Intentional teaching


Ko koe ki tena, ko ahau ki tenei kiwai o te kete
You at that and I at this handle of the basket

This paper was prepared by Judith Duncan, University of Canterbury, 2009.

Key question: How do you make your daily decisions for teaching and learning in your ECE setting?


Questions continue to be asked as to how children learn best and the best ways to teach children. Internationally, the quality of our early childhood education for infants and toddlers is a subject of interest for the media, and for those members of the public who have concerns around infants being cared for outside of the maternal home setting. So it is timely that we make our teaching, and the children’s growth and learning, transparent to all those who wish to know what it is we actually do, and whether infants and toddlers benefit from the time they spend in early childhood education settings.

Intentional teachers

Ann Epstein (2007) argues for teachers to be ‘intentional’ in their work. She advises that all teachers in early childhood should be purposeful and effective in their teaching at all times, that teachers have an active role in the learning process and that teachers should make intentional decisions to implement the best strategies at all times for young children’s learning.

Teachers who are ‘intentional’ can address these concerns:

Intentional teaching does not happen by chance; it is planful, thoughtful, and purposeful.

Intentional teachers use their knowledge, judgment, and expertise to organize learning experiences for children; when an unexpected situation arises (as it always does), they can recognize a teaching opportunity and are able to take advantage of it, too (Epstein, 2007, p. 1).

It is intentional teachers who directly address both the ‘how’ to teach young children and the ‘what’ to teach them. Intentional teachers recognise and respond to all opportunities to engage in, and extend, children’s learning, whether that learning be child-initiated, teacher-initiated, routine, planned or unexpected. Intentional teachers provide the specialised curriculum that infants and toddlers require between child-initiated and teacher-initiated experiences (and curriculum).

Extract from Te Whāriki: Key curriculum requirements for infants

The care of infants is specialised and is neither a scaled-down three- or four-year-old programme nor a baby-sitting arrangement. Any programme catering for infants must provide:

  • one-to-one responsive interactions (those in which caregivers follow the child’s lead).
  • an adult who is consistently responsible for, and available to, each infant.
  • higher staffing ratios than for older children.
  • sociable, loving, and physically responsive adults who can tune in to an infant’s needs.
  • individualised programmes that can adjust to the infant’s own rhythms.
  • a predictable and calm environment that builds trust and anticipation.
  • partnership between parents and the other adults involved in caring for the infant.

An intentional teacher is familiar with both ways of supporting learning and chooses which to use and support at any given teaching moment.

Child-guided versus adult-guided experiences

Child-guided: refers to experience that proceeds primarily along the lines of children’s interest and actions, although teachers often provide the materials and other support.

Adult-guided: refers to experience that proceeds primarily along the lines of the teacher’s goals, although that experience may also be shaped by children’s active engagement (Epstein, 2007, p. vii).

At some times, or for some content, children seem to learn best from child-guided experience  - that is, they acquire knowledge and skills through their own exploration and experience, including through interactions with peers. At other times and for other content, children seem to learn best from adult-guided experience – that is, in set-up situations in which their teachers introduce information, model skills, and the life (Epstein, 2007, p. 2).

Last updated: 21 December 2009