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High Scope Activities That Fascinate Young Children

Did you ever set up an activity for very young children only to have it fall apart? I certainly have in my 40+ years as an infant, toddler and preschool teacher.

How about an activity that was deemed developmentally inappropriate by a supervisor? Sadly, I was that supervisor and I was unable to explain myself to my colleagues in a way they could understand.

But since then I've learned something that makes it all OK. It came from the High Scope Curriculum and it's helped me more than any other method of teaching.

I call it the "sieve" because it sorts out aspects of an activity that just won't make it with children. I want to share the idea briefly with you today but you can look at it in more detail here if you're interested.

Here's how it goes. Check every activity for these 5 points and adjust the activity until it meets the High Scope standards.


Make sure to entice children to participate by having plenty of materials to work with. Scarcity only presents problems. Set the materials out in a visually pleasing way and call the children over to play.


Let the children touch and manipulate the materials right away. If you have to explain, do it briefly as they begin. Expecting them to sit still and listen to you before they start isn't right for their level of development. That comes much later.


Allow the children to talk and plan with each other as they work. Your role is to answer their questions and provide verbal support for their work. This is the language aspect of the activity.


As the teacher, your job is to support them in what they choose to do with the materials you provide as long as they remain safe, kind and gentle to others. That leaves quite a bit of leeway.

You can support them in their learning by providing your insight but remember that the project is their own. Do they need a new surface with more space to work? Do they want to put their ideas together with another's to make it even better? Do they need some ideas on how to make something stick better? Give as much support as you can, without dictating the outcome. It's the process, not the product that counts.


Make sure to give them lots of choices. The activity will often take on a life of it's own but don't worry. If they're happily involved in it, they're learning. Children often come up with things I never thought of. Don't get stuck on anything like, "We're making trains here." or even that it should look like something at all. Instead ask them about it. Tell them which part you like. Comment on how they figured it out. This is true problem-solving.

Here's a real-life example to think about.

The young teachers were having their class of 3-year-olds make "trains". They had carefully cut out the shapes and helped the children glue them on their papers to look like the shape of a train. There was a certain way to assemble the pieces. Some did it easily, while others struggled.

The teachers were into the idea that their was a right and a wrong way to make the train. When a child glued the wheel above the train, the teacher corrected them by saying, 'If you use the wheels up here, what will the train use to run on?" Then she pulled them off and placed them below the train, where she thought they should be.

Try putting yourself in the shoes of that 3-year-old child. How do you feel about table activities now? How about after the teachers hung all the trains next to each other? Would you unintentionally compare the trains and deem yourself to be not as good as the others?

The teachers could have provided a few more choices and let the kids make a train or anything else they wanted. They could have supported the innovative ideas of the children and helped them feel good about projects. But they didn't.

Knowing about this "sieve" could have helped me then and it could have helped the children and the teachers. That's why it's so important to me to share this with you today.

I hope it helps in some small way!!

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, parent, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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