What Are Scaffolding Activities for the Early Childhood Classroom?

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In teaching, the idea behind scaffolding is that the teacher provides activities just slightly above a student's ability. The activities include skills the student has already mastered as well as some new learning goals. With some assistance from the teacher, and using those previously mastered skills, the student is able to perform the new activity and eventually build new skills as well.

1 Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a term that psychologist Lev Vygotsky originated. It is the area between where a child can complete a task entirely on his own and the next task, which he can complete with some assistance. It is in that area where learning takes place. Eventually, he will master that next task so he can do it entirely on his own; and the area from the newly mastered task to the next becomes the new ZPD.

2 Free Play

Preschoolers do most of their learning when they are playing. That is why so much time in preschool classrooms is devoted to free play. During this time, children build on what they already know and try out new skills and ideas within their zone of proximal development. For instance, a child might only be able to build a small tower out of two or three blocks, but during free play will work on building a larger tower out of five or six blocks at the suggestion and with the help of another student.

3 Role of Peers

In any given preschool classroom there will exist children with a wide range of abilities and skills. Some will be more advanced at certain things than others. During free play, the students watch each other as they interact. The less-advanced students will observe what the more-advanced students are doing and copy them, building upon what they know. The students will also talk to each other, asking questions and sharing ideas, so that they learn from one another.

4 The Role of the Teacher

A teacher helps break down activities and tasks into manageable steps, thereby creating an opportunity for scaffolding. This means talking through the steps with students and showing examples. For instance, a student might be learning how to zip up her own jacket. Her teacher will show her each step she needs to take in order to do that. First, he shows her how to put the pin into the slider, and then how to hold the bottom of the zipper while pulling the slider up. Then he talks her through the steps as she does it herself.

Living in Minneapolis, Minn., Jan Radder has over eight years of experience in early childhood and elementary education. He also also spent time working in the low-budget film industry. Radder earned a Bachelor of Arts from Eugene Lang College in 1992 and graduated from Augsburg College's Licensure Program in elementary education in 2001.