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Staff Newsletter: 10 Tips for Active Learning
By Carolyn Tomlin

While talking with the mother of a five-year-old, she mentioned that her child was ready for kindergarten. “She can count to 20 and she knows her ABC’s,” beamed the proud mom. “I hope she won’t be bored when school starts.”

Knowing the letters of the alphabet and counting to 20 are important skills for children to learn, however, it is just as important for young children to learn in ways that do not involve the rote memorization of facts and figures. Piaget, for example, believed that experience is always necessary for intellectual development, and many child psychologists and educators interchangeably use the term “active learning” with experiential or hands-on learning.

Active learning involves young children in doing things and thinking about what they are doing. Plus, it promotes long-term retention of information and motivates further learning. How can you incorporate activities that foster active learning into your daily curriculum? The following ideas will get you started:


  1. Involve children in community events. With the Presidential election coming in November, plan a mock election for your older preschoolers and school-age children. Prior to the election, display pictures of the candidates, make campaign banners, and schedule a parade.
  2. Create math activities using real-life experiences. Guide preschoolers in making a “favorite snacks” chart. Then invite the children to discuss the results. How many children listed the same snack as their favorite? What food groups do the snacks belong to? What are the children’s least favorite snacks?
  3. Teach kindness through role-playing. Use dramatic play props to demonstrate helping others, saying kind words, and caring for animals.
  4. Encourage children to be active listeners. As you read children’s books, pause and ask why did this happen? Or, did you think the book would end like this? Why or why not? Who was your favorite character?
  5. Create extended learning opportunities. Read a poem filled with visual images. Then invite the children to draw a picture inspired by the poetry.
  6. Invite children to role-play. Create a dramatic play corner filled with dress-up clothes. Encourage the children to pretend to be taxi drivers, airplane pilots, mail carriers, doctors, nurses, or other community helpers.
  7. Look for opportunities to teach problem solving. For example, what happens when two children want to use the same materials at the same time? Or, how can two children share the same book?
  8. Create activities that develop children’s thinking skills. Use analysis (breaking down into smaller parts) to divide a task into smaller parts. For example, what steps are necessary to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Use the higher order thinking skill of synthesis (combining separate elements to build a whole) by asking each child to contribute one vegetable to make a pot of soup.
  9. Involve the children in activities that foster discovery and wonder. Take nature walks, talk about the shapes clouds make, or create sensory activities such as mixing a batch of “goop” to experience different textures.
  10. Plan activities that involve cooperative learning. For example, “end of day” activities might involve the children working together to help put away toys and materials.


Carolyn Ross Tomlin, Jackson, TN has taught early childhood education at Union University and public school kindergarten. She contributes to numerous publications focusing on young children and families.




Cryer, D., Harms, T., Bourland, B. (1995). Active Learning for Fours. Addison-Wesley Active Learning Series.

Hohmann, M. & Weikart, D.P. (2002). Educating Young Children: Active Learning Practices for Preschool & Child Care Programs. High/Scope Educational Research Foundation: High/Scope Press.

Molyneux, L. (1987). Active Learning for Young Children. Trellis Books.