The Perfect Balance Between Child-Led And Guided Learning

How do we strike the balance between the dance of “in the Moment” and “Guided” activities?  Firstly, we need to recognize the strengths of both “Child-Led” and “Adult-Guided Learning” experiences. 

Picture this: a classroom buzzing with energy as little learners explore, create, and imagine. That’s the magic of CHILD-LED learning! It’s all about letting children take the lead. Fostering their creativity, independence, and love for learning. 

But wait, there’s more! Cue the spotlight on ADULT-GUIDED learning. It’s like having a wise mentor guiding you through the steps, providing structured opportunities to learn specific skills and concepts while promoting collaboration and communication. 

Together, these two approaches create a dynamic duo that nurtures every child’s growth and development and highlights the importance of your flexibility and responsiveness in your pedagogy as… “One size doesn’t fit ALL!” 

In the world of early childhood education, we all know flexibility is the name of the game. We know that every child is unique, with their rhythm and pace of learning. That’s why teaching is rather like a beautifully choreographed dance – fluid, adaptable, and responsive to the needs of every little explorer. 

By being flexible, we ensure that our teaching strategies, and pedagogies, evolve alongside the changing interests and abilities of our students, creating a learning environment where everyone can shine.   

The potential disadvantages of not being adaptable and focusing solely on one specific approach could be limiting the development of skills, experiences, and learning for children.   

Like us, every child is unique, and “One size doesn’t fit ALL”. Don’t forget to offer a breadth of different activities, including structured group activities, and experiences for your little ones.  By doing this you are ensuring ALL children are invited to play and learn and they are not getting bored or just repeating the same activity because it is safe and known to them. Just like adults they want to live WILDY and experience new things. Take them outside their comfort zone and don’t hinder their joy of learning by fixating on ONE approach in the setting. 

Go Wild In The “Pick And Mix” For Learning 

From my many years of teaching in and training settings, I have seen first-hand how the seamless blending of child-led and adult-guided activities ensures that no child is disadvantaged.  We need to ensure they are ALL invited to learn. 

As educators, we need to find and blend our own “SECRET SAUCE” of perfect ingredients that will provoke and engage our little explorers. 

Set the stage with a rich variety of materials and multiple open-ended provocations that ignite everyone’s curiosity and imagination. Then, sprinkle in some structured FUN activities facilitated by adults, providing opportunities for children to develop specific skills and collaborate with their peers. 

Remember, it’s all about finding that “SWEET SPOT” where child agency meets adult guidance, creating a meaningful learning experience that’s engaging and playful.  

Combining and being creative is KEY to finding your “SECRET SAUCE”  To do this you need to recognise the strength of both “CHILD-LED” and “ADULT-GUIDED” learning experiences.   

Your “SECRET SAUCE” is informed by several key theories and approaches that highlight the importance of both CHILD-AGENCY and ADULT SUPPORT in facilitating optimal and meaningful learning experiences. Here is a sample of the ingredients and spices that will help you develop your recipe for your little explorers. Imagine only being able to cook with one ingredient day after day – BORING! 

INGREDIENTS: Guided Play and Scaffolding Learning  

Guided play serves as a cornerstone for children’s development:  

  • Building Foundations: By establishing a sturdy groundwork by integrating key concepts and skills into playful contexts, enabling deeper exploration and understanding in future learning endeavours. 
  • Cognitive Development: Children are prompted to engage in critical thinking, problem-solving, and idea connections. Educators scaffold this process by providing hints, modelling strategies, and encouraging experimentation, fostering cognitive growth within a supportive environment.  
  • Language and Communication Skills: Educators facilitate meaningful conversations, enrich children’s vocabulary, and empower them to express their thoughts and ideas. Through these interactions, children learn effective communication, active listening, and confident articulation. 
  • Social and Emotional Growth: Opportunities for children to nurture vital social and emotional competencies. Educators guide collaborative activities, nurture empathy and cooperation, and assist children in navigating social interactions. Engaging in guided play experiences helps children regulate their emotions, resolve conflicts constructively, and foster positive peer relationships. 

SPICES: Depth of flavour (there are many more Spices available to choose from) 


  • Constructivist theories, such as those proposed by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, emphasize the active role of children in constructing their knowledge and understanding of the world. 
  • Child-led play with constructivist principles by allowing children to explore, experiment, and make sense of their environment through hands-on experiences. 
  • Guided play complements constructivist approaches by providing scaffolding and support from adults, helping children build upon their existing knowledge and skills. 


  • Lev Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory highlights the importance of social interactions and cultural contexts in shaping children’s learning and development. 
  • Guided play draws upon sociocultural principles by fostering collaborative learning experiences, where children engage in meaningful interactions with peers and adults. 
  • Through guided play, educators provide support, feedback, and guidance, creating opportunities for children to learn from more knowledgeable others and internalise new concepts and skills. 


  • Vygotsky’s ZPD refers to the gap between what children can do independently and what they can achieve with support from a more knowledgeable other (peer or adult). 
  • Guided play leverages the ZPD by offering children tasks and activities that are slightly beyond their current abilities, with appropriate support and scaffolding from adults. 
  • By working within the ZPD, educators can challenge children to extend their learning and reach higher levels of understanding and competence. 


  • Play-based learning approaches recognize play as a central mechanism for children’s learning and development. 
  • Child-led play allows children to exercise autonomy, creativity, and problem-solving skills, while guided play provides opportunities for targeted learning objectives and skill development. 
  • By combining child-led and guided play, educators create a dynamic learning environment that balances free exploration with intentional teaching, fostering holistic development across multiple domains. 

In summary, the combination of CHILD-LED and GUIDED-PLAY in early years education is grounded in theories and approaches that emphasise the active role of children in their learning, the importance of social interactions and cultural contexts, and the value of play as a vehicle for learning and development. 

By integrating these principles and NOT focusing on ONE APPROACH for ALL children, you can create deliciously rich, engaging, and responsive learning environments that support the diverse needs and interests of ALL our young explorers. Remember “One size doesn’t fit ALL!” 

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top