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Curriculum > Preschool > How We Teach > Adult-Child Interaction

Adult-Child Interaction

Sharing Control: Adults and Children as Partners

In the HighScope Curriculum, shared control is central to how adults and children interact. Even when activities are planned by adults around specific concepts, adults encourage children's initiatives and choices. In play situations, adults follow children's lead. While teachers may look for opportunities to gently challenge children by introducing a new idea or appropriate vocabulary, they stay within the context of the children's play goals.

HighScope has neither a directive nor an “anything-goes” atmosphere. Instead, HighScope promotes a supportive climate in which adults and children are partners throughout the day.

girl talking with teacher (Gregory Fox Photography) Research on the Importance of Adult-Child Interaction

Research indicates that they way adults interact with children plays a very important role in children’s learning and development. These studies demonstrate that in classrooms where teachers are responsive, guiding, and nurturing, children take more initiative and are more likely to be actively involved and persistent in their work.

Interaction Strategies that Promote Active Learning

Some of the most important adult-child interaction strategies used in HighScope programs are listed below.  Details on how to apply these strategies, as well as many other adult-child strategies for specific areas of learning, are given in HighScope's training and publications. 

  • Adults participate in children's play. Adults look for natural openings in children's play and then join the child or children at their physical level. As a pretend play partners, adults take roles assigned by children and stay within the play scenario the children have created.
  • Adults converse as partners with children. Adults look for opportunities for conversations with children about the activities children are engaged in. Adults make comments about the child's activities that allow the conversation to continue without pressuring the child for a response.
  • Adults use encouragement instead of praise. Rather than statements that evaluate or judge, adults make objective, specific comments that encourage children to expand their descriptive language and think about what they are doing.
  • Adults encourage children’s problem solving. Whenever possible, adults encourage children to solve problems for themselves. While adults could often solve the problem more easily by taking over, the goal is for children to develop their own problem-solving abilities through trial and error.

When children have social conflicts, adults stay nearby to be ready to offer support as needed (but intervene immediately to stop hurtful words or actions). When necessary, adults use the six steps in conflict resolution to help children find a solution to their problem.

Effective adult-child interaction is essential to a successful early childhood program. Changes in how adults interact with children do not happen overnight. HighScope is ready to offer training, publications, and guided support to help teachers and caregivers strengthen their skills in this critical area of program quality.

Preschool Curriculum Overview

Preschoolers not too young to learn to resolve conflicts

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