Why do adults pursue hobbies such as golf, crochet, or gardening? We spend time in these activities because we find it enjoyable, we have some control over the activity, and we see it as offering some probability of success. We choose what we will crochet or plant; we describe where, when and with whom we will play golf or tennis.
Children, too, learn best when they have some control over their learning, when activities are meaningful and relevant, and when they can make choices in the materials they will work with and how they will use them.
Children thrive when they have opportunities every day to make choices in their learning. Adults should strive to facilitate children’s choices within a carefully planned environment. It’s up to parents and teachers to create an environment to allow each child to choose activities that are developmentally appropriate for their age. Allow children to choose the peers with whom they will work and play and determine how they will use the materials available.
These choices empower children to take control of their own learning. Children use materials and equipment in far more creative and innovative ways than we could ever plan, and they use the materials in ways that meet their own developmental needs.
Research indicates that intrinsic motivation – when we work on a task primarily because we find it satisfying – is the most effective and engaging way to learn. Quality early childhood programs should make an effort to provide materials and activities that provide choices and interest for the children. That’s the key reason that you’ll see busy, involved children when you visit classrooms.