Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Intentional Teacher

As a member of the Alabama Early Childhood Leadership Academy, I was privileged to spend an entire day in February listening to Dr. Sue Bredekamp of NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practice fame. Dr. Bredekamp presented two sessions on intentional teaching: “Effective Practices in Early Childhood Education” and “Effective Curriculum and Intentional Teaching.” The following blog post reflects a tiny bit of her presentation and my understanding and application of it.

What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?

There are likely as many interpretations of this concept as there are caregivers and educators of young children. The simplest way to think about this concept is that DAP “meets the individual needs of children.” DAP is the “initial framework used to determine what to do.”
  • ·      Meet each child where he or she is
  • ·      Use a wide variety of intentional teaching strategies that vary for and adapt to the age, experience, interests, and abilities of individual children
  • ·      Help each child reach challenging and achievable learning goals

What I’ve listed above encompasses just the first two slides in the presentation given by Dr. Bredekamp. And, it’s more than enough to discuss in a single blog!

Meeting the Child Where He/She Is

The ability to meet each child where he or she is requires that the adult understand what to expect for the ages and stages of development for each child. It’s important to know what the appropriate expectations are as well as inappropriate expectations. For each child in your program/classroom/home, knowing what they should be doing for their age an stage and knowing what they shouldn’t be doing is really important for planning. If I know that Charlie who is 3 is frustrated when we have puzzle time, I need to
  • ·      understand that 3 year olds typically can do large piece puzzles
  • ·      offer puzzles that are within his ability to complete without frustration
  • ·      offer puzzles WITH MY HELP that challenge that ability
  • ·      encourage Charlie to participate
  • ·      give Charlie strategies to be successful
  • ·      allow Charlie to leave puzzles after success or after some mild frustration but well before he becomes angry

Compliment of Gillock's Gang

If I know that Brett who is 2 ½ has trouble transitioning, I need to
  • ·      remember that this child needs extra warnings and help transitioning
  • ·      provide those extra warnings and help to transition
  • ·      know that regardless of best efforts, there still may be some resistance and negative behaviors during transitions (because he is  2 1/2 AND because he just doesn't transition as easily as other) 

Compliments of Gillock's Gang

Intentional Teaching Strategies

Being intentional about our teaching means that we are doing things for a reason. Everything we plan and offer children needs to have a purpose. This does NOT mean that the adult has to be actively telling children information or “teaching.” It means that if I have music playing, it should have a purpose. Why play background music during free play times? What is the purpose? If we are doing restaurant play, and the children have decided this is an elegant fine dining experience, perhaps I would suggest that we play some fancy fine dining music in the background. This is purposeful use of music in the play/learning experience.

EVERY experience a child has throughout the day can be included as intentional teaching. In April, our program’s theme is Water, Water, Everywhere. Every learning center offered will have something about water for children to experience.
            Art – water color paints
            Book corner – books about water will be on display
            Cooking – recipes that use water; make lemonade; discuss dilution
Dramatic play -- perhaps we will go on a cruise; go fishing
            Math center – counting rain drops; water is measured in volume; cups to pints to quarts to gallon
            Music – songs about water
            Outdoor art – painting with water
            Outdoor general – water toys, sprinkler, water table, things to squirt with, watering cans
            Puzzles/manipulative – pouring activities; puzzles that have water features
            Science – sink and float activities; water table set up; why living creatures need water information
            Writing – writing doesn’t have to be a center on its own, but it can be incorporate throughout the other centers – record information discovered in math & science, watercolor pencils at art, dramatic play – take travel reservations, make tickets, etc.
            Other – finger plays; transitions may have water theme

Compliments of Gillock's Gang

Challenging and Achievable Learning Goals

In order for children to develop, the goals must be both challenging and achievable. Children need to be encouraged to reach beyond their current level. Think about a baby who is just learning to crawl. First, we have to recognize that the baby is preparing to crawl (can roll over, sit up, has developed upper body strength, etc.). Second, we have to give the baby an opportunity to crawl (put on floor on tummy in a safe environment). Then, we need to give the baby a “reason” to crawl. To do this, we might put a favorite toy just out of reach and give verbal and facial cues to encourage the child to crawl to get the toy.

The concept works in the same way for older children engaging in other learning activities. First, I need to recognize that the 4 year old in my care is preparing to read. Second, I need to give the child an opportunity to experience books and letters. Then, I need to offer support and activities that use what the child knows about letters and sounds and builds on those without causing frustration. I also have to remember all the while that the opportunities I offer are appropriate (for example, letter learning in isolation is NOT appropriate for 4 yr olds, but having a letter scavenger hunt or helping children write their names or find their names on a list IS appropriate).

If we offer just achievable goals, children will become bored. And when we have bored children, two things happen: 1. Behavior problems arise; 2. They begin to lose their passion for learning.

If we offer goals that are too challenging, children will give up and can begin a downward cycle of distress and negative feelings toward learning.

Photo compliments of Gillock's Gang.

Summary Thoughts

While children are in each learning center, the caregiver/educator should be looking for children’s skill levels and understanding of concepts and providing methods for improving skills and understanding that meets the children’s individual needs.  This reflects back to meeting the child where he or she is. Every interaction and learning experience should be purposeful. I may need to use a variety of teaching methods to reach all the children in my program. I may have to adapt an activity to the age, experience, interests, and abilities of individual children. My activities need to be both challenging and achievable for the children in my program.

Children are learning all the time. What they learn and how they feel about that learning is up to you!

Photos compliments of Gillock's Gang accredited family child care home in Opelika, AL. My sincerest thanks go out to Kay for these photos!

Dr. Miller is the Managing Director of the Family Child Care Partnerships program at Auburn University. FCCP offers in-home mentoring services that support providers in their efforts to enhance the quality of care they offer with an eye toward national accreditation (through the National Association for Family Child Care). Dr. Miller lives in LaGrange, GA, with her husband Peter (middle school band director), son Charles (graduating senior), and daughter MaryAynne (rising sophomore and aspiring singer/dancer). For more information about FCCP please visit our website or contact Dr. Miller at For more information about family child care accreditation, please visit NAFCC


  1. Oh my gosh this is a fabulous article! I wish all early childhood educators could read it! thank you for sharing such good information and reminders we all can use. -Melissa

  2. would it be ok if I put a link to it on my blog? thanks either way -Melissa

  3. Great thoughts! It's so true that goals have to be both achievable and challenging for the child to be comfortable in a learning situation. I was going to pin your post, but it was already pinned to the board I was planning to use. So I stumbled it instead! Deb @

  4. Brilliant article! Part of the framework I'm required to teach by has intentional teaching as one of it's practices. You're article has been invaluable. Thanks.


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