Children as teachers: How do we support children to be leaders amongst their peers?

  • Penny Smith


Peer interactions are an important part of children’s learning and development. Therefore, it is important that teachers support opportunities for children to work collaboratively and to share their knowledge with each other. This paper reports on an aspect of a recent doctoral study that investigated New Zealand early childhood teachers’ beliefs and practices related to peer learning. Examples of early childhood teachers promoting and supporting peer learning are presented and discussed. The findings revealed that teachers promoted children’s expertise and encouraged them to be leaders amongst their peers, whilst being physically present to support peer play. However, the study identified contradictions between teachers’ beliefs and practices regarding intentionally supporting children to learn from each other, and these contradictions are explained.  By sharing these findings, I hope to inspire teachers to reflect on how they intentionally create opportunities for children to learn from and to teach each other.

I conducted this study because I wanted to know how teachers were supporting children in New Zealand early childhood centres to learn from their peers. The findings reported here identify strategies teachers used to foster children’s peer interactions and moments when children could potentially learn from each other. I also wanted to understand how teachers promoted and supported peer learning within a sociocultural curriculum. The open-ended nature of Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996, 2017) means teachers need to interpret their role in a way that supports and respects children’s agency while capitalising on teachable moments throughout the day. Working within a curriculum that places the child at the centre can create a tension for teachers as they question the deliberate nature of their role. I was curious to know whether teachers intentionally planned opportunities for children to learn from each other and how they did this in play-based environments. The notion of a more intentional role for teachers is documented in the revised version of Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017) and teachers’ beliefs and practices related to intentionally supporting peer learning are shared in this paper. The paper concludes with some thoughts about how teachers can grow their purposeful practice to maximise opportunities for children to collaborate and learn from each other.

Peer Reviewed Articles