banner svg (1)

What is Scaffolding in Child Development?

This teaching technique provides timely support to children as they learn new skills.

What is Scaffolding in Child Development?

What is Scaffolding in Child Development?

Scaffolding is a term that is usually associated with renovations and construction; however, it has its place in education too. 

When constructing a building, scaffolding is a temporary elevated work surface that supports a team of workers and their supplies. In function, scaffolding serves the same purpose for young children.

Imagine you’re instructing a group of children. You start to notice that 2-year-old Carla has started pointing out squares while she plays. During an activity, you place a series of shapes on a small table, including squares, circles, and triangles. As Carla plays, she makes her way to the table and picks out a square. After giving her some positive reinforcement, you ask her if she sees any other squares. She picks up a green square and shouts, “Square!

This is scaffolding. You’re providing temporary support to boost your children’s learning and education. In this article, we’ll discuss scaffolding in child development—what it is, the benefits, examples, and more.

Teacher helping young girl with coloringSource

What is scaffolding in child development

Scaffolding is a teaching technique where educators provide timely support and guidance to help children develop a higher level of understanding and skill. It has everything to do with providing the right tools and support at the right time.

For scaffolding to work, the educator needs to be on the same page as the child. It acts as a bridge between your learner’s current knowledge and abilities to new skills and understanding. This means that you can’t be too far ahead or behind the child. 

Consider our example with 2-year-old Carla. At her age, she is currently learning and identifying new shapes. Common shapes like squares, circles, and triangles are taught first because they are easier for children to recognize. Jumping to shapes like diamonds and stars would be too quick a progression in her learning.

Being too far behind the child also hinders their development. While you’re busy focusing on introducing the similarly shaped rectangle, Carla has already passed this stage. You aren’t helping with her development at this point because she isn’t being challenged.

To reinforce the importance of scaffolding, you need to provide your children with the right help and direction at the right moment.

The benefits of scaffolding in child development

Scaffolding is a useful tool in bolstering the education and development of children of all ages. However, it’s especially beneficial in setting the tone for young learners and how they approach education in the years to come. The benefits of scaffolding in child development include:

  • Building confidence in your learners
  • Keeping children motivated and engaged
  • Challenging children to become better learners
  • Reducing anxiety and uncertainty
  • Identifying learning gaps
  • Helping children meet class objectives

Once you know the benefits of scaffolding, the desire to use this technique soon follows. How can you start implementing this strategy in the classroom?

Woman helps young boy play with blocksSource

How to teach using scaffolding

Scaffolding in child development is a method of supporting your children. It is commonly associated with the zone of proximal development, the theory that helps teachers recognize where a child is in their development and guide them towards their next steps. Because children likely learn and retain information differently, you’ll need to differentiate how you guide them. Fortunately, there are many strategies and approaches you can implement for success.


An effective way to use scaffolding in the classroom is through modeling or demonstrating the action or skill. Visual learners will do well with this technique. It appeals to those who learn best by seeing rather than hearing or listening. Consider this a “show and tell” segment. Demonstrate and explain to your children what they’re expected to do.


For those who play video games, you know how vital cheat codes can be to winning a match. Pre-teaching is a similar method of setting your children up for success. It’s an approach where you teach them vocabulary, concepts, and skills before a lesson. Not only does this build confidence in your children when approaching a lesson, but it also allows them to be more engaged during the learning process.

Asking probing questions

Instead of asking your children questions that evoke a “yes” or “no” response, ask them open-ended questions. This allows them to think and develop their language skills to come up with a response. For example, if you were holding a cookie, you might ask your child, “What do you think would happen if it falls on the ground?”

Stimulating prior knowledge

Interest and engagement are more common in children who can relate their own experiences to a topic. One method of scaffolding is stimulating prior knowledge. You can tap into their experience on the subject and help tie it back to the lesson. 

For this technique, your children might require some guidance to make the connections. Consider instructing them on shapes. To introduce rectangles, you could show them a picture, and ask them to recall any items in their life that have that shape. An answer like “TV” might come up, and you can use that to tie their association with the shape back to the word “rectangle.”

Making suggestions

If you find a child is having difficulty grasping a concept, offer hints or suggestions to get them over the hump. For example, consider a child trying to build a block tower. They use skinnier blocks on the bottom which causes the tower to tip over repeatedly. You could say, “I wonder if the tower will stop falling if the bigger blocks were on the bottom.”

Using visual aids

Visuals can be a great scaffolding tool. They help students retain information and provide examples of your teaching concepts. Consider using the following to support your students in the classroom:

  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Charts
  • Diagrams
  • Props

Creating daily lesson plans is a way to ensure you are incorporating scaffolding into your educational program. Check out our free template and customize to suit your teaching style and children's needs.

Download a free daily lesson plan template!

Examples of scaffolding

Scaffolding example #1

Tommy is 4 years old. As with most children, he started recognizing letters by learning the letters in his name first. He has now made the connection with his name, the letter “T”, and the sound the letter makes. To boost his learning, you help him make connections with other words that start with that sound. You draw Tommy’s attention to a picture of a tiger in a children’s book. You ask Tommy to identify what animal it is. After reassociating Tommy’s name with the sound the letter “T” makes, you say, “The beginning of Tommy and tiger sound the same. What letter do you think tiger starts with?

Scaffolding example #2

You prepare a lesson to help your children with hands-on matching. To facilitate their understanding of matching, you pre-teach them the words “same” and “different.” Using shapes—squares, circles, triangles, and rectangles—you place two pictures next to each other and walk them through understanding how a series of shapes are the same or different. You might say, “This square and circle are different, but these two circles are the same.” As you prepare to dive into your lesson in matching, you explain that matching is finding items that are “the same.”

How to use scaffolding at home

Child development starts in the home and continues in the classroom. This means that families are also able to use scaffolding as a tool. It starts with observation. Watch your child’s actions and behavior. Listen and wait. 

It’s your job to take cues from them. Give them space and intervene when necessary. If they appear frustrated during a task, demonstrate it or make a suggestion. If they’re attempting a complex task, help them break it down into smaller steps. Give them time to try. Give them time to practice. Allow them to make mistakes they can learn from. This is a crucial time in their development, and as their autonomy grows, the confidence and independence you build will set them up for success in the future.


What is scaffolding in child development?

Scaffolding is a teaching technique where educators provide timely support and guidance to help children develop a higher level of understanding and skill.

What are the benefits of scaffolding?

The benefits of scaffolding in child development are building confidence in your learners, keeping children motivated and engaged, challenging children to become better learners, reducing anxiety and uncertainty, identifying learning gaps, and the increasing likelihood that children meet class objectives.

What are different scaffolding techniques?

  • Demonstrating
  • Pre-teaching
  • Asking probing questions
  • Stimulating prior knowledge
  • Making suggestions
  • Using visual aids

Can parents use scaffolding techniques at home?

Yes! Scaffolding is a tool that can be used at any stage of child development. Using this technique at home can strengthen a child’s confidence and improve engagement while learning.

Extra resources



Final thoughts

Scaffolding is an essential technique in child development, providing timely support to children as they learn new skills. Whether at home or in the classroom, the key is to give enough guidance so the child can comprehend the new skill, but not so much that they are no longer challenged. Finding the right balance between offering support and allowing the child to maintain their independence, will build confident, engaged learners.

Subscribe to the brightwheel blog