As little ones develop their sense of confidence and independence, they’ll need their parents or primary caregivers to make them feel capable.

What is scaffolding? 

It is a learning process in which an adult supports a child’s development by providing a little help when necessary. Scaffolding allows the person to connect existing knowledge to new knowledge, skills, and further understanding. Successful scaffolding happens in what the pioneering psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1931) introduced as the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD). The ZPD is the difference between what the child can do and learn on their own, and what they can do and learn with the help of someone more experienced.

Scaffolding also enables a person to solve a problem or achieve a goal that is just beyond their current abilities. Anyone can benefit from this process and everyone has a different ZDP. Several studies have observed how scaffolding impacts children’s development. Findings report that parental support on children’s problem-solving at age three has a direct effect on their executive functions at age four.

Support your little one through this model

You can start empowering your little one through scaffolding as early as you would like to. When you get a sense of what your child knows and wants to learn you can start to encourage it. 

What you need to take into account when practicing scaffolding

  • Join your little one during playtime and observe these cues
    • How do they like to play?
    • When do they give up?
    • How responsive and sensitive are they to your support?
    • How enthusiastic are they?
    • How is their focus during play? 
  • Set realistic goals; remember where your child is at the overall development.
  • Understand your baby’s ways of approaching learning through careful and intentional observing. 
  • Match your strategy to your little one’s interests, knowledge, and skills.
  • Encourage your child in both verbal and non-verbal ways. Open-ended questions can really help! 
  • Don’t be afraid to bring in new materials during playtime or when teaching your little one a new milestone. 
  • As your child approaches the knowledge of the new skill, try to withdraw the support and let them try on their own.  

Examples of scaffolding

Here are some examples that can help you become more sensitive to everyday opportunities where you can apply scaffolding:

1. When children are learning to walk, they often start by holding on to the clothes or hands of an adult. It’s not until they build enough strength and balance that they learn to walk on their own. 

You see your little one pushing themselves up to stand on their own. You give them your hand, they take a few unsteady steps and fall. You identify your baby’s ZPD as the difference between standing up on their own and taking a few steps without support. A scaffolding method might be to offer your baby two small toys that interest them and see if by holding one toy on each hand and squeezing them tightly they can get the balance they need to take a few steps towards you.

2. When your little one is learning about object permanence and socialization through play, Peek-a-boo is a very intriguing game. 

As you uncover your face for the 10th time, you’ll see that your little one loses interest and shifts their attention. Help them pay attention to you by covering their face with a blanket, calling their name, and saying “there you are!”, as you remove the blanket. That way you found a new way to re-engage your child and keep the responses active.

3. When your child is learning about shapes and colors, there’s more attention focused on the colors in the surroundings.

If you see that your little one is starting to identify the colors blue and yellow, in the morning, before dressing them, pick blue and yellow clothes and lay them on the bed. Your baby will be excited to get dressed in those colors. Tell your child that day is going to be all about the colors blue and yellow: you’ll be dressing in these colors and will identify them throughout the day in your surroundings. That way, you will prepare a learning environment based on what your little one already knows and provide a strategy that matches their new interests.

With your support and guidance, you’ll be able to challenge and extend what your little one knows and learns. Empowering your baby through simple play exercises will foster their confidence, independence, and future cognitive abilities. These simple strategies could help your child learn a little bit more than what they would have learned on their own. Playtime already offers a great opportunity for the development of social and emotional skills, so think of scaffolding as a ladder that can take your little one to new skill levels.


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