Teacher-Child Interactions and Preschool Quality

For the past few decades, early childhood researchers across the county have been investigating what makes a preschool classroom “high-quality.” Study results have shown that the presence of engaging materials, the physical environment or safety, and the use of a research-based curriculum all lead to greater observed classroom quality[1]. Interactions between children and teachers, however, have been found to be the strongest predictor of a high-quality classroom[2]. Overall, the ways teachers interact with children has the biggest impact on their development and learning.

“Children benefit most when teachers engage in stimulating interactions that support learning and are emotionally supportive. Interactions that help children acquire new knowledge and skills provide input to children, elicit verbal responses and reactions from them, and foster engagement in and enjoyment of learning.”[3]

Use sensitive and responsive caregiving

  • Include nonverbal gestures, such as a warm smile, a reassuring touch, and eye contact
  • Use a calm tone of voice and body language that welcomes the child
  • Recognize children’s signals, cues, and unique temperaments, as well as their likes and dislikes. Use that information to inform how to respond collectively to the group and to each individual child

Use rich language

  • Talk with children to support language skill development. Have back-and-forth conversations with children about things that interest them to keep them engaged and provide opportunities for learning
  • Introduce new vocabulary during conversations, and use it throughout the day. As children build language skills, they are better able to express themselves and connect with others
  • Expand on what children say to stimulate children’s thinking
  • Ask open-ended questions to support children’s thinking and comprehension skills

Create joy in learning

  • Follow children’s lead and choose phrases that build on what the children wonder about and want to know
  • Match children’s level of enthusiasm and excitement about classroom activities

All of the interactions teachers have with children can influence how children learn, grow, and feel about themselves. Children are happier, more confident, and excited to learn when teachers (and other adults) build responsive, warm, and supportive relationships and interactions.

[1] Pianta, R.C., Howes, C., Burchinal, M., Bryant, D., Clifford, R., Early, C., et al. (2005). Features of pre-kindergarten programs, classrooms, and teachers: Do they predict observed quality and child-teacher interactions? Applied Developmental Science, 9(3), 144-129.
[2] Hamre, B.K., & Pianta, R.C. (2007). Learning opportunities in preschool and early elementary classrooms. In R.C. Pianta, M.J. Cox, & K.L. Snow, (Eds.), School readiness and the transition to kindergarten in the era of accountability (pp. 49-83). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
[3] Yoshikawa, H., Weiland, C., Brooks-Gunn, J., Burchinal, M.R., Espinosa, L.M., Gormley, W.T., Ludwig, J., Magnuson, K.M., Phillips, D., Zaslow, M.J. (2013). October 2013. “Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education.” Society for Research in Child Development, and Foundation for Child Development.