What is the difference between Child-Led and Adult-Led learning?

There are differences between child-led and adult-led play in Early Years and it is important that practitioners make time for both of these types of play. To provide high-quality experiences in an Early Years setting, child-led and adult-led learning should be balanced. This blog will discuss the two types of learning and how you can involve both in to play in Early Years settings.

Lev Vygotsky concept of ‘The Zone of Proximal Development’ refers to the difference between what a child can do both with and without help from a guided mentor. Vygotsky believed in both the importance of children developing independently as well as with support by an adult. The main idea of the Zone of Proximal Development is that a more knowledgeable person can enhance a child’s learning by guiding them through a task slightly above their capability. When the child gains more competence, the adult will gradually stop giving guidance until the child is able to do the task independently.

Child-Led Play

Child-led play refers to play that is led by the child rather than the adult. The play is free from any adult intervention or motive and allows the child to have full control. This means that the children can follow their own interests and passions which allows the adult to learn more about the child. Child-led learning allows the child to build skills such as problem-solving and perseverance, as well as developing their confidence and self-esteem. Additionally, it provides the child with a sense of empowerment as they are able to select their own toys, resources, and activities, free from adult influence. Child-led learning also allows children to develop their imagination and creativity by encouraging them to explore their own ideas.

Adults can also play a role in child-led play by providing a safe and nurturing environment with access to resources. They may ask questions, talk to them about their play, or follow the child’s lead. For example, the child may be interested in a small play kitchen set and encourage adults to join in by offering the adult a cup.

Adult-Led Play

Adult-led play refers to play that is led by the adult rather than the child. This means that the adult has control over the activity and guides the child through the learning. This type of learning is more structured in comparison to child led as it usually has rules or instructions on how to play. Although the adult may not participate in the activity, they will be actively guiding the children throughout.

Adult-led play is often planned by the adult and can introduce children to new experiences and opportunities to develop their skills and knowledge. It also ensures that children meet all of the learning areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). For example, the adult can choose an activity to improve the skills of a particular age group such as hand-eye coordination in pre-school children and fine motor skills in younger children. By planning group activities, this can encourage co-operation and positive peer relationships.

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