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What is a Child-Led Planning Web?

Sometimes I hear that child-led means "they do whatever they want." That is not how I see child-led programs. In child-led planning an educator introduces activities and elements based on both the child's interests and the program goals. They use observations as their tool for deciding what activities to introduce.

Watch this short quick look video about creating a child-led planning web.

Once you have watched the video think about how you can use observations to help you in your planning. Sometimes we do formal observations but it does not always have to be so. A quick observation can still be a tool for planning child-led activities. The instructions in the video are also listed here.

Here's the four step process summarized:

1) Use a large poster board or sheet of paper. Write the umbrella interest at the top ( or dates or program name) and the first few teacher ideas for provocations down the left side. Leave a space for adding more as you go.

Interests and Ideas: In the example the interest “friends and Kindness” is written at the top. You may choose to put an umbrella interest like this (knowing you will likely stray from it) or simply put dates or the group name at the top.

The ideas come in the form of provocations. Activities the teacher puts out to see how the children respond to them. These are not direct instruction activities but, rather, open-ended activities that allow the teacher to observe the children and see what they are currently interested in.

The umbrella interest and provocations should be based upon previous interactions and observations of the children. If the children are more into making car tracks, for example, one would not use woodland creatures as the umbrella interest. They would use cars, transportation, movement or travel as an umbrella interest.

2) Observations: As the children play observe what they are doing and record the short observations on the poster next to the observations. As you experience the provocation activities with them children write down any observations that strike you as significant. You may not have a plan for them yet– that’s ok. It’s just an observation. You can build upon it later.

In this step the child-led planning web opens up to any teacher or supervisor in the room who is participating with the children. Invite others to write down their observations too. This helps create a well-rounded view of the experience.

When you write an observation be specific and direct. Quote the children’s words where you can. These observations are what you will generate activity ideas from.

3)Activities From Observations: Write activity ideas based on what you observed next on the poster. Add these as you think of them - not as you do them. This is your inspiration piece for you and any adult who is working with the children. As you record the observations open it up to everyone to generate ideas of how to follow that interest. Notice that not all the activity ideas generated fall under the umbrella interest. In order to be responsive activities should follow where the children are pointing you – not necessarily where you thought they would be.

This part is where you can meet your program outcomes. Include literacy, movement, creative, nature and any other activity types in this section. Depending upon your program type you may have specific goals to meet. You can still use the child-led planning web to meet those goals. You may want to write your goals along the bottom of the page to help you remember what they are – but don’t feel the need to create a fill in the blank area. You should add activities that follow the children’s interests based upon the observations that reflect your goals.

4)Activities and Observations: Record more observations from those activities along with more activity ideas on the fourth spot. Continue to add as you play and observe. This is a spider web project and where you end up may not be where you started from. As you play and explore add more short observations and activity ideas to the child-led planning web. Again, encourage all participating adults to add observations and activities.

A note about adding activities:

These are ideas. You may do them, you may not. Someone else may do them with the kids or they may remain just ideas. Don’t wait until you are doing an activity to add it to the web. The web is most useful when it is an idea generator and a planning device. This is like one big sticky note on the wall letting all who enter know what’s happening in the room and where anyone could jump in and pick up an idea and run with it.

Here is a planning web completed in a one week play period. The highlighted items are the activities we did and the others are inspiration for provocations going forward. Some ideas appear more than once - that is ok. The free flow of thought should not be stopped to check for duplicates. The unused ideas and the observations serve as jumping off points for future planning. Future ideas. Future exploration. The idea generator has worked!

Happy Planning! This is my favourite way to plan. It is exciting, collaborative and often I keep the completed webs when we have moved on and display them in the room as a source of documentation and reminder of how and what we have explored.

Want to reference this article? Please use:

Landals Hill, Robin. (2022). What is a Child-Led Planning Web? The Playdate Lady.

All images are copyrighted, seek permission before using.

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