Inspiring to Inspire Maths


Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) describes the area between a child’s level of independent performance (what he/she can do alone) and the child’s level of assisted performance (what he/she can do with support).

Skills and understandings contained within a child’s ZPD are the ones that have not yet emerged but could emerge if the child engaged in interactions with knowledgeable others (peers or adults) or in supportive contexts (such as make-believe play for young children).

As parents or carers this theory is useful to you, as it helps you to focus your support where it will be most effective.If the purpose of your support is to reinforce work being done at school then it needs to be aimed at the level of your child’s independent performance. However, if your support is to introduce new skills or understanding then this support needs to be aimed within the ZPD.Support by other, more knowledgeable, children or adults also produces gains in the development of your child, as well as improving his or her knowledge and skills.

This theory is also useful because it shows you that small steps are most effective.If you support beyond your child’s ZPD then your support will have no effect on his or her learning.

This diagram helps to explain the concept.

This does mean you need to know not only what your child’s developmental level is at the time, but also what skills and concepts will develop next. You, as a parent or carer are well placed to know what stage your child is at and, with the internet at hand, the next steps can easily be found. On this website you can use the curriculum objectives section to help you with maths next steps.

The idea behind this style of support is that eventually your child will be able to function independently at the same high level at which he or she was previously able to function with knowledgeable assistance.

Once your child is successfully operating independently at the higher level, you can move your support into the area of his or her new Zone of Proximal Development.