Will you teach my child to read in Kindergarten?

Lost in a good book

In Kindergarten (the year prior to school), interviews are held with the parents to develop a rapport, and to develop a shared understanding of their child.  Parents are asked about their child’s needs, strengths and interests, and their expectations for the year ahead.  Every year there a number of comments related to school readiness, prompted by educators querying “What does school readiness mean to you?” This paper will focus on parents’ frequent response “Will you teach my child to read? Will you teach them their letters?” – basically what are you going to do to help my child be a successful reader.

“How do children learn to read?” or “what skills do children need to be able to read?” is an ongoing  topic of contentious discussion (e.g., Reading wars debate Whole language vs Phonics, Cognitive vs Social (Giles & Tunks, 2015, p. 523)).  Dickinson, D, Golinkoff R, and Hirsh-Paske, K in their article Speaking Out for Language: Why Language is Central to Reading Development (2010), critically review the National Early Literacy Panel Report (NELP). They believe the NELP identification of “code-related abilities” for example letter knowledge, as the main predictor of reading success, undervalues the long term importance of language-based skills such as oral language. Dickinson et al, draw on a diverse range of research, much of which they acknowledged was published after the completion of the panel’s literature review ending in 2003. They outline the “indirect pathways from early language to later reading” (2010, p. 306), at the same time acknowledging “teaching and testing code skills is relatively easy” in comparison to assessing and teaching oral language skills (Dickinson et al., 2010, p. 308).

Riechgel’s (2004), article Theory and Research into Practice: Paying attention to Language posits educators should utilise the notions of linguistics theory to inform literacy instruction. He explains explicitly how teachers who ‘pay attention’ to the formal aspects of language e.g. phonology, syntax etc and non-formal aspects, e.g. functions of oral and written language, modify their practice based on their  observations and knowledge of linguistics,  leading to children’s literacy success.

Noting that it is nothing new, Riechgels states that children’s success in learning to read can be predicted by letter identification, concepts of print, phonemic awareness, verbal memory and vocabulary (Snow et al., 1998 cited in Richgels, 2004, p. 475). He upholds the importance of phonemic awareness, but suggests phonemic awareness and other language abilities many accept as precursors for literacy success can be fostered through “long-term nurturing of language abilities and rich interactions” (Richgels, 2004, p. 477).

Raban’s (2014), article Talk to Think, Learn, and Teach utilises research findings to examine the role of oral language in the early years, and its impact on literacy learning. Within this article there are two main themes that link into how children learn to read:  The first is that children’s language development is fostered through oral language, which is a shared, “primarily social” (Raban, 2014, p. 6) experience. Children need to participate in rich sustained conversations with a familiar, “mature, more-knowledgable speaker” (Raban, 2014, p. 5), with the opportunity for “sustained shared thinking” (Siraj-Blatchford 2009, cited in Raban, 2014, p. 7). This goes beyond developing children’s “skills for social talk” (Raban, 2014, p. 9) exposing children to the “richness and complexity of language”, extending both their vocabulary and sensitivity to decontextualised language (Raban, 2014, p. 6).

The role of the adult – in this situation the educator – leads to the second theme:  Educators need linguistic knowledge of pragmatics, semantics, syntax and so forth (Raban, 2014, p. 5), because “Linguistic analysis is the most-frequent common dominator of language study and the least understood” (Raban, 2014, p. 5). Rabin cites Clay, stating “children learn on all levels at once” (1975, p. 19 cited in Raban, 2014, p. 6), not through a series of cumulative steps.  As a result, language needs to be explored “within the context of a larger frame of meaning” so that children understand not only the language, but the meaning behind the language (Raban, 2014, p. 6).

Learning to read is a “complex interrelation of subsystems,” which develops recursively “not in a single trajectory” (Richgels, 2004, p. 5). Children don’t suddenly know how to read once they know their letters, thus to become successful readers, they need adults who are knowledgable and pay attention to each subsystem, providing the scaffolding when needed.

Position Statement

Children’s knowledge and understanding of code-related skills such as letter knowledge, phonological and  phonemic awareness is important to their emergent literacy development (Dickinson et al., 2010, p. 305; Raban, 2014, p. 5; Richgels, 2004, pp. 475-476)  As Richgels eloquently states however, this “is not the be-all and end-all of early literacy learning or teaching” (2004, p. 472).

Language use provides a critical contribution to life-long literacy  (Dickinson et al., 2010, p. 308; Raban, 2014, p. 6; Richgels, 2004, p. 474), which develops through interactions and conversations with more knowledgable others (Raban, 2014, p. 5). The Kindergarten needs to be an environment where children have the opportunity to converse with knowledgable others who appropriately model language (Raban, 2014, p. 5). Raban states that children’s language development “depends directly upon the amount of conversation that occurs” between the child and familiar adults (2014, p. 6).  Dickinson and Sprague assert that teachers “use of rare words, and their ability to limit how much they said and, hence, listen to what children were saying” during conversations, which has a powerful impact on the children’s language development (2001, p. 271 cited in Dickinson et al., 2010, p. 476).

Children’s vocabulary is a vital aspect of language development (Dickinson et al., 2010, p. 307; Raban, 2014, p. 11; Richgels, 2004, p. 473). The number of words in their vocabulary is indicative of linguistic health, and is also a factor in their ability to use language for multiple purposes and in varied contexts (Raban, 2014, pp. 10-12; Richgels, 2004, p. 473), strongly correlating with later literacy success (Snow, 1991, p.9 cited in Raban, 2014, p. 9; Gee, 1990 cited in Richgels, 2004, p. 475). Educators can broaden children’s vocabulary by exposing them to decontextualised language, “the language of books” (Raban, 2014, pp. 6-12), ‘rare’ words (Jordan, Snow, and Porche, 2000, p. 529 cited in Richgels, 2004, p. 476), and by utilising vocabulary that is not usually found in their day-to-day conversations.

Conversations that lead to sustained shared thinking, where individuals “‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities, or extend a narrative” (Jordan, Snow, and Porche 2000, p. 529 cited in Raban, 2014, p. 7; Richgels, 2004, p. 476; Siraj-Blatchford, 2009, p. 78), are powerful in  supporting children’s new language acquisition and associated world knowledge which is pivotal to later reading comprehension  (McKeown, Beck, & Blake, 2009; Neuman & Celano, 2006; Willingham, 2006–2007 cited in Dickinson et al., 2010, p. 308)

Activating children’s prior knowledge (Dickinson et al., 2010, p. 305; Raban, 2014, p. 7), also supports the learning of new information, linking to what they already know.  Educators need to be alert, however, as to whether this new information conflicts with the child’s pre-misconceptions, as then the role of prior knowledge is paradoxical – it can either support or hinder children’s learning (Raban, 2014, p. 7).

Richgels proposal makes sense, so Kindergarten programs should be based on “long-term nurturing of language abilities and rich interactions involving language [which] are key to promoting phonemic awareness and the other language abilities that, along with print abilities, predict literacy success” (2004, p. 476).  Since “language is a complex interrelation of subsystems,” the variety of which is the marker of language development (Raban, 2014, p. 5), educators need to pay attention to language, as it will guide decisions in how and what to teach (Richgels, 2004, p. 470).

Implications for teaching practice

Richgel proposes that ‘rich interactions’ are the key for literacy success  (2004, p. 476), acknowledging that this is not just an opportunity to develop language abilities like oral language and vocabulary, but also phonemic awareness and print abilities.  Considering Richgel and Radan’s directions, educators need to be knowledgable of the variety of systems that lead to language development  (Raban, 2014, p. 5; Richgels, 2004, p. 470).

Raban’s observation that “language develops recursively” and “works on many levels, frequently simultaneously” (2014, p. 6), has encouraged me to stop and reflect on whether are we paying enough attention to children’s rapid and diverse language development. Do we have the linguistic knowledge to fully support children’s emergent literacy? Are we confident enough in our knowledge to create a shared understanding with families in relation to their child’s literacy development? Does our self-doubt undermine an otherwise sound opportunity to establish reciprocally acceptable expectations, aligning our goals in the setting and at home?

Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach (Malaguzzi, Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998), the Kindergarten program has a strong sociocultural focus, and the educators intentionally create language-rich environments utilising experiences such as drawing, drama, sculpture, music, movement, and so forth. Embedded in our literacy practices is the process of meaning-making through social interactions between children and educators (Kim, 2011, p. 490), children are encouraged to be active participants in group dialogue providing opportunities to strengthen their language development through practice.

Although these authors’ arguments are much in line with the Victorian Early Years Learning and Developmental Framework (VEYLDF) (DEECD, 2009), from a professional standpoint, there is need to re-evaluate our existing knowledge and beliefs about children’s early literacy learning which have a critical impact on our pedagogical practices (Miller & Smith, 2004, p. 131). Such re-evaluation must be of a critical nature, questioning and challenging our existing beliefs rather than seeking to reaffirm them through confirmation bias (Fendler, 2003, p. 16).

A language-rich environment provides opportunities for the use of “abstract language and concepts not commonly experienced in typical adult-child conversation”, (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008), including inferencing, reasoning, predicting, and explaining  (Massey, 2013, p. 125). This is supported through teacher scaffolding with questions and comments to extend children’s language development. Reading aloud to children is a commonly employed practice in early childhood settings, as the NELP report found, because shared reading activities support the development of oral and print language, comprehension, world-knowledge and context and vocabulary (Kindle, 2010, pp. 67-68; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). “Read-alouds are adult-mediated interactions, and thus provide a supportive context for learning” (Kindle, 2010, pp. 67). Delivered by a skilled, knowledgable educator, the interaction role-models “intonation, gestures, and facial expressions, [and] teachers provide clues about about word meanings” (Kindle, 2010, pp. 67). The educator may pause to add additional context or examples, or build print awareness, and can further encourage deep processing through questioning. (Kindle, 2010, pp. 67).

Dickinson & Smith (1994), suggest that “variation in how teachers in typical early childhood classrooms discuss books with 4-year- olds in full-group settings is strongly related to long-term growth in early vocabulary development and story comprehension skills” (1994, p. 117 cited in Kindle, 2010, p. 67). Kindle cautions however, that “all read-alouds are not equal in terms of word learning potential” (2010, p. 85). Key to the effectiveness of the educator’s delivery was some prior planning, at least a familiarity with the text and the possibilities it offers. Some educators, however, view shared-reading as merely a transition or pleasurable experience rather than a powerful teachable moment (Kindle, 2010, p. 84). It is important, however, that the teachable moment remains an enjoyable one, and finding this balance will require skill and experience, together with a knowledge of the children.

Educators’ views and beliefs are informed by their prior experience and training, which may see some conflict between their “theories of development and theories of practice” (McLachlan-Smith & St. George, 2000, p.37 cited in Miller & Smith, 2004, p. 122). Some educators are aware they should use shared-reading as a teachable moment, but may lack the skill and knowledge to do so successfully. Their decisions may be “based on personal and practical knowledge, rather than technical knowledge” (Vartuli, 1999, cited in Miller & Smith, 2004, p. 122), which is needed to recognise potential teachable moments. Others may simply lack the inclination, or be caught between conflicting philosophies and beliefs regarding appropriate curricula and instructional strategies for preschoolers (Kindle, 2013, p. 177).

Within our practice, educators are likely to benefit from focused professional development on the learning possibilities which can arise from planned shared-reading. Role-modelling these techniques will also produce the flow-on effect of showing families how daily book-reading can lead to their support of their children becoming successful readers without focusing solely on letter knowledge.

Parents will benefit from greater understanding and wider view of their role in early literacy, and will have more realistic and reasonable expectations and concept of ‘success’, and our parent interviews will result in greater alignment between our educational practices and their expectations.


DEECD. (2009). Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework: For all children from birth to eight years.  Melbourne: DEECD

Dickinson, D. K, Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2010). Speaking out for Language: Why Language Is Central to Reading Development. Educational Researcher, 39(4), 305-310.

Fendler, L. (2003). Teacher Reflection in a Hall of Mirrors: Historical Influences and Polictical Reverberations. Educational Researcher, 32(3), 16-25.

Giles, Rebecca M., & Tunks, Karyn. (2015). Teachers’ Thoughts on Teaching Reading: An Investigation of Early Childhood Teachers’ Perceptions of Literacy Acquisition. Early Childhood Education Journal, 43(6), 523-530.

Kim, Mi Song. (2011). Play, Drawing and Writing: A Case Study of Korean-Canadian Young Children. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 19(4), 483-500.

Kindle, Karen J. (2010). Vocabulary Development During Read-Alouds: Examining the Instructional Sequence. Literacy Teaching & Learning: An International Journal of Early Reading & Writing, 14(1/2), 65-88.

Kindle, Karen J. (2013). Interactive reading in preschool: improving practice through professional development, 175.

Malaguzzi, L., Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (1998). The hundred languages of children.

Massey, Susan L. (2013). From the Reading Rug to the Play Center: Enhancing Vocabulary and Comprehensive Language Skills by Connecting Storybook Reading and Guided Play. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41(2), 125-131.

Miller, Linda, & Smith, Alice Paige. (2004). Practitioners’ Beliefs and Children’s Experiences of Literacy in Four Early Years Settings. Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, 24(2), 121-133.

National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the national Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Insttute for Literacy.

Raban, B. (2014). ‘Talk to think, learn and teach’. Journal of Reading Recovery, 5-15.

Richgels, D. J. (2004). Theory and research into Practice: Paying attention to Language. Reading Research Quarterly, 39(4), 470-477.

Siraj-Blatchford, Iram. (2009). Conceptualising progression in the pedagogy of play and sustained shared thinking in early childhood education: A Vygotskian perspective. Educational & Child Psychology, 26(2), 77-89.

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Posted in 21st Century Skills, Learning Frameworks, Programing and Planning, Reflecting, Theory

The Role of Critical Thinking in Children’s Risky Play

Lu-Ann Randall



With The Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians, the Council of Australian Governments articulated their combined position on the importance of young Australians becoming “successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens” (Goal 2, Ministerial Council on Education, 2008, pp. 7-8). The subsequent Early Years Learning Framework thus identified that through the vehicle of play, with worthwhile and challenging experiences which encourage children to take risks, their higher-level and critical thinking skills can be promoted (DEEWR, 2009, p. 15). Little attention, however, has been paid to the potential of fostering critical thinking during risky outdoor play, to which children are naturally drawn, as the literature instead emphasises dialogic learning for this purpose. This paper provides a brief overview of critical thinking, risky play and outdoor learning in the Kindergarten context, arguably the ideal time to establish these important foundations for learning, and then presents Mc Bride’s critical thinking schema as a theoretical framework for exploring and supporting children’s critical thinking during risky play, with further suggestions for future research.


Keywords: Critical thinking, Risky Play, Kindergarten, Outdoor Learning, Mc Bride, Mosaic



Critical thinking and risky play in the outdoors have each a pivotal role supporting children in becoming life long learners. Kellert, (2006, p. 69) puts forward the strongest connection between the two, stating “no other aspect of a child’s life offers this degree of consistent but varied changes for critical thinking and problem solving,” however in his context, the catalyst for critical thinking is linked to the affordances of nature itself, to be identified, classified, observed, interpreted. There seems to be a gap in research exploring critical thinking being utilised or developed through risky outdoor play in Kindergarten. There are inferences in the research between critical thinking and risky play: for example, Dietze, Pye, & Yochoff state “risk-taking is positively associated with developing critical thinking skills”, citing Ungar (Ungar, 2009; Ungar, 2010 cited in 2013, p. 1), although he actually refers to ‘thinking’ without elaborating on the possibility of critical thinking.


Critical Thinking

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) highlights that play “provides a supportive environment where children can ask questions, solve problems and engage in critical thinking” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 15), relating to Outcomes 2 and 5.

There are numerous definitions of critical thinking, from the quite simplistic critical thinking is the ability to make sound decisions and problem solve, to the Delphi Report, which lists cognitive skills involved in critical thinking: (1) interpretation, (2) analysis, (3) evaluation, (4) inference, (5) explanation and (6) self-regulation (Facione, 1990, p. 4).

Mulnix summarises multiple perspectives including Scriven, Paula and Elder, Vaughan, Petress, Phelan and Willingham with “critical thinking is a process, a skilled activity of thought. It includes a commitment to using reason in the formulation of our beliefs” (Mulnix, 2012, p. 471).

Beyond a mere set of skills, the EYLF states that dispositions are “enduring habits of mind and actions, and tendencies to respond in characteristic ways to situations, for example, maintaining an optimistic outlook, being willing to persevere, approaching new experiences with confidence” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 10).

Perkins, Jay and Tishman (1993, pp. 2-3) propose an unpacking of the EYLF statement, suggesting a “triadic dispositional theory,” comprised of ability, inclination and sensitivity. Ability is the capability and skill needed to carry through on a behaviour, inclination is the tendency to behave a certain way, and sensitivity is the alertness of the appropriate occasion for exhibiting the behaviour (McBride, Xiang, & Wittenburg, 2002, pp. 30-31).

Perkins et al. (1993, p. 6) triadic model identifies seven broad thinking dispositions. They are: (1) be broad and adventurous; (2) sustain intellectual curiosity; (3) clarify and seek understanding; (4) be planful and strategic; (5) be intellectually careful; (6) seek and evaluate reasons; and (7) be metacognitive.

Research in cognitive psychology identified that learners who monitor and regulate their cognitive processing appropriately during task performance are more successful than those who do not, further highlighting the importance of metacognition when exploring critical thinking (McBride, 1992, p. 115)

McBride cautiously posited that critical thinking in physical education be defined as reflective thinking that is used to make reasonable and defensible decisions about movement tasks or challenges. Reflective refers to the ability to draw upon information from one’s general and domain-specific knowledge areas. Reasonable implies a logical thought process, and defensible refers to being held accountable for the decisions made from the critical-thinking process.

Benefits of critical thinking

A program that has children learning by resolving cognitive conflicts through experiences, reflection and metacognition has critical thinking at the heart of its teaching and learning process (Davis-Seaver, Smith, & Leflore, 2001, p. 2).

To Matthew Lipman, critical thinking is needed to help distinguish, between the  information received, as to what is relevant according to the needs of the situation. “So critical thinking is a tool for countering unconsidered actions and thoughts” (Lipman, 1988, 1995 cited in Daniel & Auriac, 2011, p. 6). The educator aims, by fostering critical thinking skills and dispositions, to develop independent thinkers who can participate in constructive scepticism and reflection (Daniel & Auriac, 2011, p. 420), encouraging metacognitive dialogues with oneself (Mulnix, 2012, p. 473).

Risky Play

‘Risk’ has changed from a neutral term indicating the “probability of a given outcome”  (Brussoni, Olsen, Pike, & Sleet, 2012, p. 6425) to now, often conveying negative connotations (H. Little & Wyver, 2008, p. 34).   Risk in the context of risky play denotes a situation whereby a child can recognise a challenge, and makes a choice whether to participate, not knowing if the intended outcome can be achieved. This is in contrast to the more common use of the word to describe hazards, which is a situation that the child cannot visualise or predict, and thus cannot assess for themselves (D. J. Ball, Gill, & Spiegal, 2012, p. 28).

Risk is a natural part of children’s play (E. B. H. Sandseter, 2009, p. 92). Children often seek out opportunities for engaging in challenging and risky play, which helps develop their knowledge of the world around them (D. J. Ball et al., 2012, p. 8).  Risky play can be described as thrilling and exciting experiences involving risk of physical injury (E B H Sandseter & Kennair, 2011, p. 258), “play that provides opportunities for challenge, testing of the limits, exploring boundaries and learning about risk” (D. Ball, 2002, p. 158; Little & Wyver, 2008, p. 1).

Risky play predominantly takes place outdoors, often as adventurous and challenging experiences, with children attempting something they have never done before, skirting the edge of the feeling of being out of control and overcoming fear (Coster & Gleeve, 2008, p. 9; E. B. H. Sandseter, 2009, p. 95; Stephenson, 2003, p. 3),  French Sociologist Roger Caillois (2001, p. 138) suggests that the sensation of being out of control, disrupted and disoriented, which he terms ilinx, can be a significant element of the play.

Categories of Risky Play

The below categories are from Sandseter’s research (2007, pp. 242-245), which included observing children and interviewing them in regard to risky play, since becoming an international reference for this area of research.

  • Great Heights – Climbing, jumping, balancing, hanging
  • High Speed – Swinging, sliding, running, bikes, skating
  • Dangerous Tools – Cutting, poking, whipping, sawing, lashing, tying
  • Dangerous Elements – Elevation change, water, fire
  • Mock-Aggression – Wrestling, fencing, play fighting, rough and tumble play
  • Disappearing / Getting Lost – Exploring unknown environments

As Tovey (2007, p. 101), explains “risk is socially constructed, and what is acceptable in one context, or culture may be unacceptable in another.” Every child is different, one child’s idea of a risk, may be ‘easy-peasy’ to another child. Gender socialisation plays a significant part, with research suggesting that “mothers are more encouraging of risk taking by sons than daughters and they communicate more about injury risk to daughters than sons” (Morrongiello & Hogg, 2004, p. 104; Morrongiello, Zdzieborski, & Normand, 2010, p. 323). Risk is embedded with values, dictating to children as to what is consider appropriate or inappropriate. These factors are not unpacked and discussed further, as they are not the focus of this paper, however it needs to be noted they can have a significant impact on children’s participation in risky play.


Benefits of risky play

It’s acknowledged that risky play is essential in terms of children’s physical activity, independence, social and cognitive development and reducing learning difficulties (Gill, 2007; E B H Sandseter & Kennair, 2011, p. 260; E. B. H Sandseter, 2012; Tremblay et al., 2015, p. 6491). Opportunities to succeed and possibility to fail (Little, 2010, p. 8) are provided through risky play, with the outcome based on children’s individual choices, reasoning, and problem solving skills (Greenfield, 2004, p. 1).  Opportunities to to identify risk and manage risk, are invaluable in developing an understanding of how to navigate risks and avoid injuries (E B H Sandseter & Kennair, 2011, p. 260).

Risky play is beneficial to children’s development as it can help them cope with stressful, challenging situations, supporting their self-sufficiency (Gill, 2007, p. 16; Tremblay et al., 2015, p. 6491). Extending on that, is the possibility that risky play has an anti-phobic effect, that as a result of exposure to typically anxiety-eliciting stimuli, in combination with positive emotions (fearful joy, excitement and thrills), in a safe situation, children develop resilience and self confidence, learning to cope with potentially dangerous situations  (E B H Sandseter & Kennair, 2011, p. 262).

Lack of opportunity to engage in risky play, research explains, could lead to children who are “risk averse,” (Brussoni et al., 2015, p. 6491; Gill, 2007, p. 14; Lester & Russell, 2008, p. 1:31), have never learnt how to judge risks and manage them for themselves, and thus avoid risk in all aspects of their lives (England, 2008; Ungar, 2009, p. 264), or to children who seek out dangerous or hazardous locations to experience thrill (Gleave, 2008, p. 25; Ungar, 2009, p. 264).

Outdoor Learning

Outdoor learning is a broad term, and its definition varies depending on the underlying pedagogy of the of the program. In Kindergarten the term generally refers to the play space attached to the kindergarten, though there is a gradual shift to include the beyond, the ‘natural world’ or ‘wild areas’ that are utilised by Outdoor Kinder programs in their various guises, where children adventure away from the physical kinder building. Essential features of these programs are that “children spend long and regular periods of time in unstructured play” in natural environments, “ranging from weekly visits over a preschool term to an everyday all year round occurrence” (Elliott & Chancellor,  2012, p. 7).

Current focus on outdoor learning stems for many as a result of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods (Louv, 2006), in which he highlighted some disturbing childhood trends, such as obesity, depression and behaviour difficulties as a result of children’s limited opportunities for outdoor spontaneous play (for more information see http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/).

Benefits of outdoor learning

Since Louv’s book, there has been a plethora of research looking into the benefits of reconnecting children’s play with nature.  Within the research there are common themes as to the benefits for children playing outdoors;


Figure 1 Risk -Taking ‘easy peasy’ or a challenge
  • Self Confidence and Self esteem: children have freedom, time and space to learn and demonstrate independence, risk asses (Kellert, 2009, p. 377; O’Brien & Murray, 2007, p. 255; Rickinson, 2004, p. 6)
  • Personal, Social and Emotional skills: children gain increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on peers through team experiences such as sharing tools and participating in play, communication skills (O’Brien & Murray, 2007, p. 255; Roe & Aspinall, 2011, p. 550)
  • Motivation: nature tends to fascinate children and they developed a keenness to participate and the ability to concentrate over longer periods of time (O’Brien & Murray, 2007, p. 255)
  • Physical skills and Movement: improvements characterised by the development of physical stamina and gross and fine motor skills (Fjørtoft, 2004, p. 38; Kellert, 2009, p. 377; O’Brien & Murray, 2007, p. 255)
  • Cognitive: knowledge and understanding about natural surroundings – space, themselves, seasonal changes (Kellert, 2009, p. 377; O’Brien & Murray, 2007, p. 255)
  • Restoration and stress reduction: alleviation of ADD and ADHD symptoms (Strife & Downey, 2009, p. 106; Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2001, p. 75; Weinstein, 2015)
  • Affective impacts: changes and development of attitudes, beliefs, and values (Rickinson, 2004, p. 22; Wyver et al., 2010, p. 1)
  • Sensory Experience: ability to explore engaging all senses (Lovell, O’Brien, & Owen, 2010, p. 15)

There is clear rationale for children to be engaged in outdoor learning, but there are also concerns. Increased traffic is seen as a real danger (Little, 2015, p. 33; Wyver et al., 2010, p. 4), as too stranger-danger (Tremblay et al., 2015, p. 6484), as locations for spontaneous play are being reduced to designated, isolated areas that are difficult for children to access independently. In other countries there is inequity of access to green spaces because of potential risks such as pollution and crime to which children would be exposed (Strife & Downey, 2009, p. 113; Tremblay et al., 2015, p. 6485).

Within the Kindergarten there are other barriers: adult expectations of academic learning, which can be both families and educators; that learning happens indoors; cultural expectations that children need to be clean and tidy; health concerns – they might catch a cold or hurt themselves; and so forth. Numerous research articles claim that Educators’ concerns about litigation, in addition to gender and personality, impact on their willingness to offer children risky outdoor play (e.g. Little, Sandseter, & Wyver, 2012; E B H Sandseter, 2014).

Why focus on critical thinking and risky outdoor play in kindergarten

Brain research states that foundations for self-regulation, social interactions and cognitive learning are built on early experiences between birth and school age (Medicine & Council, 2015, p. 180).  Although children’s ongoing development is not cemented by these early experiences, the patterns established can be persistent and have lifelong influence (AIHW, 2015, p. 1).  Current research indicates our brains retain the capacity to adapt and change as we grow older, but acknowledges it may prove difficult to rewire earlier developed brain structures (Fox, Levitt, & Nelson, 2010, p. 35). Lester, Russell & Bernard Van Leer agree with the EYLF that play is the way, explaining that play creates a brain that has increased “flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life” (2010, p. 9).

As Ryan & Deci (2000, p. 56) point out, “From birth onward, humans … are active, inquisitive, curious, and playful creatures, displaying a ubiquitous readiness to learn and explore”. Children are keen to explore the world around them through physical and mental play, and their impulse is always to ask ‘why?’  (Maynard, 2007, p. 382; Rinaldi, 2012, p. 240).

As famous astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan was fond of saying, “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist…” but through ‘education’ their natural wonder and enthusiasm can be fostered or destroyed. ‘Learning through play’ is one of the practices most commonly known in the EYLF (DEEWR, 2009, p. 46). What is meant by play? Huizinga explains, “Play is a function of living but… [avoids] …definition…[Play] remains distinct from all other forms of thought in which we express the structure of mental and social life” (1930 p.6 cited in Ortlieb, 2010, p. 241). Huizinga famously wrote “let my playing be my learning, and my learning be my playing” and the possible realisation of this concept is more prevalent in the early years, though perhaps not the quantity of ‘freedom’ he advocated (Huizinga, 1949, pp. 7-8).

The value of play has been well documented, linking to developmental benefits (DEEWR, 2009, p. 15). There is debate, however, about the exact link between play and learning (Pellegrini & Smith, 2008, p. 1).  It is suggested that there should be a balance between genuine play with ‘freedom’ and intentional teaching, which involves educators being purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate in their actions and decisions (DEEWR, 2009, p. 15).

There can be many benefits when utilising intentional teaching, but there must also be an awareness that any experience can as easily derail a child’s curiosity, as it can propel a child’s intellectual energy, ensuring their intrinsic motivation (Higgins & Nicol, 2002, p. 7).

Much of children’s play within the Kindergarten setting could be described as ‘experiential learning,’ originating with Dewey (Weinstein, 2015, p. 28). Children are wanting to stretch beyond the known as a result of their curiosity being fuelled through quality, hands on, concrete, and spontaneous play experiences (R. Moore, 2014, p. 33).  When children encounter a problem, they have the option of trying different strategies until one works (trial and error), or they can access prior knowledge where they move beyond the actual experience or situation to more abstract exploration of solutions (Quay, 2012, p. 152; Quay & Seaman, 2013, p. 81). If to move forward in this experience requires effort, “The significant thing is that effort is diverted into thinking”. Hence “the emotion of effort, or of stress, is a warning to think, to consider, to reflect, to inquire” (Dewey 1913b: 49-51 Quay, 2013, p. 182). Thus the opportunity for critical thinking, especially metacognition is provided. However, it needs to be noted that there is always an aspect of trial and error when solving a problem, as the even the most rationally considered thought has be to be tried out within the experience.

Kochanska, Coy and Murray’s research identified that the period from infancy through preschool age is critical for the emergence of self-regulator capacities (2001, p. 1106). Their research noted that during this time children’s capacities are volatile, having the potential to improve, decline or remain static (p. 1107).  Whitebread and O’Sullivan explain that metacognition is involved in controlling cognition, whereas behaviour including motivation (will), social, and cognitive aspects come under the umbrella of self-regulation (2012, p. 198). Research highlights that self-regulation is a key component for later academic success (McClelland, John Geldhof, Cameron, & Wanless, 2015, pp. 1-2; Sawyer et al., 2015, p. 745), and helping children become effective lifelong learners (de la Harpe & Radloff, 2000, p. 170).  Usher & Pajares highlight “a key determinant of whether learners employ self-regulatory strategies rests in the beliefs they hold about their capabilities to do so” (2008, p. 444).

Therefore, it is important that children are intrinsically motivated, and that they have a ‘can do attitude” or a positive mindset (Dweck, 1999), linking in with Albert Bandura’s Self-efficacy theory.  Children’s attempts at goals and challenges is highly dependent on their self-efficacy.

Children who have a strong sense of self-efficacy: Children who have a weak sense of self-efficacy:
•       view challenging problems as tasks to be mastered

•       develop a deeper interest in the experiences they take part in

•       have a strong sense of commitment to their interests and experiences

•       recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments.

•       avoid being challenged

•       believe they are unable to overcome difficulties

•       focus on their limited skills, and negative outcomes

•       don’t have confidence in their own abilities

(Allen & Gordon, 2012, p. 7; Usher & Pajares, 2008, p. 456)

Bandura explains that underpinning beliefs and attitudes start to form in early childhood, thus highlighting the need to support these characteristics in young children (Allen & Gordon, 2012, p. 7). Children who have a weak sense of self-efficacy, will have difficulty self-regulating their learning, and are more likely to give up when faced with a problem or challenge (Usher & Pajares, 2008, p. 456).

The major experiences affecting self-efficacy include:

  • Mastery experiences: being successful in performing tasks
  • Social modelling: seeing other people complete tasks successfully
  • Social persuasion: verbal encouragement and constructive feedback
  • Psychological response: feelings, emotions, physical reactions and stress for example, a sense of belonging

(Allen & Gordon, 2012, p. 7)

Given the importance of the early-childhood stage in building the child’s self-efficacy, the outdoor risky play encounters afforded by the Kindergarten setting offer an ideal opportunity to provide these positive experiences.  Less well known however, is that Kindergartens are directed by a framework (EYLF), rather than a content-driven curriculum, which places less emphasis upon specific domains, and thus provides more opportunity to integrate concepts such as critical thinking across all learning experiences.

Within Kindergartens, educators’ image of the child has significant impact on how the program is implemented. Research argues that we need to start early, seeing children as “individuals with thoughts, goals feelings and intentions” and through this ‘image of the child’ critical thinking would become part of the educative culture rather than an additional program (Lizarraga, Baquedano, & Villanueva, 2012, p. 277).


Links between Critical thinking and Outdoor Risky Play

As has been discussed, many children are drawn to risky play, Teacher Tom (2015) explains “critical thinking as being the best safety precaution for children there is …, young children are capable of assessing … day-to-day risks, but only if they’ve had the chance to practice; only if they’re well versed in the art of critical thinking.” Thus it makes pedagogical sense to provide children with opportunities for risky play, as well as the skills to self-asses the level of risk.

Two questions are highlighted for future research: The first is are young children intrinsically using critical thinking in their risk-taking play?  Ball et al., states that “most children naturally regulate their exposure to the good risks … such as the risk of falling from height … how high to climb, … jump” (2012, p. 30). Bruce, Ungar, & Waschbusch’s research showed that the ability to attend to thinking about risk is diverse in children. In their research, the children (10-12 year olds) who identified thinking about risk also discussed being responsible for their actions, and considered the options as well as the possible consequences when approaching a risk.  One child explained “you have to think how to do it … And it makes it less risky.”  Thus “cognitive appraisal of risk was integral to their consideration of risk” (2009, p. 192).

Bruce et al., suggest that “risk perception may be conceived as requiring both cognitive and social strategies” as risk-taking can be intentional (planned risk taking) or it can be behavioural willingness (consciously planning to take a risk but not planning to avoid one), highlighting the importance of equipping children with the ability to think through their options, and to take responsibility for their choices (Bruce et al., 2009, p. 195).

The second question is based on the outcome of the first question, if children are observed to be intrinsically utilising critical thinking, is this an opportunity for educators to alert children to the skills and dispositions they are using, with the possibility of transference into other aspects of their education? Linking back to Perkins, Jay and Tishman’s (1993, p. 2) triadic dispositional theory, if we show children they already have the ability and inclination, we can further develop their sensitivity to, and awareness of opportunities to utilise their skills.  Stephenson (2003, p. 41) highlights that many educators believe “that there is a fundamental link between a young child’s developing confidence in confronting physical challenges, and her confidence to undertake risks of quite different kinds in other learning contexts”,  leading to a risk-taker disposition which could be a research inquiry in itself (Costa 1991 cited in Stephenson, 2003, p. 41).

A further extension to this question, is if children aren’t using critical thinking within their risky play, is this a teaching opportunity missed? “Many children fail to think about their thinking. They do not think about how they think, which means they cannot control their information processing” (Hyde & Bizar, 1989, p. 51). Bruce, Ungar & Waschbush (2009, p. 195) indicated that an intervention strategy could be to develop mechanisms helping children to consider the potential risk-taking situation in ways “that ensure a more accurate assessment of risk”, thus identifying this is a teachable opportunity helping them “to engage in the “self-planning, self-monitoring, self-regulating, self-questioning, self-reflecting, self-reviewing” that is necessary to critical thinking and learning” (Hyde & Bizar, 1989, p. 51).

Showing that others have considered these relationships before, there is some research into the possible integration of ‘thinking skills’ into young children’s movement programs (Chen & Cone, 2003, p. 170; Buschner, 1988 cited in McBride, 1999, p. 117), but as is the case with linking critical thinking and risky play, such research is limited.

McBride (1991, p. 19) puts forward a theoretical model of critical thinking in the psychomotor domain (a physical action that supports or is a vehicle for cognitive growth), as he explains “before examination can occur, some form of schematic representation linking critical thinking to physical education needs to be developed’ (1992, p. 117). Figure 1 attempts to provide a schematic representation of the critical-thinking process in physical education. The Schema is a four-phased model, it includes “Cognitive organisation, cognitive action, cognitive outcomes and psychomotor outcomes”.


Figure 2 Mc Brides Critical Thinking Schema

McBride’s Critical Thinking Schema (McBride, 1999, p. 118):

  • First step: when a problem requests the discovery of a movement or an idea, the cognitive organisation is activated, as long as the child is able to focus on the problem-challenge and asks questions.
  • Second step: is cognitive action and refers to the ability to use the information generated during the previous step, to make judgments and to formulate hypotheses (cognitive action in movement–knowledge of how various locomotor, stability, and manipulative patterns were executed and modulated).
  • Third and Fourth steps: the production of cognitive and psychomotor outcomes is activated. During these steps, critical thinking is required to decide whether a solution is different and to use criteria (knowledge of movement elements: space, effort, and relationship) for the planning of novel or modified movement patterns (Trevlas, Grammatikopoulos, Tsigilis, & Zachopoulou, 2003, p. 537).

According to McBride, (1991, p. 19) in order to evoke critical thinking, children need to be pushed out of the traditional challenge-response mode of learning, towards a crisis or stressful situation which requires assessment, generating hypotheses and thinking through the problem, rather than relying upon their ability to simply rote memorise and recall information . Risky play could provide exactly the type of crisis McBride advocates, as an automatic response is seldom available due to the new experiences afforded by environment.

Such experiences in risky outdoor play provide an opportunity to explore thinking about thinking, introducing children to the concept of metacognition and reflection-thinking within the context of concrete, physical experiences. These are by their nature easier to unpack than cognitive achievements, which are often invisible and harder to discuss. By making children aware of these concepts, further exploration about the processes of problem solving and critical thinking can occur, utilising the language and techniques laid down in earlier discussion. Research has shown that one of the key traits good problem-solvers possess is highly developed metacognition, when they discover a problem, they “stop, analyse and reflect” (Papaleontiou-Louca, 2003, p. 21).

McBride’s Critical thinking schema could in fact be a practical resource for exploring children’s critical thinking during risky play, even though critical thinking is not a simplistic systematic process, and thus this would provide a framework only, providing direction for educators on where to stop and explore ‘thinking about thinking’. His classification of cognitive steps makes it clear to educators how to asses the child’s current stage of critical thinking, and when to scaffold and model critical thinking.

To explore the questions posed, it’s suggested that the Mosaic approach (Clark, 2001, p. 334)   be utilised, as it is a multi-method framework, and is flexible allowing researchers to fine tune it to meet their needs.

It combines traditional methodology;

  • Interviews: group, one-to-one, child conferencing, group interviews, or child to child interviews
  • Observations: spontaneous, planned, written, photographic, video, audio, photo essays


Child-participatory tools;

  • Cameras: children as photographers researching; the photos can be used as prompts for discussion, memory aids, and a source of data
  • Tours: children take researchers on a tour of the environment, in this case locations for risk taking opportunities, this is directed and recorded by the children
  • Mapping: 2D representations of the research topic, using children’s own photographs and drawing, this can involve independent or collaborative drawing. Researchers have discovered that listening to young children talk during the drawing process provides an opportunity to understand their thinking, and the influence of peers (Coates & Coates, 2006, p. 226; S. Dockett & Perry, 2005).
  • Role-play: this provides an opportunity for children communicate their thoughts and feelings physically, using their whole body.

(Clark, 2005a, pp. 294-296; 2005b, p. 14)

Through the use of inductive analysis, patterns, themes and categories are identified through each tool coming together to create a Mosaic, which provides the basis for dialogue, interpretation and reflection with adults and children (Clark, 2001, p. 334).

A valid rationale for using this Mosaic approach, which combines a number of strategies, is that it could be seen as a way to seek specific constant “within method triangulation” through comparison of observations and interviews (E. B. H Sandseter, 2007, p. 241). Another rationale links back to the child-participatory approach, that a range of strategies allows children to choose how they will participate, whilst also acknowledging the diverse range of competencies children have (Dockett et al., 2009, p. 284). As Flewitt explained, children make and express meaning in a variety of ways, which may be overshadowed by the current emphasis on talking and listening (2005, p. 221), so educators need to be aware that no one strategy is the answer to understanding children.

Consideration of child-participatory tools can be seen as a consequence of the change from researching children, to researching with children, which was set in motion by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (United Nations, 1989) and the statement issued as General Comment 7 (United Nations, 2005). The Convention has changed the way children are viewed and treated – children are “conceptualised as competent interactional beings, able to participate in decisions that affect them” (Theobald & Kultti, 2012, p. 20), “beings rather than becomings” (Qvortrup, 1994 cited in Dockett, Einarsdottir, & Perry, 2009, p. 284).

Researchers need to be mindful of the power dynamics, ensuring that they modify not only the name of the methodological approach, but also their practice.  As Moore, (2014, p. 8) states, even with clearly articulated methodology, past paradigms can infiltrate practice with adults working from an “interrogative perspective” in the dominant position, even though the plan had been to share the research endeavour with children.

When children join research and are included in the process of analysis and interpretation, the results will be more authentic, representing childrens’ perspectives, rather than researcher’s interpretation of them (Sue Dockett et al., 2009, p. 291). As researchers are making the shift to engage in research with children, seeking their perspective is a complex process (Sue Dockett et al., 2009, p. 295), with many ethical issues requiring contemplation prior to and during research.


What children learn can count as knowledge or skill, which can manifest as the ability to do something they previously could not, or adds to their understanding of the world.  Much of this is below the “threshold of introspection in the learner’s mind and may remain there for years” (Carr & Claxton, 2002, p. 248). Kindergarten is a critical time, as it is here that dispositions for learning are reinforced, modified or for some, started through their experiences and social interactions with peers and educators.  The ability to think critically, understanding when it should be applied, and making the choice to do so, is a skill for life and learning.  Outdoor risky play provides an opportunity to support children in identifying when they are, or should be utilizing critical thinking skills and dispositions, so this may be an easy and effective approach to introducing these ‘thinking about thinking’ habits of mind.

Clearly there is insufficient data from which to draw solid conclusions, so more research, particularly within kindergartens offering these types of experiences, is required in order to confirm or dismiss this hypothesis.  As mentioned, the Mosaic approach would offer some unique benefits, to researchers in this field.



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Strife, S, & Downey, L. (2009). Childhood Development and Access to Nature: A New Direction for Environmental Inequality Research. Organization and Environment, 22(1), 99-122. doi: http://oae.sagepub.com/content/by/year

Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C. (2001). Coping with add – The surprising connection to green play settings. ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR, 33(1), 54-77.

Theobald, M., & Kultti, A. (2012). Investigating Child Participation in the Everyday Talk of a Teacher and Children in a Preparatory Year. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 13(3), 210-225. doi: 10.2304/ciec.2012.13.3.210

Tom, Teacher. (2015). Instead of Commanding “Be Careful”.  Retrieved from http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com.au/2015/08/instead-of-commanding-be-careful.html

Tremblay, Mark S., Gray, Casey, Babcock, Shawna, Barnes, Joel, Bradstreet, Christa Costas, Carr, Dawn, . . . Brussoni, Mariana. (2015). Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 12(6), 6475-6505. doi: 10.3390/ijerph120606475

Trevlas, E, Grammatikopoulos, V, Tsigilis, N, & Zachopoulou, E. (2003). Evaluating Playfulness: Construct Validity of the Children’s Playfulness Scale. Early Childhood Education Journal, 31(1), 33.

Ungar, M. (2009). Overprotecting parenting: Helping parents provide children the right amount of risk and responsibility. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 37, 258-271.

United Nations. (1989). The United nations convention in the rights of the child. New York, NY: UNCICEF.

United Nations. (2005). Convention on the rights of the child general comment no. 7.

Usher, E. L, & Pajares, F. (2008). Self-Efficacy for Self-Regulated Learning A Validation Study. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 68(3), 443-463. doi: 10.1177/0013164407308475

Weinstein, N. (2015). Experiential Learning: Salem Press.

Whitebread, D, & O’Sullivan, L. (2012). Preschool children’s social pretend play: supporting the development of metacommunication, metacognition and self-regulation. International Journal of Play, 1(2), 197-213. doi: 10.1080/21594937.2012.693384

Wyver, S, Bundy, A, Naughton, G, Tranter, P, Sandseter, B H E, & Ragan, J. (2010). Safe outdoor play for young children: Paradoxes and consequences. Paper presented at the AARE Annual Conference, Melbourne.

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Posted in 21st Century Skills, Children's Play, Critical Thinking, Learning Frameworks, Outdoor Programs, Programing and Planning, Reflecting, Risky Play, Theory

Digital futures and Social Networking

Generation I

Literature Review

Technology is ubiquitous, and intertwined with almost every part of our lives, communities, work, and homes. Research clearly highlights the instinctive nature of technology in student’s lives, particularly teenagers (Bennett & Maton, 2010, p. 323; 2012, p. 27; Fullan & Langworthy, 2014; Madden, 2013, p. 2; Merchant, 2012, p. 5). Technology is transforming the way in which we communicate, access information and learn. However this transformation has not reached “most schools or most teaching and learning in classrooms” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014).

This is the generation of students who have grown up with technology at their fingertips. Their future employment will take place in an environment where reliance on “technology is a given”, and the skill they really need is adaptability due to the constant technological changes impacting the 21st century workplace (Solomon, 2010, p. 1).

Education must thus evolve and innovate – “to create effective 21st century learning, it is not just our tools that need to change – it is our thinking” (Prensky, 2012, p. 1). The traditional focus upon ‘the three R’s’ need to be fused with four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration (Blair, 2012, p. 10), “as technology evolves, how we use it in education must evolve as well” (Whitby, 2014).

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational goals for Young Australia’s policy statement states in the Preamble that “In the 21st century Australia’s capacity to provide a high quality of life for all will depend on the ability to compete in the global economy on knowledge and innovation” (Minsterial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA), 2008, p. 4) Thus, students must have “… the essential skills in literacy and numeracy and [be] creative and productive users of technology” (MCEECDYA, 2008, p. 8), a clear directive for the integration of technology in all stages of education.

Conversely, this drive for integration isn’t without tension. As mentioned, technology is intertwined with almost every aspect of our life and “…has become central to people’s reading, writing, calculating, and thinking, which are the major concerns of schooling and yet technology has been kept in the periphery of schools” (Collins & Halverson, 2009, p. 2), used to reinforce outmoded approaches to learning, or to “gain efficiencies in established routines” (Reich, Murnane, & Willett, 2012, p. 2). There is much speculation as to why this is the case: teacher’s fears, lack of knowledge, focusing on the technology rather than the end result, when it should be “about pedagogy first, technology second” (Isard, 2012, p. 10). Educators need to be open and “innovative in creating lessons that employ technology” in ways that add value, not just devices.

Educators must become “active researchers and developers of innovations and new directions” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 7) as currently ‘…technology’s main impact on learning is occurring outside of school’’ (Collins & Halverson, 2009, p. xiv) as “People around the world are taking their education out of school into homes, libraries … and workplaces, where they can decide what … when… and how they want to learn” (Collins & Halverson, 2009, p. 3)

“I often wonder if many of our students feel like they are time traveling as they walk through the school door each morning. As they cross the threshold, do they feel as if they are entering a simulation of life in the 1980’s? Then, at the end of the school day, do they feel that they have returned to the 21st century?” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 7)

Modern Family Game Play
Social networking seems all-pervading in the lives of youth outside of school (Horrigan, 2007; Lenhart, Madden, Duggan, Cortesi, & Gasser, 2013), however most schools are guarded about its use during school hours. There is an increasing mismatch between perceptions of technology as an educational tool, versus technology as socio-cultural artifact “where young people’s ‘everyday’ use of digital technologies is encountering a process of delegitimisation as evidenced by the banning of mobile phone use in schools” (Barnes & Herring, 2012, p. 3423; Clark, Logan, Luckin, Mee, & Oliver, 2009, p. 57; Kuznekoff & Titsworth, 2013, p. 2). “Using the tools that students find appealing can make a difference in their learning now, and help them prepare for the future” (Solomon, 2010, p. 1).

There are educators exploring transferability of student’s Web 2.0 skillsets to find ways these can be used to support formal learning. As Isard (2012, p. 10) observed, the “greatest irony in banning a mobile technology in our schools … is … [the] learning that could happen as a result of allowing it”, given the opportunity to provide guidance as they use the technology.

As the Internet has evolved with its multimedia forms of communication, society has changed. “[T]he power of social media and networking technologies to teach is perhaps the least leveraged technology in formal education systems today” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 85).

Educators shouldn’t assume however, that students possess “a natural capacity and confidence in the use” of technology, “tools or Web-based services” simply because they are of the Net Gen (Jones & Binhui, 2011, p. 48), whom evidence suggests are generally more adept at using technology for “consumption rather than production” (Horrigan, 2007). Educators need to harness and extend the students’ skills, rather than simply importing them into the classroom, helping students to discover “how to use and adapt new technologies and tools to help with their learning” (Jones & Binhui, 2011, p. 48)

Whilst the “Digital Divide” once followed socioeconomic lines, where the “haves” had access to technology, whilst the “have-nots” missed out, the new digital divide is more about the type of tech access and can also include the divide between the educators who are tapped into the global community and the educators who are not.


Barnes, J., & Herring, D. (2012). iPads, and Smartphones: Teaching in a Technology-Rich Environment. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2012, Austin, Texas, USA. http://www.editlib.org/p/40119

Barr, A., Gillard, J., Firth, V., Scrymgour, M., Welford, R., Lomax-Smith, J., . . . Ministerial Council on Education, E. T. a. Y. A. (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians: Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs.

Bennett, S. (2012). Digital Natives: IGI Global.

Bennett, S., & Maton, K. (2010). Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5), 321-331. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00360.x

Blair, N. (2012). Technology Integration for the “New” 21st Century Learner. Principal, 91(3), 8-11.

Clark, W., Logan, K., Luckin, R., Mee, A., & Oliver, M. (2009). Beyond Web 2.0: mapping the technology landscapes of young learners. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(1), 56-69. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00305.x

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America. Technology, Education–Connections (TEC) Series: Teachers College Press.

Fullan, M., & Donnelly, K. (2013). Alive in the Swamp: Assessing Digital Education. .

Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (2014). A rich seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning. London: Pearson.

Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21. [electronic resource] : essential education for a changing world: Alexandria, Va. : Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, c2010.

Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Duggan, M., Cortesi, S., & Gasser, U. (2013). Teens and Technology 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-and-Tech.aspx

Madden, M., Lenhart, Amanda, Duggan, Maeve, Cortesi, Sandra, Gasser, Urs. (2013). Teens and Technology 2013: Pew Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Society for Internet & Society.

Merchant, G. (2012). Mobile practices in everyday life: Popular digital technologies and schooling revisited. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(5), 770-782. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01352.x

Prensky, M. (2012). Before bringing in new tools, you must first bring in new thinking. Aplify.

Reich, J., Murnane, R., & Willett, J. (2012). The State of Wiki Usage in U.S. K-12 Schools: Leveraging Web 2.0 Data Warehouses to Assess Quality and Equity in Online Learning Environments. Educational Researcher, 41(1), 7-15.

Solomon, G. (2010). Web 2.0 how-to for educators : [the indispensable companion to Web 2.0: new tools, new schools]: International Society for Technology in Education.

Whitby, T. (2014). The Longer View: Edtech and 21st-Century Education. Education Trends Retrieved 6 APR, 2015

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Posted in 21st Century Skills

Critical review of a research article:      Conversations about Visual Arts: Facilitating Oral Language



Overview of article

The research paper selected is “Conversations about Visual Arts: Facilitating Oral language,” authored by Ni Chang and Susan Cress (2014).  The authors’ purpose “was to explore how young children’s language skills were facilitated during or after children’s participation in visual arts.” The underlying research questions were “How do adult-child interactions during or after visual arts facilitate oral language development?’’ ‘‘How can adults foster a partnership in the interactions?’’ and ‘‘How do the visual arts serve as a referent for language and conversations?’’ (Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 416).  The intention was to contribute to this area of research, filling an apparent void the researchers discovered, using visual arts as a referent for oral language development.

Young children’s oral language skills have long term impact on their later success in school (Medicine & Council, 2015). It is critical to more than just a child’s literacy development and school success: it is the foundation for learning (Anthony, Davis, Williams, & Anthony, 2014; Bradfield et al., 2014; Dickinson, McCabe, Anastasopoulos, Peisner-Feinberg, & Poe, 2003; Munro, 2009) identifying the relevance of this study.

The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) (DEECD, 2009, p. 12) describes shared, sustained conversations between adults and children, as powerful and important. Developing oral communication skills is closely linked to the interactions and social bonds between adults and children (Medicine & Council, 2015, pp. 4-19). The VEYLD also highlight children’s use of visual representations as tools to communicate their feelings, ideas and observations (DEECD, 2009, pp. 28-29).

This qualitative research study used in-situ audio recordings of conversations that arose during or after each child had painted or drawn, utilising a sample of four children with a parent (three mums and one dad).

Parents were provided with tips on encouraging genuine shared discourse, the recorded conversations were transcribed, and the data was analysed using the constant comparative method (CCM).  Coding utilised Otto’s “linguistic scaffolding strategies” (2008) for the parents’ and Halliday’s model of language functions for the children’s words, and these tools were explained.

Throughout the month 14 dialogues, 13 drawings and 4 paintings were collected, and three transcribed and coded conversation occurrences and visual artwork were shared, including referenced analysis of each.

The research concluded that children’s visual art pieces could plausibly be used as referent for attentive, sustained, shared, one-to-one conversations between adults and children, which the researchers asserted is an under-utilised opportunity to develop children’s oral language.

The implication for the research was to contribute and generate further discussion, which according to the authors was achieved, suggesting that their findings would be further validated with larger samples and possibly greater diversity of artwork types.

Critically review research design

Chang and Cress lament that there is limited literature “focusing on talking with young children about visual arts to facilitate their oral language” (2014, p. 416),  and that the intention of the study was to fill this void.  With this in mind, their choice of a qualitative research study was appropriate, as the narrative form of a qualitative research report is generally clearer to practitioners, and thus there is greater probability that educational practice will be impacted by the research findings (Kervin, 2006, p. 85).

Although the theoretical framework is not stated, the explanation of the approach sits well within the social constructivist theory, which holds “assumptions that individuals seek understanding of the world in which they live and work”, and  instead of starting with a theory, the researchers “inductively develop a theory or pattern of meaning”  (Creswell, 2009, p. 9).

However, the constant comparative method used to analyse the data is often synonymous with Grounded Theory, with the focus towards the “development of a substantive theory” (Fram, 2013, p. 1), per the authors’ comment about the theory “emerging from the data” (Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 417). Although some aspects of the study align with Grounded Theory, the majority do not. As O’Connor et al. (2008 cited in Fram, 2013, p. 2) explain, constant comparative method “does not in and of itself constitute a grounded theory design”, rather it “assures that all data [is] systematically compared to all other data in the data set”.

Within qualitative research, sample sizes are relatively small as the aim is to focus on collecting data that is rich about a particular phenomenon, with detail and depth. Participants are typically selected purposefully (Tuckett, 2004, p. 3), yet it is curious that Chang and Cress did not include a rationalisation for their participant choice or detail the selection process. There are many logistical and ethical benefits to utilising parent/child pairs, O’Toole & Beckett explain “research of any kind today raises issues of the rights of others” (2013, p. 21) as all parties must give permission prior to any data collection. It is not clear however, whether the authors obtained the children’s permission along with their parents, though it was clearly noted that pseudonyms were used to protect the participants’ confidentiality (Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 417).

Tape-recording was used to ensure rich and complete collection of data from the interactions, which took place in the home environment to be open-ended with “natural behaviours … observed and recorded”. The researchers’ role in the data collection process is not stated, so it is assumed that the researchers were non-participants (Kervin, 2006, p. 85), and they collected and listened to the tapes outside the setting.

Boeije puts forward that “researchers often describe at great length how their studies were carried out, but remain vague when it comes to giving an account of the analysis” (2002, p. 392). CCM was used, with a clear explanation of the analysis tools and the rationale for using them, which was a strong aspect of the study as it highlighted the dialogic nature of the conversations, not only focusing on the child’s responses, but also the effectiveness of the adult’s questions and strategies.

The study did not break new ground with regard to children’s oral language development, but it did achieve its aim to fill a void and “illuminate … the limits and possibilities of what practicing educators might do” (Moss et al., 2009, p. 504) to facilitate children’s oral language through the use of the children’s art.

Knowledge claims and Arguments

Chang and Cress state that “oral language is a powerful precursor to conventional reading and writing,” and that it is an “important developmental process” (2014, p. 416).  The authors state Zimmerman et al’s findings that “Adult-child conversations are robustly associated with healthy language development” with one-on-one communication being the most beneficial (cited in Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 416), which is certainly supported by their references and the VEYLDF.

The authors then emphasize the significance of children’s visual arts, as resources to be utilised to gain insight to children’s knowledge, views and understandings through conversations and observation.  Again, there is significant support within the literature for this view, well referenced within the article. VEYLDF contains an outcome devoted to the importance of mixed media as a form of expression: “Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media” (DEECD, 2009, p. 42).

A strong underlying motivation for the research is that while it is known that children’s oral language can benefit from conversations with adults, it is the authors’ opinion that observation and extensive, in-depth conversations seldom take place between adults and children about their artwork (Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 416).

Although the personal experiences of these researchers may imply this fact, it is at odds with the influence of the Reggio Emilia philosophy which has been inspiring early childhood education for over 20 years. Central to the Reggio Emilia philosophy is respect for the child and a pedagogy of listening, which is most widely known through “The Hundred Languages of Children”, an exhibit which travels the world inspiring adults to enter into dialogue with children at all stages of their creative exploration. A child’s artistic endeavour would typically represent an ideal opportunity for an adult to engage in dialogue with the child, as “through action and reflection, learning takes shape in the mind of the subject and, through representation and exchange, becomes knowledge and skill” (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 2011, p. 235).

The Reggio Emilia philosophy and the literature backs Chang and Cress’s knowledge claim that children’s oral language development will be developed through adult-child interactions during or after visual arts – That through interactions, adults will foster a partnership, and that visual art can be used as referent for conversation and language development. This would seem to imply that dialogue about children’s art is indeed happening.

The authors also claim that all qualitative data was coded and tabulated, which presumably ensured a truly comprehensive analysis and that the authors didn’t fall prey to selection bias. However, as only three conversation episodes were included within the article, representing only three of the four participants, it is not possible to assess the validity of the authors’ claim, which slightly undermines the study’s transparency.

An in-depth referenced discussion elaborated on how the conversation episodes addressed the research questions, such as “The sustained conversation made available opportunities for the child to use language … and to take turns in a conversation” (Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 418)  and “not only did the adult facilitate the child’s oral language skills, such as … when and how to pose [the] right questions (Dickinson 1990), but also help deepen his thinking and learn some content knowledge” (Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 420).

The discussion validated this topic as an area worthy of study, providing “the child with a plethora of opportunities to use language and gain content knowledge” and offering “opportunities for the child to think abstractly” (Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 420).  Thus the authors were able to not only highlight the questions and scaffolding that ran through the data, but also present the narrative within each dialogue episode to tell the story within the limited word space, ensuring context for readers (Chang & Cress, 2014, p. 420).

The researchers concluded that their study explored “how young children’s language skills were facilitated during or after children’s participation in visual arts” with the affirmation that indeed, art created by children could serve as a provocation for sustained dialogue between adult and child.  This conclusion is supported by their data and analysis, and their rigorously referenced supporting literature.

Alternative approach

In their recommendations, Chang and Cress highlight that a larger sample size would strengthen findings, also suggesting examining other types of artwork.  Another rethink would be to select educators within early learning environments rather than parents, understanding this would add an ethical layer that Chang and Cress didn’t experience.

Rather than the strictly qualitative research approach utilised, further study would benefit from a mixed-method approach, combining aspects of qualitative and quantitative research which could include:

  • Surveys to ascertain the educators’ level of responsiveness to children during and after art experiences, informing decisions on which educators should be selected for the study, as their interaction would necessarily increase;
  • Base-lining students’ oral language stage prior to intervention to contrast before and after levels – Educators could use TROLL, an instrument with which teachers can assess a child’s oral literacy skills within minutes, and without prior training (Dickinson, McCabe, & Sprague, 2003, p. 4);
  • Addition of a control group – students who are base-lined before and after the program, who do not receive any additional engagement or intervention, to control for variables outside the intervention parameters;
  • Cross-checked data analysis – have datasets checked by multiple researchers to control for researcher biases;
  • Use of computer software to sort and code data from conversation transcripts – Electronic data analysis can reveal trends and patterns not obvious to the researchers due to the volume of data (O’Toole & Beckett, 2013, p. 170);


These modifications to the methodology and approach would extend the research focus from ‘how’ to ‘how much’, providing a clearer picture of the true impact of adult facilitation of children’s oral language during and after art experiences, whilst laying a firm framework for replication by other researchers to test the repeatability of the study outcomes.




Anthony, J. L., Davis, C., Williams, J. M., & Anthony, T. I. (2014). Preschoolers’ oral language abilities: A multilevel examination of dimensionality. Learning & Individual Differences, 35, 56-61. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2014.07.004

Boeije, H. (2002). A Purposeful Approach to the Constant Comparative Method in the Analysis of Qualitative Interviews. Quality & Quantity, 36(4), 391-409.

Bradfield, T. A., Besner, A. C., Wackerle-Hollman, A. K., Albano, A. D., Rodriguez, M. C., & McConnell, S. R. (2014). Redefining Individual Growth and Development Indicators: Oral Language. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 39(4), 233-244. doi: 10.1177/1534508413496837

Chang, N., & Cress, S. (2014). Conversations about Visual Arts: Facilitating Oral Language. Early Childhood Education Journal, 42(6), 415-422. doi: 10.1007/s10643-013-0617-2

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design : qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches: Thousand Oaks, Calif. : Sage Publications, c2009.

3rd ed.

DEECD. (2009). Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework: For all children from birth to eight years.  Melbourne: DEECD

Dickinson, D. K., McCabe, A., Anastasopoulos, L., Peisner-Feinberg, E. S., & Poe, M. D. (2003). The Comprehensive Language Approach to Early Literacy: The Interrelationships among Vocabulary, Phonological Sensitivity, and Print Knowledge among Preschool-Aged Children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(3), 465-481.

Dickinson, D. K., McCabe, A., & Sprague, K. (2003). Teacher Rating of Oral Language and Literacy (TROLL): Individualizing Early Literacy Instruction with a Standards-Based Rating Tool, 554.

Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (2011). The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation. Third Edition: Praeger.

Fram, S. M. (2013). The Constant Comparative Analysis Method Outside of Grounded Theory. Qualitative Report, 18.

Kervin, L. (2006). Research for educators: South Melbourne : Thomson Learning Australia, 2006.

Medicine, I. o., & Council, N. R. (2015). Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Moss, P. A., Phillips, D. C., Erickson, F. D., Floden, R. E., Lather, P. A., & Schneider, B. L. (2009). Learning from Our Differences: A Dialogue across Perspectives on Quality in Education Research, 501.

Munro, J. K. (2009). Language Support Program, Professional Learning Guide. Retrieved from: http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/support/pages/lsp.aspx – 2

O’Toole, J., & Beckett, D. (2013). Educational research : creative thinking and doing: South Melbourne, Victoria : Oxford University Press, 2013.

Second edition.

Tuckett, A. (2004). Qualitative research sampling – the real complexities. Nurse Researcher, 12(1), 47-61.



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Posted in Children's Play, Creativity, Learning Frameworks, Programing and Planning, Reflecting, Theory

Why should we include Critical Thinking (Good thinking) in Preschool

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle


Our role as educators is to support children to be independent life long learners in an ever-changing world. As explained by Andreas Schleicher (Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris) in his presentation to ACER (Schleicher, 2014, p. vii) ‘Today – where we can access content on Google, where routine cognitive skills are being digitised or outsourced, and where jobs are changing so rapidly – accumulating knowledge matters a lot less and success has a lot more to do with ways of thinking; creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, [and] judgement.’ Andrea’s comment “ways of thinking,” encourages us to ponder, what is thinking?
21st Century Skills

As educators we acknowledge that one of our goals is encourage children to be good thinkers, yet if we are unable to clearly articulate what thinking is, how will we develop children’s thinking capabilities beyond what they had when we first met them? Children are naturally curious, there is no need to teach them to think per se, and therefore the educators role is to introduce them to different more effective ‘ways of thinking’. Educator’s need to support children to think: “clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, deeply, broadly, logically, significantly, fairly” (Elder & Paul, 2008, p. 104), to be more critical in their thinking.


Supporting this drive towards critical thinking is 21st Century Skills, a concept that encompasses a wide range of knowledge and skills that are seen to be important for success in today’s, and tomorrow’s world. Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is an organisation endorsing an educational focus on “critical thinking, and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity and innovation” (P21, n.d.). Tony Wagner in his book “Creating Innovators” also puts forward a set of core 21st Century competences, critical thinking (the ability to ask good questions) and problem solving, Collaboration and Leadership, Agility and Adaptability, Initiative and Entrepreneurialism, Effective Oral and Written Communication, Accessing and Analysing information, and Curiosity and Imagination (Wagner & Compton, 2013). Wagner highlights that people who are successful utilising these 21st Century skills, had parents and teachers encouraging exploratory play, unstructured play, encouraged children to find and pursue a passion, who were given time to research, experiment, pursue intellectual or artistic passions from this came purpose (Wagner, 28 APR 2012). Early Childhood Educators in Preschools in Australia, especially those inspired by Reggio Emilia programs in Italy, these opportunities are a daily occurrence. These theories all apply to hose modes of thinking highlighted by Elder & Paul (2008) quoted above.


Despite the recognition of the importance of Critical Thinking there is no consensus on a definition, what adds to the complexity is that the term draws from multiple academic disciplines, “educational, philosophical, and psychological traditions of thought”, as Sternberg explains if there was founder of the “critical-thinking movement,” it would be John Dewey who was a philosopher, a psychologist and educator simultaneously (Sternberg, 1986, p. 4).


There are diverse interpretations of critical thinking, a broad definition gives scope for interpretation and manoeuvring, however a clear definition could provide a clear path forward. Mulnix, works towards this by probing the concept of critical thinking from multiple perspectives including Scriven, Paula and Elder, Vaughan, Petress, Phelan and Willingham and puts forward this summary “critical thinking is a process, a skilled activity of thought. It includes a commitment to using reason in the formulation of our beliefs. It is not the same as creative, imaginative or emotion-based thinking. And, as with any skill, it can be possessed to a greater or lesser degree” (Mulnix, 2012, p. 471)

The skill or the act of critical thinking has many benefits, it encourages dialogues with oneself (Metacognition), it supports the development of reasoning skills, it helps to evaluate our beliefs and others in light of evidential connections, makes for rational individuals and avoids conformist thinking. Therefore, the development of autonomy, or the ability to decide for ourselves based on our own thoughts, not based on other’s claims is closely tied with Critical thinking (Mulnix, 2012, p. 473).

Critical Thinking for many is examined as a skill as Mulnix has suggested (Facione, 2000; Mulnix, 2012; Salmon, 2008). As van Gelder, explains the word “skill” for most imply this is something that can be developed through practice, through being engaged in using the skill, as with any skill you become more proficient through regular practice. Mulnix suggests through coaching, others modelling the skills, continually practicing the skill, and receiving feedback on their use of the skill, children’s critical thinking can be developed (2012, p. 474). This is in total opposition to Willingham’s (2008, p. 24) assertion that critical thinking is not a skill, thus implying that it’s not teachable. Conversely, his explanation that the focus should be in exposing children to new ways of thinking, supporting them to use the right mode of thinking, at the right time surely is a method that many recommend as a strategy to teach aspects of Critical Thinking (2008, p. 24).

Belonging, Being & Becoming, is the educational framework that preschools work within; it explains that children can engage in critical thinking during play, by asking questions and solving problems. Explaining that children’s thinking and desire to know and learn is also expanded during play, thus “play can promote positive dispositions towards learning” (Belonging, being & becoming [electronic resource] : the early years learning framework for Australia, 2009, p. 16). However, there is only one reference to “critical thinking” within the framework. Dispositions have a stronger presences, with it being stated as an outcome for learning, Outcome 4 Children are confident and involved learners: Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, 
commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination and reflexivity.

Therefore, we need to explore what is meant by dispositions and how they link to Critical Thinking. Ritchhart (2002, p. 33) explains dispositional language is often descriptive and predictive in nature, a way that we label observed behaviours, and make predictive judgments on expected behaviours based on the labels we have used. He believes dispositions have a more important role than being a descriptive label for an assortment of behaviours, that thinking dispositions “act as both a descriptive and an explanatory construct, making clear the mystery of how raw ability it transformed in to meaningful action” (2002, p. 33). That dispositions concern not only what abilities people have, but how people are disposed to use those abilities (Perkins, Tishman, Ritchhart, Donis, & Andrade, 2000, p. 270). A definition of disposition is offered by Facione as “consistent internal motivation to act toward, or to respond to, persons, events, or circumstances in habitual, and yet potentially malleable, ways” (2000, p. 6). Though the phrase ‘habitual,’ is not an accurate definition of thinking dispositions, Ritchard’s explanation of dispositions as “acquired patterns of behaviour that are under one’s control and will as opposed to being automatically activated” (Ritchhart, 2002, p. 31) seems a better description.

Dispositions, like Critical Thinking, are ambiguous as they too draw from different schools of thought. Ritchhart puts forward six broad categories of dispositions under three over-arching categories that emerge as a result of examining current lists of dispositions:

  1. CO_21c_ImageCreative thinking: looking out, up, around and about



  1. Reflective thinking: looking within


  1. Critical thinking: looking at, through, and in between

Seeking truth and understanding


Skeptical (2002, p. 27)


The dispositions of Creative thinking and Reflective thinking clearly link with the outcomes identified previously in Belonging, Being & Becoming framework, though the category of Critical thinking is absent.


Dispositions are about more than a desire or inclination to act, they are impacted on by values, underlying temperaments, beliefs: “an awareness of occasions for appropriate action; motivation to carry out action and the requisite abilities and skills need to perform.” Unlike skills they aren’t so much taught, as they are enculturated (Ritchhart, 2002, p. 51).


The focus of a successful education, is not the knowledge that children store, “but their appetite to know and their capacity to learn” (Sir Richard Livingstone, 1941 cited in Claxton, 2007. P. 115), preschool children are hungry and eager to learn, they have a natural curiosity about the world around them, and they keen to figure things out about it. This is the prime time to support them learning the skills and dispositions they will require to succeed in the 21st century.


Preschools need to focus on dispositions as well as skills, learning behaviours as well as teacher skills, learning environments as well as instructional techniques (Beyer & Montclair State Coll, 1988, p. 6), to infuse critical thinking into the program. Critical thinking takes practice, a lot of practice for one to become proficient. Kindergarten provides the perfect starting point for the cultivation of thinking dispositions, but also for teaching critical thinking skills.


How can we cultivate critical thinking in preschool?


“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.” – Roger Lewin


Methods and strategies put forward through research to develop children’s critical thinking are forged in dialogue. To cultivate critical thinking however, the dialogue needs to be more than having a chat and sharing ideas. ‘Dialogic teaching’ seems to provide a possible framework, a starting place from which to grow.


‘Dialogic teaching’ just like critical thinking and dispositions, in that it means different things to different people. Dialogic teaching is said to “harness the power of talk” to inspire and extend children’s thinking and learning (Robin Alexander, 2014). Fisher unpacks it further by explaining that dialogic teaching refers to verbal conversations that stimulate children’s thinking, by providing cognitive stimulus, that expands consciousness (2007, p. 612). Wegerif, explains ‘monologic’ is a single true perspective, an external view in contrast to ‘dialogic’ refers that within a dialogue there is at least two perspectives at once (2011, p. 180). Monologic is often used to refer to traditional teaching, where the teacher asks a question and there is only one true answer, in contrast to a teacher or a child posing a question, that has multiple possible responses, when there is to and throw, meaning and understanding is explored. Volosinov, wrote that “meaning is like an electric spark that occurs only when two different terminals are hooked together” (Volosinov, 1986, p. 102 cited in Wegerif, 2006).


Alexander explains that it doesn’t matter how your interaction is organised, it is more like to be dialogic if it is:


  • collective
    Participants address learning tasks together.
  • reciprocal
    Participants listen to each other, share ideas and consider alternative viewpoints.
  • supportive
    Pupils express their ideas freely, without fear of embarrassment over ʻwrongʼ answers, and they help each other to reach common understandings.
  • cumulative
    Participants build on answers and other oral contributions and chain them into coherent lines of thinking and understanding.
  • purposeful
    Classroom talk, though open and dialogic, is also planned and structured with specific learning goals in view (R Alexander, 2005, p. 5).


To ‘harness the power of talk,’ children need to be trained in the skills of dialogue. Fisher advocates that teaching children the skills of dialogue provides a foundation for other skills such as metacognition, reasoning and creativity as well as being an essential communication and thinking skill (Fisher, 2007, p. 621). To be able to solve problems, respond to questions, to engage dialogic dialogue requires children to learn to listen to each other, to demonstrate reflexivity in their thoughts and responding to ideas of others. These skills support children to move towards chaining onto ideas of others within the shared space of the dialogue. For these outcomes to be achieved there needs to be ground rules (Robin Alexander, 2004; Fisher, 1999, 2007; Teo, 2013, p. 98), which are made explicit, so that children can internalise them as ‘habits of behaviour’ for all interactions.


As is the norm for preschool, rules need to be discussed and agreed on upon by the children, so there is understanding and ownership. Such rules may require participants to listen to one and other in order to engage with ideas in a meaningful manner, asking relevant questions, giving reason and justification for ideas based on evidence and resolving differences (Teo, 2013, p. 98). Children’s reasoning and problem-sloving skills seem to be improved by children learning how to effectively talk together in reflective and reasonable ways (Fisher, 2007, p. 621).


Principles of dialogic teaching, teaching that is dialogic rather than transmissive, where teachers providie the scaffold through;


  • interactions which encourage students to think, and to think in different ways
  • questions which invite much more than simple recall
  • answers which are justified, followed up and built upon rather than merely received
  • feedback which informs and leads thinking forward as well as encourages
  • contributions which are extended rather than fragmented
  • exchanges which chain together into coherent and deepening lines of enquiry
  • discussion and argumentation which probe and challenge rather than unquestioningly accept
  • professional engagement with subject matter which liberates classroom discourse from the safe and conventional
  • classroom organisation, climate and relationships which make all this possible (R Alexander, 2005, p. 14).


To develop dialogic skills, we need to cultivate mere talking, into talking for thinking this is most easily achieved via a physical stimulus or a cognitive challenge using the scaffolding techniques mentioned above. Whatever is used needs create a community of enquire that is sustained by teachers and children using complex open-ended questions and elaborate explanatory responses.


To create a preschool that fosters dialogic interactions to cultivate children’s critical thinking is the big picture, some of the framework has been explored through identification of characteristics of interaction, and the rationale for ground rules. The next part will explore a few strategies that can be used to provide children with the opportunity to practice, practice and practice critical thinking.


Being able to frame a question, or ask the right question is an important skill of for pre-schoolers, (Mills, Legare, Bills, & Mejias, 2010; Mills, Legare, Grant, & Landrum, 2011) and will add them in the development of their critical thinking. We need to support children to formulate effective questions that will fill their current knowledge gap. “The ability to ask questions is a powerful tool that allows children to gather information that they need in order to learn about the world and solve problems in it” (Chouinard, 2007, p. vii). Teacher’s can support this development through modelling, providing examples as stimulus such “what if?” and “how can?” Scaffolding, use Alexander’s list above, prompting through rephrasing or providing alternative language to support the exploration of a question, time, giving children permission to take thinking time, to frame their question.


Claxton, (2007, p. 19) however explains children need to be good at formulating questions, and also distinguishing types of questions. Though ‘being questioning’ is matter of self-confidence, inclination, sense of entitlement, it is not good being able to formulate and frame questions, if you are not willing or able to take the risk to do so.   This is where the characteristics of dialogic classroom come into play, children need to feel that their questions are welcomed, and incorporated into the discussion, so that the disposition to question becomes stronger, which will then further develop their critical thinking.


Educators asking questions, questions that encourage children to reflect on what they did and thought about, rather than recounting the experience itself, can develop children’s metacognition and self-regulation. Possible questions include “did you have an idea about what you wanted to do? “how do you feel about what you did?’” “what do you think was the best idea you had?” “Do you get ideas from other people?” (S. Robson, 2010, p. 231)


Although, unfamiliar with the movement ‘philosophy for kids’ the focus that children are stimulated to question, to think to reason and to “connect abstract philosophical concepts to concrete experiences” cited reflects well with the layman concepts of complex open-ended question and I wonder questions, but provides more direction, but as with dialogic teaching, aspects from the program may positively influence teaching, not the program as package. Having at the end of a discussion, a conversation to review the discussion to review the ground rules, as is an interesting addition to sustained shared thinking.


Did we have a good discussion today?

What was good about our discussion?

What could have been better? How?

What do we need to remember next time?

(Fisher, 2007, p. 621)


Project Zero, have created a sets of short, easy-to-learn thinking routines that target different types of thinking through questions, as part of their initiative called Visible Thinking (Ritchhard, Palmer, Church, & Tishman, 2006; Zero, 2007). The thinking routines each contain a series of questions, that teachers can ask to support children through the steps of critical thinking (Salmon). Children’s thoughtful learning is supported through the thinking routines developing their thinking dispositions (Ritchhard et al., 2006, p. 2).


Thinking Routines can be used across the preschool program, morning meetings, reflection time, small group experiences and so forth. Once children are familiar with the routines educators can model them during play, to promote and extend children’s thinking and learning as providing a model for them to incorporate the strategies into their play explorations.


The thinking routine see/ think/ wonder is good starting routine. It can be used to encouraging critical thinking through the exploration and critiques of artworks, photographs, books, objects and so forth. In the author’s Kindergarten the routine was used with the previously mentioned artefacts, but was also used with music. The children listen to a musical piece such as In the hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg, and were asked to share what they visualised, what they could see in their mind, as the I see question of this routine. Children then were encouraged to draw as they listened to the music, providing a non-verbal response to this thinking routine. Thinking routines are flexible, they are not a rigid children and teacher’s can modify as required (Ritchhard et al., 2006, p. 39). Revisiting thinking routines, and previous conversations allow children to re-examine, remember and extend, question, modify understanding or develop more sophisticated comments, is through the regularity of these discussions that children skills and dispositions have a chance to grow.


Teachers can activate a routine by naming it, but it is only through repeated practice it becomes a routine (Ritchhard et al., 2006, p. 11). To teach critical thinking skills, research tells us to make them explicit and practice them(Willingham, 2008, p. 29), with this in mind it would be wise to introduce thinking routines one at time and utilise it in a variety of different situations to consolidate children’s knowledge of it, before the introduction of others.   To achieve proficiency, children need active and deliberate repetitive practice (Mulnix, 2012, p. 474).


To achieve deep critical thinking though dialogic scaffolding is obviously more demanding of teacher skills than imparting information through recall and rote learning. Willingham (Willingham, 2008, p. 28), explains the success of a program depends on the skills of the teacher. The art of questions and dialogue is a strategy that educators can incorporate into their teaching methodology, yet the research indicates this is not happening (reference), therefore do teachers require professional development, or opportunities to observe other educators utilising dialogic teaching, thinking routines, open-ended questions, and, in the 21st century educators don’t need to leave home but can quickly jump onto YouTube to watch an instructional video what is needed is an inclination to do so.


Claxton (1999 cited in S. a. H. Robson, David, 2005, p. 92) suggests that we live an ‘age of uncertainty’ (p.243), where ‘the only useful – the defensible – thing to do is to try to prepare young people to deal with uncertainty’ (p.281). Actively working to develop children as autonomous, flexible and creative thinkers, equipped with the resilience and resourcefulness to deal with uncertainty, is a vital and achievable goal for early childhood practitioners.



Alexander, R. (2004). Talking to learn, 12.

Alexander, R. (2005). Culture, dialogue and learning: Notes on an emerging pedagogy. . Paper presented at the International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology, University of Durham. http://lpuae.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/47478116/Dialogic teaching.pdf

Alexander, R. (2014). Dialogic Teaching. 7 OCT 14

Belonging, being & becoming [electronic resource] : the early years learning framework for Australia. (2009). Canberra, A.C.T. : Dept. of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments, 2009.

Beyer, B. K., & Montclair State Coll, U. M. N. J. I. f. C. T. (1988). Hints for Improving the Teaching of Thinking in Our Schools: A Baker’s Dozen. Resource Publication, Series 1 No. 4.

Chouinard, M. M. (2007). Children’s Questions: A Mechanism for Cognitive Development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 72(1), 1-129.

Claxton, G. (2007). Expanding Young People’s Capacity to Learn, 115.

Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2008). Critical Thinking: The Nuts and Bolts of Education. Optometric Education, 33(3), 88-91.

Facione, P. A. (2000). The disposition toward critical thinking: Its character, measurement, and relation to critical thinking skill. Informal Lgic, 20(1), 61-84.

Fisher, R. (1999). Thinking Skills to Thinking Schools: Ways To Develop Children’s Thinking and Learning. Early Child Development and Care, 153, 51-63.

Fisher, R. (2007). Dialogic Teaching: Developing Thinking and Metacognition through Philosophical Discussion. Early Child Development and Care, 177(6-7), 615-631.

Mills, C. M., Legare, C. H., Bills, M., & Mejias, C. (2010). Preschoolers Use Questions as a Tool to Acquire Knowledge from Different Sources. Journal of Cognition and Development, 11(4), 533-560.

Mills, C. M., Legare, C. H., Grant, M. G., & Landrum, A. R. (2011). Determining who to question, what to ask, and how much information to ask for: The development of inquiry in young children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110(4), 539-560.

Mulnix, J. W. (2012). Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44(5), 464-479.

P21. (n.d.). The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.   Retrieved 7 OCT 14

Perkins, D., Tishman, S., Ritchhart, R., Donis, K., & Andrade, A. (2000). Intelligence in the wild: A dispositional view of intellectual traits. EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY REVIEW, 12(3), 269-293.

Ritchhard, R., Palmer, M., Church, M., & Tishman, S. (2006). Thinking routines:Establishing patterns of thinking in the classroom. Paper presented at the Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, California.

Ritchhart, R. (2002). Intellectual character : what it is, why it matters, and how to get it / Ron Ritchhart ; foreword by David Perkins: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c2002.

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Robson, S. (2010). Self-regulation and metacognition in young children’s self-initiated play and Reflective Dialogue. International Journal of Early Years Education, 18(3), 227-241. doi: 10.1080/09669760.2010.521298

Robson, S. a. H., David. (2005). What do early childhood practitioners think about young children’s thinking? European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 13(1), 81-96.

Salmon, A. (2008). Promoting a Culture of Thinking in the Young Child. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(5), 457-461. doi: 10.1007/s10643-007-0227-y

Schleicher, A. (2014). Quality and Equity. http://www.acer.edu.au/rc: ACER.

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). Critical Thinking: Its Nature, Measurement, and Improvement.

Teo, P. (2013). ‘Stretch your answers’: Opening the dialogic space in teaching and learning. Learning, Culture & Social Interaction, 2(2), 91.

Wagner, T. (28 APR 2012). Play, Passion, Purpose: Tony Wagner at TEDxNYED.   Retrieved 25 ARP 13

Wagner, T., & Compton, R. A. (2013). Creating Innovators.

Wegerif, R. (2006). A dialogic understanding of the relationship between CSCL and teaching thinking skills. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF COMPUTER-SUPPORTED COLLABORATIVE LEARNING, 1(1), 143-157.

Wegerif, R. (2011). Towards a dialogic theory of how children learn to think. THINKING SKILLS AND CREATIVITY, 6(3), 179-190.

Willingham, D. T. (2008). Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach? Arts Education Policy Review, 109(4), 21-32.

Zero, P. (2007). Thinking Routines.   Retrieved 23 AUG 14



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Posted in 21st Century Skills, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Programing and Planning, Theory

How can peer dialogue and reflection influence educators’ knowledge, doing and being?

How can peer dialogue and reflection influence educators’ knowledge, doing and being?

The nature and quality of teachers’ interactions with children is one of the most salient aspects of early childhood programs’ effects on children’s development, (Elliott & Australian Council for Educational Research, 2006; Hamre et al., 2012; König, 2009; Leggett & Ford, 2013; Sabol & Pianta, 2012; Williford, Maier, Downer, Pianta, & Howes, 2013) as well as their “short- and long-term wellbeing” (Fumoto, 2011, p. 19).

The teachers and children’s voices are re-constructed below, using pseudonyms.

The kindergarten is a single unit service, situated in the Dandenong Mountains of Victoria. In the kindergarten today there are 24 children with three educators. Leela is a 4-year university trained educator, currently studying for her Masters of Education. Teresa has just completed her Diploma in Children’s services; Madison has her Cert III, and is studying for her Diploma in Children’s services and is here today as an additional Aid. In addition there are two student teachers, both diploma trained, studying for their Bachelor of Education. This puts the ratio at 1 educator for every 5 children, vastly different to the current ratio of 1:15 in Victoria, Australia.

The children have left the morning meeting to play, each choosing an experience that has been pre-set up, or self-selecting their own resources available in the room. Children scatter throughout the room, spilling out onto the veranda, whilst educators and students disperse as well.

One child sits at the clay table, and others come. Soon the table is full, each child has a cube of clay, and there are tools in a basket for cutting, piercing, scrapping etc. Madison sits down with the children, taking notes and photos as she observes and responds to the children’s conversations. Leela approaches noting that each child’s cube of clay is still a cube of clay – they haven’t been deconstructed in the process of play, but left as the educators had presented them. They have marks and holes made by the children exploring the tools. The children have been working and chatting for a while, one child seems to be finishing up.

Leela listens as the child explains that she has made a dog out of her clay, and then asks when the conversation is finished, “I wonder what else you could make out of the clay?” “It’s now an alien” states the child. The educator notes that the clay has not been transformed, although the child’s thoughts have been. The educator squats down next to the child.
Making an Alien - Kallista Kindergarten
Child: I can make 3 or 2 (no movement is made on the clay)
Leela: How many eyes does your alien have?
Child: I can make 3 or 2 (no movement is made on the clay)
Leela: Can I help you?
Child: Nod’s
Leela demonstrates how to use one of the tools available to cut the clay into smaller chunks.
Child: starts to manipulate a smaller piece of clay using both hands.
Leela: How many arms will it have?
Child: “I can’t make arms”
The child sitting next to her shows her how to make arms by pushing the tools through the block of clay
Child: Mirrors the other child with her own clay and tools
Child: tries to make a ball “it’s really hard”
Leela: Demonstrates how to make a ball
Child: “this is the body” she holds up the ball she has now made
Leela: Now sits next to her, working on a piece of clay. She has made ball for the body, and rolls the clay like a sausage to make an arm, she then makes a hole with a tool into the body, and sticks the arm in uses her fingers to close the hole around the arm.
Child: mirrors what educator has done, does both arms. She then moves onto the legs, using the same technique. She turns the clay ball (more cube shaped now), and uses the tool to make two holes, pushes the clay sausages into each hole. She stands it up.
Child: “It keeps falling off, it’s not sitting down, it has to stand up!”
Leela: has packed up her own clay creation. “What can you do?”
Child: “Smaller head?”
Leela: “How could you make the head smaller?”
Child: “can cut it”. Cut’s half the head off using the tool that was used to cut the clay at the beginning.
Child: “how does this look?” Puts it back together. It still falls down when she tries to stand it. She takes the body and head off the legs, and starts to cut the legs down. She puts it back together, tries to stand it, cuts more off, and tries again. Continues until it stands without falling. It has very short legs.
Continues working by herself as Leela moves away.
Leela returns, as the child has called her.
Child: It’s got curly hair like you.
She has now added eyes and a mouth
Child: Da, Daaaa (large vocalisation and smile)

At reflection time the child was invited to discuss her clay work. The child spoke to the children confidently about what she had made, and the steps she took to make it, and her rationale as to why she made an alien.

This is snippet of an observation from my place of work. It isn’t transcribed from a video; Madison was documenting it for the child’s records.

There are many insights that can be gleaned from this scenario; the qualifications of the educators – qualified for the position they hold, yet both engaged in further studies. An additional aide identifies that the service has at least one child that may require additional support. There are university students in attendance, demonstrating the welcoming of others into their program. The mention of ‘morning meeting’ may be indicative of a Reggio-inspired program; Madison recording and documenting the learning may also point to this. Leela’s use of closed and open questions and modelling, providing scaffolding to motivate and expand the child’s current explorations, possibly links to a socio-constructivist theory per Vygotsky.

However, it was the discussion with Madison afterwards, and the conversations that have followed that highlighted an on going tension for Early Childhood Educators (ECE). Madison agreed to write down her thoughts:

“It was great to see you do that. I observed her (the child) working the cube of clay. I took down her language and asked the occasional question, but wondered how I could get her to make her ‘dog’ look like a dog and not a cube with lines on it.

I know through my training and work this is an area I have to work on, how to interact with a child when they are at a task that is not improving. Should it matter? Do I let them discover for themselves? Do I interrupt? Will they stop and move onto something different if I do? How much do I tell/show them? Have I failed them if they do move on? Or if they follow my instructions is it my work or theirs? Have I stopped them from creating in their own way?

Because of this I can take observations and realise their importance but I’m not extending children and have trouble analysing what I’m observing. I end up just being an observer and not part of the experience. Did it matter that her dog was still a cube?

With all these questions in my head and taking notes on her language and social interactions, the cube of clay turned into an alien.” (Email from Madison, term 2 2014).

As was discussed in the 2014 EKU Class 2, group b, knowing and doing are intertwined, it is difficult to isolate one aspect to reflect on, as both are integral to ‘be-ing’ a person, or in this case ‘be-ing” an educator. Madison feels that her lack of experience impacts on her ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ and thus her ‘being.’

A ratio of 1 adult to every 15 children prevents two educators working with the same group of children during ‘free play’, as each educator endeavours to be accessible and responsive to every child. The addition of an aide and 2 students in the environment made this scenario possible. There is generally no time/opportunity for one educator to mentor the other through demonstration with a small group. Does this highlight a need or flaw in educator training? Do students need more opportunities to shadow an experienced educator, rather than focusing on programing and planning, which is usually the expectation of a practicum? Or could there be specific professional training opportunities specifically targeting educator-child interactions, providing scripts, or videos to observe and reflect upon?

Leela has her own tension in relation to if, when and how to interact with children when they are engaged in play. Why did she intercede at this moment? Because she realised the child was finishing, so she wouldn’t be interrupting her play. She noted that the children hadn’t deconstructed the clay – they had explored it with tools, mark making, but hadn’t used their hands to mould and explore. The outcome for the clay activity was for children to explore making meaning; even without deconstructing the clay, they had done this through their narrative as they worked. Prior knowledge of the child came into play – that she seeks adult interaction – and that her fine motor strength and dexterity need to be developed. It provided an opportunity to model how to deconstruct the clay and mould with it, with peers looking on and maybe being inspired to revisit their clay play.

The Infant and Toddler Centres and Schools of Childhood, in Reggio Emilia, Italy, inspire the Kindergarten’s philosophy. It has a clear socio-constructivist, socio-cultural view of the educator, whose role is to guide, facilitate, nurture, observe, document and encourage research, working as a co-learner and collaborator with the child.
Risk Assessment - Kallista Kindergarten
Over the last three years the program has extended to include a nature kinder program, and has explored the philosophical stance this includes. Prior to this integration, Leela attended Professional Development sessions run by Claire Warden and Nicki Buchan, and talks by advocates such as Tim Gill, Marc Artimage, and Michael Ungar, read Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods”, Tony Wagner’s book “Creating Innovators” and Paul Tough’s book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.” There is a message that children need time, unstructured, and adult free to follow their own path, to support them as life-long learners. Lester, Russell, & Bernard Van Leer seem to capture the overreaching message from this movement within an early childhood setting:

‘We must exercise caution and not make it too much an object of adult gaze. Children’s play belongs to children; adults should tread lightly when considering their responsibilities in this regard, being careful not to colonise or destroy children’s own places for play through insensitive planning or the pursuit of other adult agendas, or through creating places and programmes that segregate children and their play.

Adults should be aware of the importance of play and take action to promote and protect the conditions that support it. The guiding principle is that any intervention to promote play acknowledges its characteristics and allows sufficient flexibility, unpredictability and security for children to play freely.’

(Lester, Russell, & Bernard Van Leer, 2010, p. 45)

The tension for Leela is that these two philosophical viewpoints are aligned in regard to the respect of the child, but where the Reggio Emilia’s socio-constructivist theory encourages interaction and dialogue, the nature philosophy seems to encourage us to take a step back, not to intrude.

Here we have two different educators with different levels of knowledge and experience, who each face a pedagogical dilemma from two different aspects of the same interaction.

One questions how they should engage more, whilst the other grapples with how to reconcile two seemingly competing theories of how much, and what type of interactions are most beneficial for the child’s experience and outcomes.

In regards to how Madison should engage more, the Australia Framework, Belonging, Being, Becoming (EYLF) provides some direction to the educator’s interaction to extend children’s learning, drawing on the term “teachable moments” to scaffold children’s learning via providing feedback, challenging their thinking, open ended questions, and guiding their learning. Stating that responsiveness, our knowledge of children’s strengths, abilities and interests enables us to stimulate and enrich children’s learning and thinking by respectfully entering their play (DEEWR, 2009, p. 15)

The ‘knowing’ when is a ‘teachable moment’, is one of the areas of concern for Madison, and for many ECE’s. What is a ‘teachable moment’? How is the identification of a teachable moment affected by an educator’s knowing, doing and being? How do experienced educators make a decision of when is a ‘teachable moment’? The framework tells us by using their knowledge of the child, which develops from careful observation and interaction, but also by considering their beliefs of what is important to teach, and their understanding of child development to interpret the observations and interactions. Hyun, reminds us that a teacher’s idea of a teachable moment may not match with the learner’s learnable moment, noting that ‘scaffolding requires individualized pedagogical adaptation for each learner in a learner-meaningful context (2006, pp. 136-137).
Communication - Children begin to sort, categorise, order and compare collections and events and attributes - Kallista Kindergarten
Intentional teaching is one of the eight key pedagogical practices in the EYLF, which explains ‘Intentional Teaching’ as thoughtful, purposeful and deliberate, with a focus on ‘knowledge-building’ that is carefully planned for. It is through interactions and conversations within a social context that learning occurs. High-level thinking skills are fostered through challenging experiences and interactions. The EYLF explains “Educators move flexibly in and out of different roles and draw on different strategies as the context changes,” using strategies not unlike those for ‘teachable moments’, modelling and demonstrating, explaining, speculating, open questioning, “engaging in shared thinking and problem solving to extend children’s think and learning” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 15).

Would Madison’s knowing-doing gap be reduced if she focused on ‘intentional teaching’, which is explained as carefully planned, rather than trying to focus on the intangible, fleeting, unplanned opportunity of a ‘teachable moment?’ Further, as Horton elaborates, “the way you really learn is to start something and learn as you go along” (Harvey, Lisman, & American Association for Higher, 2006).

Madison has finished her basic level of training to work in an Early Childhood Setting, and is now working as she studies for her diploma. Madison thus has the opportunity to put theory (knowing) into practice (doing), to “turn declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge” developing her as educator (being) (Wilson et al., 2001 cited inStemler, Elliott, Grigorenko, & Sternberg, 2006, p. 104). Madison has declarative knowledge to draw upon, but it is overwhelming her and preventing her from trusting her instincts, making her feel that to mimic the behaviours of educators is a safer course of action.

Unlike Maddison, Leela’s dilemma sprang from an apparent conflict between two aspects of her ‘knowing’ – Free Play versus Play-based Learning. The former involves unstructured, free-flowing, intrinsically motivated, child-directed learning, as per the movement encaptured within Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods”. Application of this philosophy to the clay activity would not impose specific expectations or structure to the experience, allowing the child to learn through their own exploration. Alternatively, a Play-based Learning approach would apply learning expectations upon the experience, requiring the adult to direct, model and intervene when necessary to encourage the child’s progression towards the learning outcomes discussed previously.
For Leela, the optimal learning opportunity here involved the application of both approaches simultaneously – leveraging the child’s interests and intrinsic motivation, whilst questioning to provoke, and modelling to extend, ensuring the best possible learning outcome for this child was achieved. Her ‘knowing’ was thus comprised of declarative and procedural knowledge, plus her insight into this child’s specific learning needs in terms of fine-motor, strength and dexterity.
Gurm, poses a framework for these ‘multiple ways of knowing’ in teaching and learning, identifying these five ways of knowing:
i. Empirical – empirics is the science of education
ii. Ethical – ethics is the moral of knowledge
iii. Personal – personal knowing is about knowing one’s self and the participation in the act
iv. Aesthetic – is the art of teaching and learning (2013, pp. 2-3).
Intuitively finding the correct balance though, requires the experience of ‘doing’, as this knowledge can’t be bestowed by theoretical learning alone. Knowing when to interrupt, how to seize upon a ‘teachable moment’, and when to allow the child to experience a ‘learnable moment’ by themselves is derived of experience, and when we try to describe how we go about the spontaneous intuitive actions of every day, we find ourselves at a loss, or produce descriptions which are obviously inadequate.

Head down in a pile of leaves - Kallista KindergatenEducator training bestows knowledge, and placements provide practical experience in planning & delivering sessions, but child-educator ratios limit coaching and mentoring opportunities, which clearly benefit all involved, once employed. Dialogue spawned from this interaction highlighted a deficiency in one educator’s experience, providing her with an opportunity for improvement and something to focus upon. This same dialogue caused the second educator to reflect more critically upon the merits of differing approaches, concluding that in practice, a considered yet largely intuitive application of knowledge delivers the best outcomes, which can only be achieved through practice and experience.

Is there an opportunity to improve ongoing educator training by ensuring more mentoring and coaching in placements and workplaces? How can we create opportunities to coach and mentor given child-educator ratios? How also can teams promote and encourage dialogue and identification of improvement opportunities?

DEEWR, A. G. D. o. E. E. a. W. R. (2009). Belonging, being & becoming : the early years learning framework for Australia: Canberra : Dept. of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments, c2009.
Elliott, A., & Australian Council for Educational Research, V. (2006). Early Childhood Education: Pathways to Quality and Equity for All Children. Australian Education Review Number 50: Australian Council for Educational Research.
Fumoto, H. (2011). Teacher-child relationships and early childhood practice. Early Years: Journal of International Research & Development, 31(1), 19-30. doi: 10.1080/09575146.2010.535790
Gurm, B. K. (2013). Multiple Ways of Knowing in Teaching and Learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, 7(1), 1-7.
Hamre, B. K., Pianta, R. C., Burchinal, M., Field, S., LoCasale-Crouch, J., Downer, J. T., . . . Scott-Lttle, C. (2012). A Course on Effective Teacher-Child Interactions: Effects on Teacher Beliefs, Knowledge, and Observed Practice. American Educational Research Journal(1), 88. doi: 10.2307/41419450
Harvey, I. E., Lisman, C. D., & American Association for Higher, E. (2006). Beyond the Tower : Concepts and Models for Service-learning in Philosophy. Sterling, Va: Stylus.
Hyun, E. (2006). Chapter Eight: Recursive Movement Among Positions (pp. 135-150): Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
König, A. (2009). Observed classroom interaction processes between pre-school teachers and children: Results of a video study during free-play time in German pre-schools. Educational & Child Psychology, 26(2), 53-65.
Leggett, N., & Ford, M. (2013). A fine balance: Understanding the roles educators and children play as intentional teachers and intentional learners within the Early Years Learning Framework. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(4), 42-50.
Lester, S., Russell, W., & Bernard Van Leer, F. (2010). Children’s Right to Play: An Examination of the Importance of Play in the Lives of Children Worldwide. Working Papers in Early Childhood Development, No. 57: Bernard van Leer Foundation.
Sabol, T. J., & Pianta, R. C. (2012). Recent trends in research on teacher–child relationships. Attachment & Human Development, 14(3), 213-231. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2012.672262
Stemler, S. E., Elliott, J. G., Grigorenko, E. L., & Sternberg, R. J. (2006). There’s More to Teaching than Instruction: Seven Strategies for Dealing with the Practical Side of Teaching. Educational Studies, 32(1), 101-118.
Williford, A. P., Maier, M. F., Downer, J. T., Pianta, R. C., & Howes, C. (2013). Understanding how children’s engagement and teachers’ interactions combine to predict school readiness. JOURNAL OF APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 34(6), 299-309.

Posted in Children's Play, Outdoor Programs, Programing and Planning, Reflecting, Theory

Creative Confidence

Phrases from this talk that resonate;
– “Fear of Judgement” – “you don’t do things, you are afraid you are going to be judged. If you don’t say the right creative thing, you will be judge”
– Albert Bandura – “Guided Mastery” – methodology to overcome a phobia, other positive benefits perseverance, trying harder, more resilient etc.
– Albert Bandura – From going through this process they gained a new confidence “self efficacy” “The sense that you can change the world, and that you can attain what you set out to do”.
– Turn fear in to familiarity – people who feel they aren’t creative, take them through a serious smalls steps, small steps in creativity. Thus turning the unknown, the feared in the familiar.

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Posted in Creativity, Theory

Teaching for Creativity series

The following series of articles explore concepts around teaching creativity in the Early Childhood setting. Each article contains links to the next and previous in the series.

  1. What is creativity?
  2. Why promote creativity?
  3. Can we teach creativity?
  4. Practical strategies for Early Childhood Teachers to promote creativity in preschool.
Posted in Children's Play, Programing and Planning

Practical strategies for Early Childhood Teachers to Promote Creativity in Preschool

<– Previous section “Can we teach creativity?”

Practical strategies for Early Childhood Teachers to Promote Creativity in Preschool.

To teach creativity, do we need to teach creatively or do we need to be teaching for creativity? Teaching for creativity is explained as teaching strategies that are intended to develop children’s own creative thinking and behaviour.  Teaching creatively, is seen as teaching differently from the norm “using imaginative approaches to making learning more interesting and effectively” (Craft, 2003). In order to both teach for creativity and teach creatively, educators need to be nourished, both professionally and personally (Craft, 2002).

Craft (2002) acknowledges that teaching creatively can be nourishing –  through relationships, between children, children and educators, children and resources – and with the environments that educators have planned and created. These can provide interest and excitement for both educators and the children, providing life-giving energy, yet she also acknowledges that teaching can be exhausting, that teachers can be emotionally and physically drained by the demands of children, and of parents, and that educators need to be responsible for their own psychological wellbeing.  Craft recommends continued professional development, but development that itself promotes creativity.


“A creative practice does not necessarily lead to learner creativity, but it provides open contexts for both teacher and learner to be creative” (Craft & Jeffrey, 2004, p.42).

Cheung, R. H. P. (2012). Teaching for creativity: Examining the beliefs of early childhood teachers and their influence on teaching practices. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37(3), 43.

Craft, A. (2002). Creativity and early years education : a lifewide foundation / Anna Craft: London : Continuum, 2002.

Craft, A. (2003). The Limits to Creativity in Education: Dilemmas for the Educator. British Journal of Educational Studies(2), 113. doi: 10.2307/3122416

Craft, A., & Jeffrey, B. (2004). Learner Inclusiveness for Creative Learning. Education 3-13, 32(2), 39-43.

Cremin, T., Burnard, P., & Craft, A. (2006). Pedagogy and Possibility Thinking in the Early Years. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 1(2), 108-119.

Ewing, V., & Tuthill, L. (2012). How Creative Is Your Early Childhood Classroom? Exchange: The Early Childhood Leaders’ Magazine Since 1978(207), 86-90.

Kozbelt, A., Beghetto, R. A., & Runco, M. A. (2010). Theories of Creativity. In J. Kaufman & R. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook Of Creativity (pp. 20-47). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Mellou, E. (1996). Can Creativity Be Nurtured in Young Children? Early Child Development and Care, 119, 119-130.

Morris, W. (2009). Creativity-its palce in education. Education Today(1), 6.

Prentice, R. (2000). Creativity: a reaffirmation of its place in early childhood education. Curriculum Journal, 11(2), 145-158. doi: 10.1080/09585170050045173

Roemer, K. L. (2012). Creativity and Montessori Education. Montessori Life, 24(1), 4-5.

Runco, M. A. (2007). Creativity : theories and themes, research, development and practice / Mark A. Runco: Amsterdam ; Sydney : Elsevier Academic Press, 2007.

Samuelsson, I. P., & Carlsson, M. A. (2008). The Playing Learning Child: Towards a pedagogy of early childhood. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(6), 623-641. doi: 10.1080/00313830802497265

Wagner, J. T., & Johanna, E. (2006). Nordic Childhoods and Early Education : Philosophy, Research, Policy, and Practice in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Greenwich, Conn: IAP-Information Age Pub.

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Posted in Children's Play, Learning Frameworks, Programing and Planning, Reflecting

Why promote creativity?

<– Previous section “What is creativity?”

Why promote creativity?

Sawyer (Brosterman & Togashi, 1997; 2006) places us in a time of great change during which we have “shifted from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy.” The knowledge economy is grounded on “the production and distribution of knowledge and information, rather than the production and distribution of things”  (Drucker, 1993, p. 182 cited in Sawyer 2006, p. 41).

This shift has substantial implications for education. In his TED Talks, Ken Robinson explains that today’s schools were designed to meet the economic needs of the industrial economy in the first half of the 20th century. If this industrial economy is a thing of the past, then how are the curriculums and structures of our current school system relevant? Are they obsolete? If the core of the knowledge society is creativity, then the key task for educators is to prepare learners to be capable of participating creatively in an innovation economy (OECD, 2000).

Our society is characterised by ambiguity and rapid change. Complex economic, environmental and social pressures such as climate change position us with unprecedented challenges, and thus we need people who are able to work together in new, creative, collaborative and cooperative ways. We need citizens who are able to come up with innovative solutions to the unexpected and unimagined situations that will continually arise in their lives.

Why promote creativity in preschool?

Canning (2013, p. 1) explains children are open to creative thinking and doing when they experiment with new ideas, thoughts, and theories, or are curious to find out new things and take risks.

Creativity is central to many founding beliefs about childhood and experiential learning, linking back to Froebel, the creator of the first Kindergartens, where children were not only involved in dancing, singing, nature studies and story telling, but were engaged with a series of twenty educational toys, including building blocks, parquetry tiles, origami papers, modelling clay, sewing kits, and other design projects. These objects became known as Froebel’s gifts and aspects of them can still be found in kindergartens today (Brosterman & Togashi, 1997).kindergarten_froebel

In the traditional early-years setting, children can be observed continually designing, creating, experimenting and exploring. It may be with current versions of Froebel’s gifts, with paints, crayons, or loose parts (Nicholson, 1972).  Resnick  (2007, p. 1) explains this as a “spiralling process in which children imagine what they want to do, create a project based on their ideas, play with their creations, share their ideas and creations with others, [and] reflect on their experiences- all of which leads them to imagine new ideas and new projections.”  In reality the steps aren’t necessarily sequential, but they may be mixed together in all different ways. However, through this process children develop and refine their creativity thinking.  It’s believed many 20th century artists and inventors credit their later success to Kindergarten (Brosterman & Togashi, 1997).

The importance of early learning as basis for later learning is acknowledged, traditionally in the terms for preparing children for school as seen in this latest report Early Bird Catches the Worm: The Causal Impact of Pre-school Participation and Teacher Qualifications on Year 3 National NAPLAN Cognitive Tests.  The key findings were;

  • Attendance at pre-school has a significant positive impact on later NAPLAN outcomes, particularly in the domains of Numeracy, Reading and Spelling.
  • The direct causal effects of pre-school attendance are equivalent to 10 to 20 NAPLAN points or 15 to 20 weeks of schooling at the Year 3 level, three years after attending pre-school.
  • Children who did not attend pre-school would have gained more from attending pre-school than those who actually attended.
  • Children whose pre-school teacher had a diploma or degree in early childhood education or child care gained the most from attending pre-school – the level and specialisation of pre-school teacher qualifications are important.
  • Children whose pre-school teacher had only a certificate level qualification in child care or early childhood teaching or had no relevant childcare qualification showed no significant benefit from attendance at pre-school (Development, 2013)

The significance of early learning, in the context of lifelong learning, is the focus that needs to be made, and to a small extent this is what Australia is trying to do with the universal access to 15 hours of early childhood education. In its broadest noted benefit, it recognises that quality early childhood education programs improve children’s learning, health and behaviour, with positive impacts extending into adult life (DEECE, 2012).

The directive for Australian education, as set out in the Melbourne Declaration on Education, states that improving educational outcomes for all young Australians is central to the nation’s social and economic prosperity and will position young people to live fulfilling, productive and responsible lives.

Goals identified to meet this outcome were:

Goal 1:

Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence

Goal 2:

All young Australians become:

–    successful learners

–      confident and creative individuals

–      active and informed citizens (Barr et al., 2008, p. 8)

From these goals we can see the growing recognition by policy-makers that creativity is an important aim for education, that our future relies on Australians being able to problem-solve in new and creative ways, and to be able to engage with scientific concepts and principles, and highlighting the need for future learners to not only be skilled in numeracy and literacy, but also “creative and productive users of ICT” (Barr et al., 2008, p. 8).

Goal 2 of the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young children is supported by Belonging, Being and Becoming The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, where children’s learning is seen as “dynamic, complex and holistic.

Physical, social, emotional, personal, spiritual, creative, cognitive and linguistic aspects of learning are all intricately interwoven and interrelated” (Australian Government Department of Education, 2009, p. 9).  Creativity is explicitly stated in a couple of the outcomes such as; in Wellbeing outcome 3, educators are encouraged to provide warm trusting relations and safe environments, so that children’s learning including creativity is supported; In Learning, outcome 4, educators are informed “Active involvement in learning builds children’s understandings of concepts and the creative thinking and inquiry processes that are necessary for lifelong learning” (p.33)

We are being directed that our learners need to be confident creative individuals,  but can we teach creativity?

Australian Government Department of Education, E. a. W. R. (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia.   Retrieved April 20, 2013

Next section “Can we teach creativity?” –>

Barr, A., Gillard, J., Firth, V., Scrymgour, M., Welford, R., Lomax-Smith, J., . . . Ministerial Council on Education, E. T. a. Y. A. (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians: Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs.

Brosterman, N., & Togashi, K. (1997). Inventing kindergarten / Norman Brosterman ; with original photography by Kiyoshi Togashi: [New York, N.Y.] : H.N. Abrams, c1997.

Canning, N. (2013). ‘Where’s the bear? Over there!’ – creative thinking and imagination in den making. Early Child Development & Care, 183(8), 1042-1053. doi: 10.1080/03004430.2013.772989

DEECE. (2012). Universal Access to 15 hours of Early Childhood EducationFrequently Asked Questions.   Retrieved 15 SEP 13, from http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/childhood/providers/edcare/universalaccessfaq.pdf

DEECE. (2013). Early Bird Catches the Worm: The Causal Impact of Pre-school Participation and Teacher Qualifications on Year 3 NAPLAN Outcomes.   Retrieved 10 SEP 13, 2013, from http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/research/preschoolparticipationandqualissummarypaper2013.pdf

Nicholson, S. (1972). The Theory of Loose Parts, An important principle for design methodology. Studies in Design Education Craft and Technology, 9(2), 5-14.

OECD. (2000). Knowledge management in the learning society. Paris.

Resnick, M. (2007). All I really need to know (about creative thinking) I learned (by studying how children learn) in kindergarten. Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI Conference: Creativity & Cognition, 1.

Sawyer, R. K. (2006). Educating for innovation. THINKING SKILLS AND CREATIVITY, 1(1), 41-48.

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Posted in Children's Play, Learning Frameworks, Programing and Planning, Reflecting
August 2022