Secondary tabs

    • Describe the importance of interactions in supporting cognitive development.
    • Identify ways your interactions support learning.




    Although they might not always show it, school-age children and youth care a great deal about interacting with adults. Interactions provide a space for children to learn about your program, expectations, and adulthood. During interactions, school-age children test out ideas, try new perspectives, and decide how they fit in. This is all part of cognitive development.

    Not only are interactions important for cognitive development, they are also enjoyable for you and the children. This might be part of the reason why you have chosen to be a family child care provider. Being thoughtful and intentional about your interactions with school-age children makes your home a place that promotes learning, and it makes your job more fulfilling.

    As discussed in previous lessons, you can turn your interactions into teachable moments throughout the day, every day. Teachable moments simply build on natural events. To make the most of teachable moments: 

    • Be a role model. Children are watching you to learn about being an adult. When you show curiosity, ask interesting questions, or join in a physical activity, they notice.
    • Notice children’s interests and needs. Experienced caregivers sometimes talk about noticing “the rumbles”: times when a child or youth is on the edge of getting frustrated or angry. Perhaps he or she exhales loudly, moves the materials a little too forcefully, or begins to look a little upset. As noted in previous lessons, these are moments when a sensitive adult can step in and help find a solution to the problem. Consider a few examples:




    You Saw:

    Jose is frustrated that he can’t get the model plane wings constructed like they look in the directions.


    What you might say:

    • Did you notice that this piece looks different?
    • Let’s ask a friend for some help.
    • Remember when we built the model truck, and we had to use the glue. Do you think that would work?


    What you might do:

    • Hold the pieces for Jose while he works on connecting them.
    • Point out the pieces he needs.


    You Saw:

    Three children have noticed a bird nest in the tree outside the fence. They are very concerned about the well-being of the baby birds.


    What you might say:

    • What are you concerned about? What might threaten them? What keeps them safe?
    • What do you think is happening in the nest?
    • What tools could we use to get a closer look without disturbing the babies?
    • How could we monitor the nest? What could we do to let others know a nest is nearby?


    What you might do:

    • Provide safe binoculars.
    • Provide materials for the school-age children to create signs about the nesting area.
    • Take a photo of the nest with a zoom lens. Look at details together from a safe distance.
    • Create a “viewing spot” that is a safe distance away from the nest.
    • Bring in books about nests and the species of bird.


    You Saw:

    Dominic and Ashley are playing catch. Dominic is having a hard time catching the ball in his baseball glove.


    What you might say:

    • What would happen if you pulled your glove closer to your body? Why do you think that happened?
    • Did you notice how the ball bounced? Why do you think that happened?
    • Watch this. How is my hand different?


    What you might do:

    • Point out where to place the baseball glove.
    • Show him where to stand.
    • Join children in play. You can help children expand their thinking and try new things in play. If children are trying to set-up their own soccer challenge, you can join in the play and ask questions or provide suggestions. You can model language adults use in a particular sport or at sporting events (“How many passes can you make to your teammates?” “What should we use as the goal?” “Come on defense!”).
    • Use open-ended questions. Remember, open-ended questions have multiple answers, and encourage children to describe things in their own words and guide the conversation: “Kelly, why do you think Angela was afraid to tell her mom about the broken vase in the story?” “Jaquen, what materials do you think you would need to construct a kite?”
    • Model the skills children need for an activity: “Hmm, I wonder where we could find a good recipe for banana bread. I’m going to look at some of the cookbooks in the kitchen. Nope, I don’t have one in here. I’ll try searching a good cooking site online.”

    Interactions with Adults

    Remember from Lesson Five that how you talk to children makes a difference in their learning. One of the most powerful things you can do is use words that encourage. Take a few moments to compare the types of comments:

    Simple Praise

    • Good job!
    • Nice work.
    • That's cool.
    • Some of you are listening.
    • That's pretty.
    • You're a good friend.

    Descriptive Feedback & Encouragement

    • You are working so hard on that model plane. It's really coming together.
    • I can tell you two are really excited to work together on the drama script.
    • You can do hard things.
    • The yarn you've chosen for your scarf is so vibrant. I can't wait to see it when it's done.
    • You are waiting so patiently for Jeremy to finish his turn.

    Think about which types of comments provide more information. The statements on the right side of the chart have more meaning and richer vocabulary. They let the child or youth know you noticed their learning, but they also encourage the child to keep going. It’s OK to occasionally say, “Good job,” but look for opportunities to describe what the school-age child is doing and learning.

    Just as it’s important to notice and use encouraging words when school-age children show you they are learning, it’s also important to use encouraging words when school-agers struggle or are frustrated. School-age children learn by taking risks and trying challenging things. Sometimes they make mistakes. Caring adults make the most of these moments and are careful to avoid embarrassing the child.

    Approach children with a warm tone and avoid criticism. Also be aware of the social setting: sometimes a school-age child might prefer to ignore a mistake in front of friends. You can always talk later. When it feels right to approach the child, you can say things like, “It looks like that didn’t go the way you planned. How can I help?” or “What’s your plan for next time?”

    Think ahead about the interactions you’ll have with children. Plan the different ways you might interact and how school-age children might respond. You can:

    • Give children different ways to respond to you. Depending on the type of activity or question, you might consider discussing an idea individually, holding up a sign with a response written on it, or giving a signal such as “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”
    • Use questions that the children need to think about in order to answer.
    • Use verbs that engage thinking such as “notice,” “predict,” or “describe.”
    • Avoid saying that a question is “hard” or “easy.”
    • Give children three seconds or more to think about their answer.

    Interactions with Peers

    You aren’t the only source of learning for school-age children. They also learn from interacting with peers. Arranging opportunities for school-age children to learn with their peers is another type of interaction that you can plan as part of your daily activities. There are several ways to do this that have been shown to be effective for improving children’s learning and interactions.

    • Peer tutoring can be a helpful way to think about structuring homework time or study groups for older children in your program. In this activity, children are assigned partners and work on structured activities under your guidance and supervision. First, you model the activity for the peer group and the role each child will play. Perhaps children are working on math homework. In this instance, one child is the tutor and one child is the tutee. The tutor explains the homework and helps the tutee with a problem. Then the children switch roles. Each child has 10 minutes as a tutor and tutee. You can encourage and assist as needed.

      Depending on the task, you can also set-up tutoring between older and younger children in your program. The younger children often enjoy learning about the world of formal schooling from conversations and interactions with the school-age children in your program. Think carefully about what sorts of experiences would be developmentally appropriate. For example, could a 7-year-old use some small manipulatives or blocks to help a 4-year-old think about simple “more, less or equal” quantities or counting in small numbers? You could then ask the 4-year-old to share with the 7-year-old a project they worked on during the day while away at school.

    • Reciprocal teaching is an activity where a child acts as the teacher in a small group or with a partner (as described in Reading Rockets). This could be a nice model for letting school-age children teach others about their hobbies or interests. It could also be a way to structure homework help between older and younger children. You model the steps of the activity, then help the children learn to lead the activity. In leading the activity, you model engaging in different behaviors, including: making predictions, reading a text, asking questions, clarifying information, and summarizing information. Once school-age children learn how to lead the activity, they take turns “teaching” to their peers or other children in your program. This activity allows children to work out problems together and check answers with each other.

    The Role of Culture in Interactions

    As discussed in previous lessons, elements of culture affect every part of our life. Think about your childhood and the way you were raised. Did your family value independence or family loyalty? What were your parents’ attitudes and beliefs about how children should interact with adults? What were your family’s views about the role of parents in their children’s education? Did your family believe that parents should take an active role or did they think that a child’s education is best left in the hands of teachers and other educators? How you answer these questions are all influenced by your culture and upbringing; and how you answer these questions likely influences how you interact with children.

    It’s important to recognize the messages you send in your family child care program. Sometimes biases sneak into our environments, materials, or interactions. Awareness of your own bias is the first step in supporting development. Think about which of the following biases might be in your own program:

    • Biased language. Language can send stereotypical gender messages. Adults might call children “baby girl,” “big boy,” or “cutie” rather than their given names. Providers might encourage girls to “be careful” while saying “boys will be boys.” To discourage bias, encourage peaceful solutions for all children (avoid directions like not hitting girls or not hitting kids with glasses). And be sure to comment equally on girls’ and boys’ appearances and accomplishments.
    • Biased materials. Sometimes posters and materials for the program present stereotypical images (e.g., Native Americans in “war paint,” an all-male construction crew). Make sure the images in your program show men and women equally in a variety of professions. Make sure drawings or photos of people with disabilities are respectful images. Include books that show different ethnic backgrounds, social classes, and family structures.

    There are many ways you can enhance the materials and experiences in your program to improve children’s understanding and acceptance of culture. The following are some examples (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010):

    • Program props or materials: Include props from a variety of cultures. Books, dramatic play clothes or other props, furniture, and musical instruments can all reflect experiences from around the world. Art materials should include a range of materials for representing skin tones and various artistic styles, fabrics of various patterns, and books about art around the world.
    • Displays: This space can be used to reflect and respect family traditions. Ask families to bring in pictures or other items for the display. Children and youth can spend time researching their own or another culture and documenting what they have learned.
    • Program books or biographies: Books about children in your program document the real experiences of children and families. Encourage children and youth to create pictures, drawings, and text about their lives, ideas, and families. You can encourage older and younger children in your program to work together on these creations. Could as school-age child write down the words said by a preschooler?
    • Family stories: Provide families with materials and instructions for creating a Family Book. Families and children can work together to talk about and record their family history and daily life. This can be a great way to introduce children and families to one another.
    • Storytelling: Encourage grandparents or community elders related to children in your program to share stories of their childhoods with your program. These can be audio-recorded or transcribed to create keepsake books for the program.
    • Messages from home: Using a tape-recorder, encourage family members to record a brief message in their home language. This can be played for a child when he or she is upset or homesick.
    • Music: Include music tapes or CDs and songs from different cultures during music time.
    • Field trips: Visit community cultural landmarks. Go see a dance troupe, play, or musical performance that will broaden children’s cultural perspectives.
    • Collaborative work: Encourage children to work together in groups. This may minimize the pressure on a child who is learning English. It also exposes children to a variety of ideas and encourages creativity.
    • Snacks and meals: Invite families to share a traditional meal or snack with the children.


    Many of the guidelines provided in previous lessons in this course about interactions that promote learning for young children still apply to school-age children and youth. For example, it’s still good to stay close, use open-ended questions, and use children’s names. Following are guidelines that can be especially helpful for school-agers:

    • Involve school-age children in decision-making, planning, and problem solving. Involve school-age children in developing and interpreting the rules. Involve them in choosing, planning, and setting up activities. Provide authentic leadership responsibilities to help children develop cognitive skills.
    • Challenge stereotypes about differences that children express or that are expressed by the media (e.g., race, ethnicity, language, disability, sexuality, gender, language, etc.). Create a space where school-age children feel comfortable talking about identities, differences, and similarities.
    • Discuss the choices school-age children make and how those choices affect peers, your family child care program, and the community. For example, you could discuss the different ways children arrive or are picked up from your home in terms of environmental impact (or even traffic flow). This could lead to scientific or civic conversations and problem-solving discussions.



    Think about the unique ways interactions help school-age children learn. Review the Reflecting on Interactions activity, read the scenarios, and answer the questions. Share your responses with a coach or colleague.



    There are many resources to help you address the needs of all learners in your school-age program. Below you can find ideas offered by websites, organizations, and journal articles to help you be more culturally competent and responsive in your program. The resources listed are in alphabetical order and provide a range of information on a variety of topics. Check out each resource and then complete the Resources School-Age Children activity. Share your thoughts with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.

    1. Booklists

      Select 'preschool' in this list to get ideas about enriching your classroom library. It is compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    2. Children’s Books to Support Anti-bias Education:

      This site provides a list of children’s books selected by the co-author of Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves. It offers suggestions for Culture & Language, Racial Identity, Gender Roles, Economic Class, Abilities & Disabilities, Family Structure, Holidays, Activism, and Infant/Toddler Books.

    3. Children’s Books that Represent the Diversity of our World:

      This organization publishes children’s books that represent diverse ethnic groups. Books portray positive images of African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino, Native American, and multicultural children.

    4. Colorin Colorado: Helping Children Read…and Succeed!

      This website is a bilingual site for families and educators of English language learners. It offers book lists for a variety of topics. These include holidays (Day of the Dead, Ramadan, Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year), family structures (Grandma’s/Grandpa’s Stories, Reading with Dad), and experiences (beach stories, immigrant stories, snow).

    5. The Internet TESL Journal: For Teachers of English as a Second Language

      This journal offers articles, research papers, lesson plans, classroom handouts, teaching ideas, and links for teachers that work with English Language Learners. Many of the lesson plans, classroom handouts, and teaching ideas can easily be adapted for your specific programmatic activities.

    6. Language Castle

      This website, blog, and book (Many Languages, One Classroom: Teaching Dual and English Language Learners) offer suggestions for supporting school aged children who are learning English.

    7. National Head Start Office Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC): Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness

      While the focus of this website is on early childhood providers many of the resources are also relevant for school aged children. This website has a variety of tools. This includes a downloadable Program Preparedness Checklist: Serving Dual Language Learners and their Families. It also offers information on appropriate assessment, planning, and teaching children who are learning English.

    8. Reading Rockets: Articles related to English Language Learners

      Reading Rockets is a national multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help. This specific page provides a wealth of information about how to best serve the literacy needs of English Language Learners.

    9. Teaching Exceptional Children

      This is a journal designed specifically for teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and other practitioners who work with children and youth with disabilities or who are gifted. The journal publishes articles that share innovative and successful methods and materials based on current evidence-based practice for use in a wide variety of educational programs and settings.




    You notice that Carly and Stefan have been working hard together on a wall mural. Which of the following statements is an example of descriptive feedback and encouragement you could offer?


    True or false? Reciprocal teaching is an activity where children are assigned partners and work on structured activities under the guidance and supervision of an adult.


    Which of the following is not an example of an open-ended question?

    References & Resources

    Class Wide Peer Tutoring Program. (2003). Retrieved from Promising Practices Network,

    Delquadri, J. C., Greenwood, C., & Whorton, D. (1986). Classwide Peer Tutoring. Exceptional Children52, 535-542.

    Derman-Sparks, L., & Edwards, J. O. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children

    Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L. S., Mathes, P. G., & Simmons, D. C. (1997). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies: Making classrooms more responsive to diversity. American Educational Research Journal, 34(1), 174–206. 

    Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L. S., & Al Otaiba, S. (2001). K-PALS. Teaching Exceptional Children33(4), 76-80.

    Meyer, K. (2014). Making Meaning in Mathematics Problem-Solving Using the Reciprocal Teaching Approach. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy37(2), 7-14.

    Pennsylvania Early Learning Keys to Quality (2011, May). Ten Commandments of Interactions with School-Age Children. Retrieved from

    Reading Rockets. (2014). Reciprocal Teaching. Retrieved on July 25, 2014, from