Approaches to Play and Learning Foundation: 1 - Initiative and Exploration

Topic: APL1.1 - Demonstrate initiative and self-direction

Initiative and exploration is the cornerstone of future learning. Initiative and self-direction are critical to developing independence and decision making skills. As educators, we need to acknowledge and encourage children to follow their interests in order to support this learning. It is important to take advantage of teachable moments that occur every day. Children need to be given time to explore and discover, rather than be seated and “talked at.” With adult support, their self-confidence will flourish, and they will be prepared to initiate exploration, attempt new experiences, and engage with objects and people.

Looking Ahead to Kindergarten Family Engagement Special Populations
Children who enter kindergarten demonstrating initiative and self-direction are:

*More confident in a new environment
*Ready to take risks and embrace new learning
*Prepared to work independently
*More willing to learn, especially when faced with challenges or following a failure (SEL Competency 7A)

Encourage families to:

*Be flexible with plans, provide time for children to explore their interests, and provide choices when possible.
*Embrace new learning opportunities and experiences (e.g. picking books on particular topics to learn more).
*Provide the opportunity for their child to do tasks themselves (e.g. putting on clothes, dusting furniture) and resist the urge to do it the “right way”.

Educators can:

*Provide support and ensure that children have the necessary materials to demonstrate initiative (e.g. communication devices, materials that support individual children’s level of development, etc).
*Encourage self-direction by providing accessible choices for children with varying abilities.
*For DLL, provide time for children to explore and interact with others while accepting the use of their native language.

Powerful Practices
Across all developmental stages, educators can:

*Ensure the environment is organized, inviting, and safe.
*Provide an environment with diverse materials that change with the interests of the children.
*Be flexible with plans by honoring and respecting children’s contributions and teachable moments.
*Be flexible with materials and material placement (i.e. materials can travel throughout the environment - blocks are not confined to the “block area”).
*Talk to children about what is happening in the environment and encourage conversation between children.
*Build positive relationships to develop trust in order for children to feel comfortable exploring.
*Provide balance between adult and self-directed/guided activities.
*Through intentional planning, provide choices that are safe and interesting for young children.
*Acknowledge children’s choices and help them proceed when they make a decision.
*Focus on a child’s efforts and not the outcome. Use specific, positive language (e.g. “You stacked three blocks by yourself! Way to go! You did it!”).


Create environments that support exploration and curiosity (i.e. limit the use of “baby containers” or equipment that restricts an infant’s movement such as bouncy seats, swings, etc.)

Engage infant in play and interaction with objects and peers (e.g. shaking a rattle in front of infant or building a tower together out of blocks)

Communicate with and guide infant through social interactions (e.g. "You are holding the ball in your hand. What are you going to do with it? Oh! You threw the ball. Where did it go?")

Younger Toddler
Create environments that encourage children to interact with each other (i.e. collaborative play experiences across all interest areas)

Organize the environment so that desired materials are readily accessible to children on low open shelves (e.g. placing blocks, people & cars/trucks out for construction play)

Older Toddler
Recognize child’s interest and ask questions about the desired activity (e.g. child brings object to educator. Educator asks, “What would you like to do with that?”)

Organize the environment so that desired materials are readily accessible to children on low open shelves (e.g. art materials are available at the easel for use)

Younger Preschool
Provide extended time for self-directed activities

Support active and creative exploration of materials in the environment (i.e. children and materials move freely in and out of interest areas)

Ask open-ended questions (i.e. “I wonder what…”, “Tell me about…”, “What do you notice?”)

Older Preschool
Encourage children to ask questions, to ask for additional materials or resources

Offer opportunities for children to plan their activities (e.g. put a clipboard in the block area so children can plan their construction)

Educators ask guiding questions to assist in a child’s plan (e.g. “I see you’re opening a store in the dramatic play area. What do you think you’ll need?”)