Scaffolding in Early Childhood Education

How can this method of teaching help your preschooler

examples of scaffolding
Scaffolding is an education method that in part, takes one skill that a child already knows how to do and then uses it to help the child master another skill.. Dean Mitchell/Vetta/Getty Images

In education, there are a variety of different methods all designed to help children learn effectively and thoroughly. Some methods work well together, while others do better when they are applied individually. Scaffolding, a very popular method in early childhood education, functions well when applied alongside other methods, and works in ways very similar to its construction counterpart. Here's a definition and some examples of scaffolding as it pertains to early childhood education.


What is Scaffolding?

In terms of education, scaffolding is a method of teaching, designed to offer students structure and support, much like its construction counterpart. The idea is that new lessons and concepts can be more readily understood and comprehended if there is support given to a child as they are learning. It can also involve teaching a child something new by utilizing things that they already know or can already do.

When building, scaffolding is erected to help supply support to the new structure that is being created. When the building is complete, the scaffolding is removed and the new building is able to stand alone. In scaffolding in early childhood education, the philosophy is very similar and works almost the same way to build independence in children.

How Does Scaffolding Work in Early Childhood Education?

When using scaffolding with young children, a teacher will provide a student with support and guidance while the student is learning something new and age-appropriate.

As the child learns the skill and then masters it, the support is lessened until the child can do the new skill all on their own. 

Scaffolding works best when educators use different ways to utilize the method, including:

  • If a child is having trouble completing a project, an educator could make a variety of suggestions that might help solve the problem, while encouraging the child to problem solve on their own. For example, "That block tower keeps falling down. One way we could fix it is by putting all the bigger blocks on the bottom. What is another way that you think we could help it stay up?"
  • Asking probing questions to encourage a child to come up with an answer independently.
  • In the block tower example above, an educator who is scaffolding could make their own smaller version of a block tower to demonstrate how the blocks work best.
  • Additionally, the teacher could encourage the child to use different resources to help the block tower stay up and think out of the box by coming up with a creative solution. "What do you see in our classroom that would help support our block tower? Maybe if we turn that pencil holder upside down, that could help. Can you think of anything else?"
  • If a child is having trouble coming up with an answer to the question, "What is the opposite of up?" on their own, a teacher who is scaffolding can provide multiple answers to choose from in order to help the child come up with a correct response independently. 

In early childhood education, scaffolding can be implemented in many ways. For example:

  • If a child knows how to draw a straight vertical line, you can then show them how to draw a straight horizontal line. Once those two skills are mastered, they can put it together to draw a square.
  • Once a child recognizes a specific letter, you can teach the sound and then words that start with that sound.​
  • A child that can use safety scissors can utilize that skill to use a hole punch.

Scaffolding is helpful because it helps young children who are new to a school environment build confidence while learning. If a child gives the wrong answer to a question, a teacher using a scaffolding method can use that incorrect response coupled with a previously learned skill to help the child come to the correct conclusion on their own.

Also Known As: scaffold learning, scaffold method, scaffold teaching, instructional scaffolding

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