Despite large-scale studies demonstrating the benefits of teacher interaction to support young children's learning, intentional teaching (IT) in early childhood education (ECE) remains a contested concept. Given the different perspectives associated with IT, the purpose of this study was to undertake a scoping review of the literature focused on IT in ECE. A systematic approach was adopted to map the evidence to identify key concepts, theories, sources and knowledge gaps. Such a review has the potential to assist researchers, practitioners and policy makers to make informed decisions about the different approaches to IT. The 101 items reviewed were selected according to the following criteria: investigated IT in some way; focused on learners aged birth to 8 years; made a conceptual contribution to understanding IT in ECE; full text availability, and published in English between 2010 and 2019, inclusive. The search incorporated a range of items including peer-reviewed journal articles, research reports, professional journals, an unpublished thesis and books. Results foregrounded the difficulties involved in reconciling IT and child-led learning through play, and that these difficulties were most fiercely experienced in the 3–5 age group. An overarching conclusion was that theoretical differences influenced how learning was understood, and determined which learning outcomes were articulated and measured. This review suggests that decisions about IT in ECE are dependent on how the purposes of ECE are defined in and through policy. Context and implication Rationale for this study: There appear to have been no systematic reviews of the concept of intentional teaching (IT) in early childhood education (ECE). This scoping literature review sought clarity about the nature and role of intentional teaching. It investigated issues about what, how and when IT is applicable for young children’s learning. Why the new findings matter: Intentional teaching in ECE is a contested concept despite large-scale studies demonstrating the need for a balance between child-led and teacher directed learning. This scoping review maps the evidence to identify key concepts, theories, sources and knowledge gaps. Implications for educational researchers and policy makers: This scoping review assists researchers, practitioners and policy makers to make informed decisions about the various approaches to IT. Decisions about IT were related to the purposes of ECE that were identified in policy, making policy influential. Theoretical perspectives framed how learning is understood and the role of educators in that learning. The disjuncture between IT and child-led learning prevailed especially for children aged 3–5 years.