cleaning up after themselves or creating routines. 

Suppose the goal is better communication. As an intentional teacher, you might encourage them to engage with their peers using topics, such as dinosaurs or reptiles, that interest them and guide them to socialize and effectively communicate.

What are the intentional teaching strategies?

Several practices contribute to creating intentional environments and interactions. You can create intentional interactions using:

    • Encouragement involves providing a child with reassurance, motivation, and support when they're experiencing difficulties in completing a task. By encouraging them, you can motivate their learning, minimize their frustrations, and influence them to behave and react in positive ways socially.
    • Demonstrating takes modeling a step further by breaking down a task and using clear and concise language to explain your actions. This is useful when showing children how to use different tools and materials.   
    • Modeling is when you demonstrate different actions, attitudes, and values in a particular setting. For example, this can show children how to solve problems or cooperate with others. 
    • Questioning is an intentional teaching strategy that encourages children to seek information or gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic or person. Open-ended questions enable them to make sense of the world while reflecting on their feelings and experiences. It also helps improve their language and communication skills. 
    • Suggestion involves offering children ideas, support, and recommendations about what to do next in the activity. Be sure to allow them the freedom to think independently if they don’t follow your suggestion. 
    • Scaffolding is when you provide a child with temporary support and guidance until they can accomplish a task independently. It encompasses other strategies such as modeling, describing, suggesting, questioning, and encouraging.
    • Facilitation is when you incorporate materials, people, equipment, time, interactions, and space into the learning process to make it easier for children. This includes putting together a group activity or a game to support practicing a new skill. 
    • Grouping is an excellent strategy for teaching collaboration and group discussion. It entails bringing children together to complete an activity to learn how to work together or alongside others. 
    • Positioning yourself is an intentional way to place yourself in support of a child's learning. This may include taking a step back and allowing them to make an independent effort toward learning a skill. Or, you can provide comfort or encouragement through small gestures such as making eye contact or giving a supportive smile.
    • Documentation is providing children with a photographic or written record of their past experiences and using it as a tool to support more learning opportunities.
    • Description involves using works to help children visualize how something, someone, or somewhere sounds, taste, looks, or moves. This strategy encourages them to take notice of more detailed and descriptive information and supports sensory experiences. 
    • Telling is less about a child's participation. Instead, it focuses more on providing a description or verbal account to tell them how something should go in a particular situation — for example, verbalizing how they should play nicely with others during recess.
    • Shared problem-solving is when you work directly and intentionally with children to solve a problem together. This strategy allows you to have them engage in an activity by asking them for their ideas and opinions on solving the problem while also allowing them to engage further in a scenario. For example, you might ask their opinion on solving a puzzle by asking questions to encourage participation and critical thinking. 
    • Co-construction allows children to provide you with their understanding or meaning of something. Instead of providing them with facts, you can hear their interpretation of a specific event or object.
    • Listening intentionally allows you to concentrate and think about what a child is saying verbally and non-verbally. When this happens, you can respond to them with a follow-up question that reflects what they said and allows them to further expand on the information they're giving. 
    • Feedback involves giving children non-verbal and verbal feedback about an experience. This can include sharing words of support and acknowledging their efforts, such as, "You did it! I can tell you've been practicing."
    • Prompting recall helps children by encouraging them to solve problems or improve their concentration by reinforcing past concepts or helping them remember details to help them complete a task. 
  • Observation is conducted daily, allowing teachers to understand the students better and learn more about the effectiveness of the curriculum, plan and implement changes to the curriculum, and measure and assess their development. 
  • Assessment plays a key role in keeping a record of a student's growth, development, and social behavior. This is instrumental to further curriculum planning and an opportunity to share details of the student's progress with their parents to continue learning at home.

Teacher and children doing arts and crafts at a table

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When creating an intentional environment, you may rely on strategies like:

  • Collecting is when you work with the children to gather objects based on size, color, or physical properties.
  • Positioning involves placing specific objects together in relation to people or each other. For example, placing crayons, scissors, and construction paper would indicate the start of a drawing or crafting activity. 
  • Scheduling time involves intentionally making time for a specific activity, such as planning individual activities during the day and group activities towards the end of the day. 

Incorporating intentional teaching into your curriculum

As an educator, when you break from traditional teaching methods, you can open up the door to new and exciting opportunities for the children in your preschool or childcare center to develop and grow. Intentional teaching provides creative and engaging ways to incorporate more critical thinking skills and challenging experiences into children's learning goals.



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