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Following a child’s emerging interests is a phrase we hear often in the early years sector, but what does it mean, and how can we best support each child within a busy early year’s setting. By using our expertise in the area of child development we can ensure that our environments are carefully planned to excite and invite little learners. A quality curriculum builds on the strengths and rights of each child. Children should be viewed as active agents in their own learning with the child’s funds of knowledge been used to enhance opportunities to acquire additional skills and knowledge.
A huge focus of any curriculum is the quality of interactions which happen daily in each setting. Emerging Interests may be detected by listening to and spending time with children or unfold instantly in the sheer joy and enthusiasm a child might show towards an activity such as jumping in puddles, watching a farmer in a field or a visit from a community helper.
It’s important to trust your own expertise in relation to catering to a child’s emerging interest and create an environment which allows for inquiry based and hands on learning opportunities. In a busy classroom, practitioners often feel a pressure to ensure that they are catering to all of the children’s emerging interests. The most important thing for any child is that they are welcomed to the setting, have a strong sense of identity and belonging and build trust through positive interactions with their teachers. If children are engaged in activities and can communicate and contribute with teachers and peers then we have created an important foundation from which to build on. Our documentation will enhance this process and help build a picture of the learning journey each child has been on.
Here are some simple tips to exploring children’s interests as they emerge-

Observe. Look at the areas which the children are drawn to most, what materials are the children using? If children are drawn to construction or the home corner for example, perhaps their interest can be expanded upon by adding recipe books/menus to the kitchen area or a sensory tray with fill and spill options using small dumper trucks. This can cater to the children’s interest whilst also building on the child’s learning by including maths, literacy and motor skills. Recording how the children respond to the changes will no doubt lead to further interests emerging within the group. Children are much more likely to engage with activities which interest them, this will build their intelligence and aid future learning.

Listen. What are the children saying, how are they communicating their needs and interests? Children will often use words to express themselves, but as the saying goes ‘Actions speak louder than words’. If a child wanders off during story-time, what is that telling us? Even the most avid readers have certain books which they enjoy. If our stories aren’t meeting the needs of the child then perhaps explore some reasons why. Can we change the way the story is delivered by using puppets, story sacks, CD’s or drama? Introducing stories to smaller groups may increase the opportunity to assess and acknowledge each child’s interest and contribution.

Station work. This can work really well to help the educator to observe how the children explore new materials and how they respond to different social groups. Careful observation and listening will help to ascertain children who have interests in common, pairing such children together at a later stage may help to expand each child’s interest and knowledge whilst developing friendships and building social skills.

Parental consultation. Parents input is vital in supporting each child’s sense of belonging in their environment. Take the opportunity to chat with parents and find out what interests their child at home. When a child’s funds of knowledge are reflected in their learning environment, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and feel ready to learn.

Reflect each child in their environment. When a child enters the class-room we want them to feel that they belong. Birthday walls, coat hangers, learning journals and family pictures all help the children to feel a strong sense of identity and belonging. Visual schedules can help children who need additional support whilst also catering to the needs of all of the children in the group. An inclusive environment with carefully written policies and procedures will also help to ensure that the needs of all children are met.

Play. Children learn so much and are at their most relaxed when given opportunities to lead their own play both indoors and outdoors. An environment with plenty of loose parts and open-ended materials will enhance children’s imaginative play. Children should be given daily opportunities to engage in all types of play, it is through play that the children make sense of the world around them, test their ideas and learn how to be part of a community.

Recognise that all children are individuals. It is important to recognise both the age and stage of development which the children are at. All children develop skills at different times. Children have different dispositions and learning styles and with careful observation and positive interactions we can follow their lead.
Relax and enjoy just being in the presence of the children, don’t be afraid to initiate a learning opportunity or to take it in a new direction if the children are just not engaged. Involve the children in planning the day, give them choices and continue to prepare the environment using all of the knowledge which you have gathered.

Above all have fun and watch the learning and interests unfold.