Child-initiated Learning

Child-initiated learning is a form of play-based learning where the child initiates the activity. The child plans and selects the activity and the adult participates rather than leads. Ideally, it involves physical, social and cognitive learning within, but at the upper limit of, the child’s abilities. It is generally thought that this approach to learning supports the child’s desire for exploration, maintains intrinsic motivation and promotes deeper learning so the child discover ideas themselves.

“Active learning through learning centers and play promotes literacy skills in children by allowing them to apply their prior knowledge as well as use higher order thinking skills to gain new information independent of others.” – Alissa Marie Mielonen and Wendy Paterson

Studies have associated child-initiated learning with improved social-emotional outcomes in the form of less anxiety around school, higher self-esteem and higher motivation. Although more research is needed, early childhood programs that blended child-initiated and teacher-directed learning achieved high scores on school readiness assessments.

How can we help promote child-initiated learning? Teaching Expertise offers a few tips to encourage this practice:

  • Organize the environment. If the space is organized, this allows the adult to spend more time participating in play. Additionally, if high-quality resources are presented in an interesting environment, this will encourage the child to initiate the learning.
  • Ensure that the children have plenty of time. The child will need time to try things out, make mistakes, try another approach, repeat the play and consolidate their ideas. You should also include time for planning and reflecting.
  • Value the play by joining in. The adult should join in the play to scaffold and model the learning.
  • Review the opportunities to extend learning. The practitioner can support and extend child-initiated learning by building on the child’s ideas and interests. By participating, this also gives you the chance to review the resources.

Read more advice by consulting their online article listed below. Check out the other resources to learn more about child-initiated learning and its many approaches and benefits.


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