Building Professional Vision: What does Child-Led Really Mean?

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I have often been asked where I get the topics for my blog posts. Usually it is what I am currently thinking about – something that I see as a trend in early childhood education pedagogy and curriculum. I have written about trends and buzz words before as I find them fascinating. I come across these words, ideas, and concepts while reading my news feeds on Facebook and Twitter. I have long been a supporter and advocate for the use of social media for professional learning. Sometimes, I stumble upon an idea that intrigues me when searching for something else when preparing for a class or writing a chapter for an upcoming book on outdoor play and nature. This happened recently when I read about professional vision. Professional vision in teaching is the specialized knowledge that helps us to make sense of day-to-day practice. This occurs through attention and knowledge-based reasoning (Mulholland, 2016). According to Seidel & Stürmer, 2014, professional vision is the use of knowledge to notice and interpret significant features of situations as they occur in the learning environment. The three aspects of professional vision identified by Seidel & Stürmer (2014) are:

The more an educator is able to describe, explain and predict everyday situations, coupled with professional knowledge gained from experience and professional learning, the greater the positive impact there will be on practice. One problem as I see it, is there has to be the motivation to enhance professional knowledge through professional learning. Experience alone is not enough. Professional learning is another concept that I have long found fascinating. Based on my own self-activated professional learning, I have come to realize that for me, I learn best when I am not a passive recipient of knowledge being transmitted to me in workshops. I found out that there is a big difference between professional learning and professional development. I am grateful for this resource that I stumbled upon years ago.


My latest wonderings are about the concept of “child-led” teaching and learning. Having worked in early childhood education for over three decades, I wonder if this term is the same as child-directed? In any case, I caution against the creation of a dichotomy between teacher-led and child-led. As in a previous post, I support continuum thinking. I look forward to thoughtful dialogue and discussions on this topic with others as the quote from Lev Vygotsky that guides my practice is: “It is through others that we develop into ourselves”. I welcome comments on this blog while I continue to ponder and make meaning. This post from Denita Dinger comes at the perfect time as I continue on this quest to build professional knowledge and in turn professional vision. I am excited about this summer for an opportunity to discuss the concept of child-led with two educators from Australia, Dannielle Gibson and Sally Cook who will be attending The Rhythm of Learning in Nature. I am curious about their perspectives on the concept of child-led learning. This is the third year that the York Region Nature Collaborative is hosting this week of professional learning. A week that involves participant led and collaborative professional learning in nature. There are still spaces available if you would like to join us! Here is a photo of #Rhythm2016 participants:


This year, the week-long Rhythm of Learning in Nature will culminate in a full-day workshop, A Tapestry of Play and Learning where our broader community of educators will share in the Rhythm experience and how it shaped the material invitations and installations at Tapestry (save the date; August 12th, 2017). The Tapestry of Play and Learning will be free to all #Rhythm2017 attendees. I can’t wait for the opportunity to share my current pondering. As thoughts are swirling around my head I wonder about why the concept of child-led intrigues me. I am beginning to see a connection with all learning. For professionals and children, if we strive for self-activated learning would the learning be more meaningful and joyful? For children, it is self-activated play. I plan to delve more deeply into the book, From Play to Practice: Connecting Teacher’s Play to Children’s Learning to continue on my own quest for professional knowledge and vision. The book focuses on my passion for self-activated play and advocates for adults to play to understand children’s play. My musings, have also led to a new tangent – the idea of agency as in my searches to learn more about the practice of child-led, I came upon this article, Creating Spaces for Children’s Agency: ‘I wonder…’ Formulations in Teacher–Child Interactions. I also want to learn more about agency. Cindy Green and I heard the term often when we were in Australia last year but it is not a word we hear often in our own contexts. Agency is a concept that refers to “children being afforded decision-making opportunities through which they can influence their worlds”(Houen, Danby, Farrell & Thorpe, 2016, p. 262). I am thinking that children’s agency is important but so is agency in relationship to professional learning. What I find fascinating is to consider that “agency is co-constructed through the unfolding sequences of talk, with contributions from both teachers and children” (Houen, Danby, Farrell & Thorpe, 2016, p. 262). This would suggest that there is a balance between child and teacher-led teaching and learning. The balance in practice would come from professional vision.  Creating spaces for learning for adults and children requires co-construction. It is not completely learner-led. I think the term child-led oversimplifies something very complex. I am putting child-led on a shelf and will return to it at some point but for now my thoughts focus on agency, professional vision and passion. After I gave Cindy this blog post to read prior to publishing she posed a very interesting question. Has it been professional vision that has kept us so passionate after all these years? Or is it agency? We were both supposed to retire a few years ago! Yet we keep going!










3 thoughts on “Building Professional Vision: What does Child-Led Really Mean?

  1. Thank you for sharing your vision as a learner if you will through your blog. I find that when we take time to think and reflect, we find connection. I ve the book from Play to Pracrice and the richness of the discussion has captured my interest in the concept of play as a place of wonder and learning.
    I read this posting with interest as I find the work of educators to be fascinating in a world of soooo much information and top down thinking and practice. It leads me to think of not only the buzz words of child led vs teacher led or guided but how there is this overhanging aura of assessment. It also makes me think about how this aura has so much weight on the shoulders of educators that there are times when the point of learning is lost…
    If educators are in the moment of teaching and learning I wonder if the vision needs to have an element of vulnerability to the learning. I wonder if in the learning we are more open to other points of view including the notion of agency. In a democratic scenario of teaching and learning as a belief system that incorporates agency, there is a see saw movement between the adult and the child both acting as knowledgeable others. But this requires each learner-educator to be open to the roles of facilitator/teacher (Aristotle typology) and learner/researcher. Agency is a strong trait involving ones belief that we can make decisions to guide and lead our learning. It is this sense of creating an active, dynamic and possibly organic environment for vulnerability to learning at any age that we come to a place where learning is more than stimulus and response. The expectation of I prompt and you react is much more complex and therefore in the wee moments of planning for learning opportunities or provocations we may need to really thinking about how our interactions with others guides the learning. Could a child provoke our thinking? If we believe that the child can act as an active agent of learning then perhaps we become the learner and engage in the learning from another stance. In this richness of belief coupled with evidence from scholars, I wonder if we will capture the essence of guided and child led learning.

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  2. Thank You Diane for focussing in on that wonderful interaction between teacher and learner (the child) and the inspiration from that learning that propels us towards sometimes new and exciting learning possibilities and experience..My understanding, also, is that learning is not transferred, but reinterpreted by the child into new and sometimes contextual learning….not our learning but learning constructed by the child.

    In my 20+ years of being a trained teacher (now retired) of preschool children my interpretation of the cultural and pedagogical foundations for teaching and learning in our country to be open ended and a spiral of observation and reflection,

    Reflecting about your thoughts regarding the terminology of who leads the learning experience; my simple interpretation of the Maori word ‘Ako’ which means to both teach and learn, in other words reciprocity of experience to be both humbling and inspirational.
    Humbling, because I must acknowledge the child or learner to have something to teach me, something that through observation, I must learn. The child is both my motivator for more professional development or research. There is no room for personal ego, as the word ‘ako’ means to teach is to learn learn.

    Inspirational because my love of the child and the value I place on the shared learning experience as a professional motivates me to reflect on my observations. Now, I am inspired to learn more, to research more, to gain more professional knowledge and most importantly adapt the environment to facilitate future learning experiences.

    Perhaps, the learning environment is prepared by the experienced teacher to facilitate learning opportunities for children. However, the humble teacher, the aware teacher, the knowledgeable teacher might also understand that beautiful cultural understanding that ‘ako’ is a reciprocal process and that both teacher and child do the leading and learning. Learning is inspired by ‘Ako’.


  3. The term child led, somewhat bothers me, because I have seen how it can become an excuse for a very laissez faire approach where adults/educators just stand back and let the children get on with it, thinking that in preparing a rich environment, they have done their bit. I believe strongly in the idea that knowledge is constructed through our social interactions (I love your Vygotsky quote). Perhaps from my own background (as well as being a teacher with a specialism in the Froebelian approach, I am also a trained person centred counsellor), I prefer the term child centred, though perhaps this as a phrase has different connotations for different people. I guess what it really boils down to is the fluidity of language to suit our needs, which is why of course terms become misappropriated or redundant. Perhaps child led developed as a reaction to very teacher directed approaches, but now it has come to mean something else. No answers, many thoughts. Thank you.


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