This emerging ‘Emergent Curriculum’!

With the trend in Early Education to plan a curriculum that is Child Focused and Play Based it leaves some of us wondering how to make the change. I can remember supervisors expecting the staff to plan their child care curriculum for the whole year so they could order creative supplies and prepare the Parent Calendar for the upcoming year. It made sense at the time but…..

How were we to plan what the children would be interested in? How would we know what they were going to be learning and when they would develop their new skills? Also, how would we know the challenges, adversities or exciting changes to be coming to their family lives in advance? Truly, when I think back now, I remember trying to add resources or materials to support children and families as they told me about things in their family life, but it seemed a bit backwards.

I remember some ECE’s telling me; ‘Well, Johnny’s family is going to move in June but we’re not talking about HOMES until August. I know it made sense to them at the time, but when you say that out loud; not so much! I also remember a Mom in the program saying ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with Mary; we moved into our new house a month ago and she is still having trouble settling in.’ Then I had to say ‘You moved??? You didn’t tell me so I can change your records but most importantly so I could have supported Mary through the transition into the new house’.

Letting parents know that we are trying to support their child through the anxiety of a new house or baby, etc. helps them to share what they might not think is important but what we as ECE’s know to be true. If she had told me that they were moving I could have supported Mary by adding Moving to the Dramatic Play area; boxes, newspaper, bubble wrap, a wagon to move with. We could have ‘moved’ the Dramatic Play area to another place in the room over and over again, until Mary realized that when you move, all of your things move too. By adding books about moving, trucks to block play and just talking about moving we could have addressed a lot of worries before they got too big AND it let’s other children participate; to play it out and try that role on, they might move some day too or they might have some great supportive words for their peers that I hadn’t thought of! This supports the developing Resilience Abilities too!

Following the child’s lead let’s us be a part of their learning, development and family needs. By observing, recording, talking to parents and being an active participant in play, we will have thoughtful insight as to what might be appropriate for curriculum planning.

As Magda Gerber (author of Resources for Infant Educarers) once said, ‘be careful what you are teaching, it might interfere with what they are learning!’ An ECE once told me of an observation she had done; the child brought it a dead butterfly. She was so interested in that butterfly, looking at it thoughtfully all day long. The ECE dashed out to support this emerging interest in butterflies; she brought in books, puppets, dress-up wings, and planned a creative activity about butterflies! The next day when she proudly showed the child the butterfly materials, she realized that is was NOT butterflies that she was interested in, but the idea of death. That mystery of the circle of life. Oh dear, the trial and error of supporting children’s emerging interests and skills… but not to fear, just keep paying attention and it will come to you.

After all is said and done, you want to put your observations and documentations into action. Plan as a team; discuss what you have observed and brainstorm how you might plan to support these findings. Plan a variety of activities that support the newly emerging interests and skills, but not getting stuck on just that. We still need to plan a well rounded curriculum based on age-appropriate activities and skills we know are just around the corner. In this way we can continue to add and tweak the materials we offer to children. If we plan to provoke their thinking we can encourage new interests and support new skills. Don’t fall into the trap we’ve been talking about bugs for weeks because that is what the children are interested in. They are open to new ideas and new learning, so be sure to plan small group activities and conversations that extend what they already know and offer new directions.

Lastly, how are we to engage parents in this amazing journey their children are on? Parents are sometimes too busy to notice, don’t think they can make a difference and forget that what is happening today will be a part of who their child becomes tomorrow. Keep talking to parents, post your documentation, send a copy home for the fridge, and encourage children to share what they are learning with Mom and Dad. Parents are their child’s first teachers and we need them on board with us, to be as excited as their children are in what they are learning and to join in.

So, at the end of the day, go home exhausted and spent from the great day you have just had being a part of the growing and learning that the children in your care are experiencing. It’s the best job in the world!

Save the Day for Play, Resources for the Intentional and Responsive Educator
Reaching In- Reaching Out
Book: Learning Together with Young Children- A Curriculum Framework For Reflective Teachers by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter
Book: The Art of Awareness: How Observation Can Transform Your Teaching by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter