Foundations of Children’s Learning

Topic Progress:

From the moment babies are born, sensory experiences contribute significantly to their development. The combination of sensory information and the environment in which children live influence development, behaviour and life experiences. Although genetics plays an important role in children’s development, play experiences during the early years are equally valuable to the learning and development process. Think of how genetics and experiences relate to brain development. Genetics influence how the brain is wired from birth.  The types of experiences and the people within the environment determine how the brain functions and develops.

From a psychology perspective, there are three major theories that help to understand how children learn.  Click on each category below to gain further information on how children learn.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning refers to children making an association between a stimulus and a response.  For example, when children have had pleasing experiences outdoors, when they hear the word outdoor or playground, they associate those words with the experiences that they have had. Children might associate seeing rain boots with being able to walk in puddles.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning refers to rewarding a behaviour in an attempt to have the positive behaviour repeated.  For example, when children are praised for engaging in outdoor play experiences, they are more likely to want to return to the outdoors.

Observational Conditioning

Observational conditioning refers to learning from watching others.  For example, children watch adults, parents, peers and other children in their environment to gain information on how something might be done or what they are doing.  Children may also observe environmental attributes and then figure out what they could do within the space and place.

Other Ways that Children Learn

Children will spend more time interacting with and learning from peers when they are in environments that are reflective of their interests and when they are given the time to experiment, explore and try out ideas. When children are rushed or on a defined schedule there is less peer interaction or desire for in-depth exploration either independently or with peers (Dietze & Kashin, 2012). Depending on the environment, the materials, and adult role modelling, peer relationships may have positive or negative effects on children’s learning.

Peer Learning

During the early years, children’s learning is influenced by their curiosity levels and the people, materials, and environments that they are exposed to. Children in early learning centres that are designed to support their interests will spend much of their time interacting with peers and learning from them. Peer relationships may have positive or negative effects on children’s learning.


Programming and Environment

Children’s genetics and the environment are always interconnected to their learning. Genetics influence one’s ability to learn, while the environmental experiences enhance those abilities.

Gandini (1998) identified that children’s environments that are flexible and adaptable support them in being able to change or reconfigure things as they create new knowledge. Similarly, Fraser (2011) maintained that spaces that function as a third teacher “will be responsive to the children’s interests, provide opportunities for children to make their thinking visible and will foster further learning and engagement” (p. 67).  The environment is directly correlated to the depth of learning that children are willing to engage in, experience and use for further learning.



Children’s development and learning are influenced by their family and community. Children’s cultures and attributes of their cultures influence how they learn and experience life. Think about children who grow up in families that have active play and outdoors as part of their values and beliefs.  How will those children’s life experiences differ from children that are exposed to more sedentary play such as technology games used in the indoor environment? These life experiences contribute to children’s ability to take risks, explore ideas and build upon previous experiences.


Look at the pictures above. What types of learning do you see the children involved in and who and what might be influencing the learning?

Using the comment box below, discuss the types of learning that you envision children could gain from the experiences depicted in the photos.


  1. Brigitte Levesque

    Engaging the children to ask questions about their environment , what can go on in a forest listening for noise and trying to identify the noise , what they can find to play with . This is important to do with peers and try to figure out what is going on in their environment . Encouraging themselves to participate.

  2. Angela Hutton

    1st photo…classic conditioning. The children are engaging the environment in a variety of ways, some co-operative and some solitary. Each child is experiencing the same environment in their own way as some are barefoot and walking upright others are peering over a bridge while on hands and knees. Some of the children are actively observing on hands and knees while others are actively moving something from the ditch while their buddies are fully in the ditch. Many levels of engagement but all children are engaged.

    2nd photo…Operant and Observational. The children are on hands and knees engaging in a gardening activity while looking in the direction of and following the example and instruction of the adult in their environment. They are learning about clearing an area and gardening through an adult directed experience.

    3rd photo… classic conditioning, operant and observational. The children are exploring the forest in a hands on manner and discovering a new way to use sticks. It’s not clear if the adult is mimicking the children or the children mimicking the adult but both seem engaged in the experience, while one child is present but appears to be watching more than actively participating.

  3. Candy holloway

    Children are gaining all type of learning in these pictures. such as
    -Classical- sticks were seen as percussion instruments
    Operant-the positive attention of the teacher during conversation
    Observational- learning how to weed by watching peers and teacher

  4. Candy holloway

    I think all the types of learning are possibly occurring here. I definitely see Peer and Observational learning in picture
    #1 as water is being pulled up. This may also be cultural and Program/Environment type learning(using whats available in the environment to achieve a goal.
    #2 Cultural ( this is the way grandparents, etc would weed gardens), Observant (watching to EL teacher), Peer (watching their peers and learning how to pull)
    #3 Possibly Operant as it seems the children are engaged in conversation/making music with sticks and enjoying the interaction with the teacher and peers. It’ making them feel good. It could also be Program and Environment as standing on sitting on the stumps allowed children to realize their preferences.

  5. Naznin Dhanani

    Children are learning to work together to problem solve. Educators are engaged in conversation with the children. Children are developing skills and feeling confident. The children are free to explore in nature

  6. Geri-Lynn Cajindos

    All the children look engaged and interested in what’s going on. There is obvious dialogue between peers and educators as attention is focused and children are grouped together contributing different aspects of their explorations and experiences. Adults are modeling positive engagement, and gear to make outdoor play comfortable and enjoyable.

  7. Corina Manasseri

    These photos I am can observe children engaging with an educator developing self-awareness, confidence and self-esteem while observing and playing outdoors. There are also signs of collaborative-working and communication skills happening between the children and the educator all which provides healthy physical and mental benefits while developing fine and gross motor skills.

  8. Susan Holt

    The pictures depict the observational method of learning mainly. All pictures show children playing together, building something and following the direction of one person; either a child when they are building something by the bridge or when digging the hole with the teacher. The classical learning style would be in the with the adult smiling at the children who are wearing rain jackets. The children are able to experience all types of learning; flexible thinking, self regulation; panning and prioritizing and task initiating.

  9. Shirley Suttak

    The types of learning I see depicted in the photo are:
    -Observational learning I see the children watching each other and the educator and observing the environment gaining information what they can do in the place (balancing .or sitting on the stump and learning about seasons and weather .
    -Classical Conditioning It appears the children and educator are having a positive enjoyable experience outdoors in the rain so the children will associate rainy day as to their experience balancing and sitting on stumps having a enjoyable timeout in the rain.
    -Their may be Operant Conditioning the educator looks like she may be commenting on balancing and she has a smiling positive disposition role modelling while being out in the rain
    _Sensory Learning

  10. Wendy Gilchrist

    Beautiful photos, wishing I was there right along side of them. Within the photos I see classical, operant and observational learning taking place. The photos show children exploring their environment, taking risks, using observation skills and engaging with peers and adults.

  11. Jackie Eaton

    discuss the types of learning that you envision children could gain from the experiences depicted in the photos.
    -Classical conditioning – playing, learning, and investigating outside is joyful
    -Operant conditioning – input from adults and peers will create a positive experience and will encourage outdoor play to have a similar experience
    -Observational conditioning – by watching peers and adults enjoying their experiences outdoors will encourage children to learn
    -Peer learning – being with and playing with peers outdoors will provide different perspectives from which to learn

  12. Heather

    The children in these photos are experiencing classical, operant and observational conditioning: they are watching their peers, exploring, taking risks, co-learning and are experiencing rewarding experience’s.

  13. Crina

    Classical conditioning – All children are very happy and engaged in activities.
    Operant conditioning – Children seem to be very comfortable in the environment, which tells me that they are used to playing outside
    Observational conditioning – Children are very interested in what the teacher is saying, as well as they are learning from their peers.

  14. Francine Bolduc

    The children are allowed to do what they want, lots of independent play. They are playing with their peers and/or by themselves. The adults in the picture seem to encourage, letting them play, learn. One adult has a big smile on her face which shows she is okay with what they are doing. They are dressed for the weather, even though it is raining, the children are still playing but are dressed appropriately. They are able to explore, connect with the environment, their peers.

  15. Gaye Ferguson

    learning is happening in a wholistic, multi-dimensional experience. Peers, experiential, support, guidance and encouragement from the caring adult, …. all weather, it’s always fun to be outdoors and discovering, looking for bugs, fishing for frogs (?), associating fun, good feelings with being out of doors in nature

  16. Casey Holland

    Each photos shows opportunity for children to learn through observing and exploring. I see examples of classical conditioning (muddy buddies get my body ready for cooler weather and rain), as well as observational conditioning (I see my friends laughing in the rain – it’s fun. I watched me friends use buckets in the creek, I can use a bucket in the creek. We plant a seed and a plant grows).

  17. marie-france bourgoin-leger

    I would love to know what the conversation is in the picture #1! What questions are they asking themselves? What hypothesis are they making?What do they think they will catch? What are they trying to catch? They are using scientific method steps naturally, without anyone telling how.

  18. Rashida Samar

    Kids love to play with peers they learn sharing and team work and problem solving . In picture 2 and 3 I can see an adult with the kids and all working together and following instructions . They are wearing appropriate clothing for the weather.

  19. Vicki Pollock

    What I also see
    Classical conditioning in picture #3 – the children are wearing their rain gear so they know they are going outdoors in wet weather to experience walking on the wet moss, sitting on wet tree stumps and making discoveries about the wet forest with their teacher.

    Operant conditioning in picture #2 – the teacher may be encouraging the children to dig and praising their efforts. They look like they are really “working” hard at it. I wonder what they are looking for?

    Observational conditioning in picture #1 – some of the children are watching peers explore and make discoveries about the water I assume is under this little bridge.

  20. Vicki Pollock

    Some things I see children learning in this photo:
    using all 5 senses (they are developing those)
    lots of physical learning (muscle development, manipulatting body parts to accom;lish tasks)
    communication skills

    Teacher and peers are influencing learning.
    Enviromental tools being used to infulence learning: stcks, tree stumps, water, dirt
    Man-made tools being used to influence learning: bowls, string

  21. Talor Benson-Harper

    Children are discovering their surroundings, co-learning together. Watching the ways other peers are exploring allows them to gain new ideas in how to investigate their surroundings.

  22. Marie-Claude Pilon

    Somme of the comments above summarize well the picture for exemple the comment by Katie Dowdle. I would like to had the attention of the children on what is going on around them and what is being share. Great co-learning!

  23. Farnaz Karimizadeh

    Children are playing in a rich learning environment . Kids can explore and investigate the environment using their all senses.They touch,see, hear and smell the nature.
    Environment, peers and adults are all involved in kids learning.

  24. Sasha Patterson

    In these pictures I can see the children learning about their environment, experimenting with different sensory activities and engaging in social and cooperative learning. They are being taught by their environment, the educator and their peers.

  25. Jade Brass

    From this picture I see the children learning about all of their five senses, peer interaction and the connection to Mother Earth. When I see an educator like this one enjoying the outdoor weather no matter what it may be the children learn to appreciate the seasons and this picture brings me a lot of joy! This picture shows us the opportunities children and educators have to engage with nature, to engage with the four legged, swimmers, crawlers and build that connection to the land.

  26. Sharon Evenden

    These children are definitely learning from and about their environment. They are experiencing classical learning, observational , peer and environment types of learning and I expect cultural as well as they all seen engaged and comfortable outdoors.

  27. Kayley Bach

    in the above photos they are engaging in peer learning, exploration, possibly problem solving, they also look like they are using gross motor skills to balance on the bridge, pull a bucket up and dig in the dirt. It looks like the teacher is engaged also, maybe explaining and answering questions about nature and the environment they are in.

  28. Brie Schuler

    The children are learning through cooperative play. They are learning valuable skills such as observation, exploration, creativity and collaboration. The child led programming allows children to explore on their own terms, which boosts engagement and encourages critical thinking.

  29. MAT

    Children teach and learn with peers. They cooperate and share their skills with each other to achieve a task.

  30. Stephen Roberts

    Children could be learning from peers but i think the adult is learning from the children, they could be giving direction, she is sitting down and they seem to be talking or demonstrating.

  31. Crystal Thring

    The children are learning through interactions with their peers and exploring the environment. The adult is there to encourage thought and answer any questions that they can’t answer through hands on learning. They are dressed for what they are doing and seem very engaged in their learning.

  32. Yiyun Zhang

    In the first picture, children were interacting with peers and learning from peers. They brought their 5 senses to explore in nature, even with bare feet. They also shared their ideas, they experimented and cooperated to achieve their goals.
    In the second picture, the adult appears to be positively engaged with the children. She’s role modeling, and children observed what she’s doing and learned from her. They have an open space to dig, to explore freely.
    In the third picture, the adult was interacting with children and sitting down with proper clothes. They had eye contact and positive communication. Children got opportunities to gain experience by playing in the rain.

  33. Shannon Jarvis

    The children are participating in experiential learning through increased contact with the natural environment. They are acquiring the skills, knowledge and values from direct experiences, in a real-life context.

  34. Jennifer Dyson

    Children are learning to be explorers, appreciation of the environment, sensory, peer interaction, science, and balance. Their learning is being facilitated by the adult in the pictures as they are at children’s level, making eye contact and dressed appropriately for their outdoor experience.

  35. T Y

    What types of learning do you see the children involved in and who and what might be influencing the learning?

    Sensory, visual, auditory, verbal, physical, cognitive social and emotional learning are all involved as the children play, discover and explore together. Hands and feet on the ground and in the water, balancing a bowl of water, hand-eye coordination when trying to pull the bucket up from the stream, climbing on tree stumps, having conversations with each other and with the adult.
    The environment, peers and the adults influence the learning that is taking place.

  36. Katie Dowdle

    the children are engaged in multiple types of learning. there is all the sensory learning through the touch of their hands and feet, there’s cooperation in playing together with the same space and materials, and there’s teacher involvement, which shows a bond between educator and child, another crucial learning area.

  37. Judith Frey

    They are learning about the forest and science.The teacher is involved and also the peers.

  38. Shawna Diduck

    I would have to say that the learning opportunities are endless as long as the children and the adults in the pictures are willing to keep going there is so much that can be learned. The children can learn from the adult, their peers, or their own personal experiences within the environment,

  39. HeidiK

    The learning is limitless in this picture! The children can talk about what the forest feels like after the rain. What leaves are wet what leaves are dry and why. The sounds the earth makes under their feet as they walk. The smells in their environment with the wet earth and leaves. Jumping on and off stumps how far they can jump…..

  40. June

    What types of learning do you see the children involved in and who and what might be influencing the learning?
    1) In the first picture, it appears that the children are influencing each other in their learning and the environment is also their teacher. The children are developing their social skills and appear to be working together as a team–maybe there is a leader and different tasks are being assigned to each individual. They also look like they may be problem solving something–a pulley system.
    2) In the second picture, the adult looks to be influencing the learning–possibly pointing out things in nature for the children to look at. It also appears that they may be doing planting?
    3) In the third picture, it looks like the children are influencing their own learning and the adult is there to offer support. The children are at different levels–could they be engaged in social-dramatic play and the adult is the audience member?

  41. Kerrie Sinclair

    In the pictures above it looks as though the children are working and exploring together. There is an adult present however, it looks as though they are there for support and not necessary telling the children what to do. Maybe they are asking them open ended questions to spark more curiosity in the children.

  42. Kaio Esau

    All the ways of learning that were mentioned in the lesson are being shown in the pictures. They’re learning from each other and working together; they’re learning through programming and environment (and as mentioned in previous lessons, it looks as if the teacher is engaged but not making the children do things a certain way); and they are learning through culture, gaining experience and knowledge from being outdoors.

  43. Donna Legere

    In see many areas of science and hands on learning. Learning about plants and the weather, being in nature and possibly the animals that could live in the environment.

  44. Amy

    Many forms are learning in these pictures. You can see in the first photo, children are observing each other and engaged in the learning. I assume they are using both classical and observational conditioning. Peers as well as the response from environment are key in this photo. The next two photos demonstrate how children are learning in groups through peer learning, programming, as well as operant conditioning and observation. In all three pictures you can see the children are engaged in the learning process. This is the wonder of the outdoors!

  45. Kirsten Rosberg

    In all the pictures there is a group of children. I think they will be learning through classical conditional because they look happy, so it will be a pleasing experience and memory and observation learning as they see their peers and the adult enjoying themselves. They all seem engaged in exploring the natural environment and sharing and conversing with the others. In the one photo they have props to explore and promote play and in the other 2 photos an adult is engaging with them .

  46. mvll

    In the first image I seen a group of children interacting with their peers. Engaging in dialogue, possibly learning from each other by sharing ideas. I also see children dressed in a variety of layers each learning through their senses in a different ways– example being the child with know shoes learning about the terrain with their bare feet (Peer interaction)

    In the second image I see children exploring the earth with an educator. The educator is present to support the children in their learning and ask thought provoking questions to deepen their understanding and curiosity. (Classical Conditioning)

    In the last image I see children who could be sharing their findings with a nearby educator. (Program and Environment)

  47. DC

    All three types of learning and all three types of ways to learn. I see children in bare feet and waist deep in long grass. I also see children eagerly digging with their hands and listening. Being dressed for the weather makes them all comfortable being outside in any type of weather, engaging with one another as well as with the adult and nature.

  48. Louanne MacRae

    The children in the photos are experiencing peer learning; they are working together to solve a problem and get their work done. They are also experiencing program and environment through exploring the world around them using their senses and investigating the outdoors. It is their cultur to be outdoors experiencing rain and mud in the outdoors.

  49. Laura Barthelette

    I can envision classical conditioning. The children in all 3 photos appear to be fully engaged in their activities, environment and socially.
    I can envision operant conditioning. The visible adults appear to be positively engaged with the children.
    I can envision observational conditioning. All of the people in the photos appear to be either fully immersed in their activity or having pleasant social interactions.
    I can envision peer learning. There are children actively engaged and others observing the play.
    I can envision programming and environment learning. The opportunity and time has been provided to allow these experiences.
    I can envision cultural learning. These children are obviously members of a culture that values outdoor play.

  50. Emma D. Rodilas

    The 3 Types of Learning was implemented in the picture. Being offered by the learning materials children explore, do it repeatedly and thru the guide they watched carefully. Children were engaged in the activities and utilize the opportunities being outside.

  51. Tanya Morash

    What types of learning do you see the children involved in and who and what might be influencing the learning?
    Looking at the photo there are examples of peer learning- interacting with each other, eye contact, communicating
    Program and environment- the children are in an outdoor setting along side the educator. Exploring the space around them freely- there doesn’t seem to be marked barriers and the educator is relaxed and sitting- allowing the children to take their time to explore and connect with the setting around them.
    Culture- the two peers standing are exited to be there- smiles and positive body language. The child sitting on the stump could be observing the peers and educator and making connections about the setting.

  52. Bonnie Boyd

    I see examples of classical, operant and observational conditioning in these pictures.
    The children are enjoying being outside and feeling the grass, so they are conditioned to feel joy at the idea of being outside.
    The educators with the children are likely praising the children for feeling the scratchy grass, or braving the rain to be outside.
    The children are observing their smiling educators interact with the environment at their level. They are encouraged to go out in the rain and explore, and get their hands dirty by feeling the dry grass.

  53. Nikki Meyer

    I think the educators and peers are influencing the learning that is happening, whether that is through the cooperative interactions or observing what the others are doing. The learning happening supports the development of the whole child and could include socio-dramatic play, gross and fine motor development, sensory, and cognitive as they explore the natural materials.

  54. Wendy Flegel

    From the above picture I see that the children are taking a real interest in nature. Their teacher is engaged with them and they seem to be very keen. I think they are using observational conditioning.

  55. Wendy Flegel

    I see the children engaged with their educator and their peers. They look like they are really interested in their surroundings and learning.

  56. Alison Rinas

    My observation of the phot would be that the two boys in the yellow raincoats are deep into a social drama, as one is standing tall and confident on a tree stump and the other is smiling and is doing something with the two sticks in his hands. The educator looks like she is inquiring into the social drama of the two boys as she looking at the boy standing on the stump. The boy in the blue raincoat appears to be in solitaire play and an observer of the play happening around him.

  57. Andrea Sabean

    Cooperative play, problem-solving, sharing ideas, perhaps negotiating, experiencing a familiar environment in new ways.

  58. Adriana Carrillo

    I see all kinds of play in the pictures. I think children could gain: problem solving and team work skills, to be alone and be connected with the environment, to observe and interpret, to imagine, create and invent.

  59. Colleen Maclellan

    The first picture shows peers engaging with each other and thus learning from each other. The environment is allowing for a chance to experience and investigate new things with some adult interaction in the second photo. The third photo shows an adult appearing to enjoy the wet weather. and is engaging with the children.

  60. Linda M. Mason

    I see social and peer interaction and exploration. Taking place in the first photo. In photo 2and 3, I see more teacher directed play and exploration.

  61. Kate Domingo

    The first picture shows that children are working together, maybe discussing together what they could find under the bridge. This is an example of cooperative play where children work together to reach a common goal.
    Picture 2 and 3, the teacher is very much involve in the play and she listens to the children questions.

  62. Nicole Morrell

    I see a great deal of peer learning. Working together, enjoying each other’s company, spending time with their peers.

  63. Angela Gower

    The children are learning so much in these pictures just by being involved in nature. They are learning from their peers and teachers. The children are learning about nature and the sounds and smells around them. They are learning to take risks and what risks are appropriate for themselves & their bodies. They are learning to work together and how to communicate with one another.

  64. Karen Koehli-Kozack

    This picture is a good reflection of classical conditioning and peer learning. The educator is engaged with the children and quite possibly co-learning about plants and bugs or what ever they are seeing and hearing.

  65. Paula Watson

    I see the children learning about teamwork or the sense of others. They are learning about the sense of self with regard to body temperature and clothing requirements. They are learning vital observational and listening skills. I think the environment is the main teacher followed by the children’s interests then facilitated by the adult.

  66. Ashley Barfoot

    I see the children engaging in peer learning and problem solving, exploration and learning about the environment and cultural learning by possibly being exposed to environments and elements that they have not explored before. I think the children are being influenced by their peers, the educators that are supporting the learning as well and the actual environment and natural materials.

  67. Courtney Topolay

    The children are deeply engaged in peer learning, supported by the environment and the educator. They are gaining physical learning, cognitive skills, social skills, and executive brain functioning is being developed to name a few.

  68. Rochelle Muhlert

    The children appear to be problem-solving, working as a team, it seems as though the educator is listening attentively so the child is learning that what they are saying matters, they are feeling textures with feet and hands, they are looking closely at their environments.

  69. Mallory

    In these photos I see the children engaged in peer learning and educator learning. The teachers are engaged and involved with the children as they learn about the world around them. They are learning about nature and the environments around them. They could be learning about the animals or bugs they see as well as the foliage and trees that grow in this forest.

  70. Kathleen Couture

    Look at the pictures above. What types of learning do you see the children involved in and who and what might be influencing the learning?

    Using the comment box below, discuss the types of learning that you envision children could gain from the experiences depicted in the photos.

    All of these picture depict group play with an engaged educator who provided the environment and opportunities. I see peer learning as children seem to be observing each other . There are leaders and observers in the pictures that clearly show different comfort levels of outdoor play. The program and environment is rich with learning opportunities which seem to be of the children’s interest as they all seem engaged in the activities, each on their own level. This learning environment embraces the benefits of out door play as it is apparent that both the families and community culturally support the play by providing the necessary clothing and materials required, by creating and allowing for risk taking, getting dirty, exploration of nature where children can and build upon their experiences and knowledge.

    What children can gain from these outdoor experiences is actually limitless, They can gain cognitive, social, language, problem solving, risk taking, mathematical skills, science, cooperation, critical thinking, self regulation, sensory awareness, executive functioning skills and the list goes on. Each of these pictures embraces outdoor learning by leaving those fenced in playgrounds and exploring the real life world around us.

  71. Mandi Bollinger

    I see the children engaged in peer learning, programming and environment as well as cultural learning. The children can explore what happens to all of the different mosses, trees, grasses and flowers when they get wet. They can discover how the ground might feel mushy under their feet. They could jump between the stumps. Their teacher is fully engaged with them in their learning-on the wet ground and everything. The children look ready to take on a downpour and love it!!

  72. Jessica Brosch

    I see classical, observational and operational play in the photos. Children are engaged with an adult who is showing interest in the play and role modeling outdoor play as a positive. Getting down to their level and being part of the experience!

  73. BL

    Children learn to work together cooperatively, learn to listen to others ideas and also learn to explore by themselves. They learn through each other and from the adults with them.

  74. jen.g

    Solitary play, cooperative play. Learning about nature and the environment. Also learning what grows in the forest and animal that live there