Zones of Proximal Development and Scaffolding

By March 19, 2020Parkland Players
Zone of proximal development

In previous posts we have discussed the theoretical foundation of the Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, as well as the idea and structure of scaffolding in the early childhood education classroom. In this post, we combine these two interrelated concepts for a stronger understanding of their role in learning.

What is a Zone of Proximal Development?

Lev Vygotsky was a developmental psychologist who studied the processes through which children learn. He developed the theory of a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which suggests that “children require activities that both support past learning and encourage new learning at slightly more difficult levels” (Beverlie, 75). This means that in order for successful learning to occur children need to be engaged in both activities that they are proficient at, and activities that are slightly outside the child’s comfort zone.

In the ZPD theory, there are 3 major areas of learning. First are the things a child can do on their own, second are the things a child can do with some assistance, and third are the things a child cannot yet do. Vygotsky proposed that in order for learning to occur, tasks had to exist in the zone of proximal development, which is the area in which a child can do something with some assistance. This task would require some attention and help from a teacher but over time a child would master it and the task would move to the category of thing’s a child can do.

Through this theory, early childhood educators play a duel role. They both support children in accomplishing difficult tasks, and they expose children to tasks that are slightly beyond their current skill set. This strategy helps develop children’s learning and confidence.

What is Scaffolding?

Scaffolding is a strategy that is often used alongside other educational tools to aid understanding and learning. The idea behind scaffolding is that new information and skills are more easily learned when building on previous experiences and when there is support from teachers.

“When building, scaffolding is erected to help supply support to the new structure that is being created. When the building is complete, the scaffolding is removed and the new building is able to stand alone. In scaffolding in early childhood education, the philosophy is very similar and works almost the same way to build independence in children.” (quote taken from Education Scallfolding by Very Well).

So how exactly does scaffolding in education work? In a way, it employs the logic of Zygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. The zone of proximal development essentially suggests that learning takes place in this sweet spot between things a child can do alone and things a child need’s done for them. This is called the zone of proximal development and it is defined as things a learner can do with some help. Essentially, scaffolding is the help/support that takes place in the zone of proximal development. As the child begins to learn and master the skill, the support provided by the teacher decreases until eventually the child can begin to do the task on their own.

Scaffolding can look like the following:

  • Providing suggestions or asking questions to inspire children when they are stuck on a project or task
  • Strategic lesson planning so that concepts from one lesson carry over to the next and are built upon
  • Observing that a child has mastered a skill and then asking them if they can complete a task that is a step above that skill or assisting them in completing a task that is a step above that skill.

Why is scaffolding beneficial? Well, it helps children build confidence in their own abilities as a learner. It also allows them to be independent and gives them the ability to direct the pace and timing of their education.


Dietze, Beverlie. Foundations of Early Childhood Education: Learning Environments and Childcare in Canada. Pearson Learning Solutions, 2006. VitalBook File. and Education Scallfolding by Very Well