Kids & Company Blog

What is ’emergent curriculum’ all about?

As the parent of three children, and someone who works alongside some of the brightest Early Childhood Educators in the country, I've come to understand and deeply appreciate the Emergent Curriculum philosophy practiced at Kids & Company. Sometimes referred to as cue-based or child-centred learning, the approach is relatively simple in theory, but can be complicated in application. It takes an engaged, well-trained and astute teacher to observe the fine cues and “emerging” interests of the children. And, to use those cues to facilitate an environment that is stimulating, exploratory and at the appropriate level. In our centres, we implement the curriculum with specific developmental objectives and learning outcomes. Our teachers also have the flexibility to plan their programming in accordance to what will engage the children curiosity, and empower them to actively participate in their education.

What is emergent curriculum?

The term emergent curriculum loosely captures the idea that the types of learning a child is ready to do will emerge when a teacher facilities an environment where they feel secure, engaged and interested. Instead of a rigid lesson plan, the teacher has broader goals of encouraging curiosity, play, exploration, collaboration and creativity by exploring content that the children demonstrate interest in.

Emergent Curriculum is a philosophy of teaching and way of planning curriculum that focuses on being responsive to children's interests to create meaningful learning experiences. It can be practiced at any grade level. This philosophy prioritizes active participation, relationship building, flexible and adaptable methods, inquiry, and play-based learning. Curriculum is child-initiated, collaborative and responsive to the children's needs. Proponents of this style of teaching advocate that knowledge of the children is the key to success in the program. To plan an emergent curriculum requires observation, documentation, creative brainstorming, flexibility and patience. Rather than starting with a lesson plan which requires a “hook” to get the children interested, emergent curriculum starts with the observation of the children for insight into their interests. The classroom typically consists of learning centres that expand and facilitate children's learning and encourage independent learning skills.

Source: wikipedia.org

What tools are needed to successfully engage in emergent curriculum?

  1. Observation- a strong teacher must find ways to tune in to the interests and skills of the children to identify where to take conversations, explorations and new activities. Listening to students encourages them to find their voice and help direct learning that engages children.
  2. The Learning Environment- not only are teachers crucial in creating a safe and open experience for children, the environments are intentionally set up with learning centres that focus on different discoveries and skills, and are set up in ways that are particularly accessible to children. These centres also allow for flexibility to work in different group sizes or do individual learning to address different needs at different times.
  3. Documentation- In alignment with provincial standards for early education, Kids & Company prioritizes active documentation through internal observation notes, parent communications, and visual representations of the children's learning and interests within the actual centre.

What are examples of emergent curriculum in application?

Our children thrive in the emergent curriculum environment and we love regularly hearing from teachers about their focuses, new developments, discoveries and teamwork efforts. Here are some of my favourite examples of emergent curriculum in action:

  • In my five-year-old's class, discussions arose about the difference between living things and non-living things - and with that, a series of learning opportunities emerged for the teachers to help the children explore. They shared their experiences and observations and came to various conclusions. To test one of the theories, the children decided to build their own robot to help determine if it was indeed a living thing. They brainstormed the types of materials needed and how they would construct it. They were so excited, they spent several days working on their project. There was a lot of pride in the finished piece and it prompted the realization that they could build other 'life-like' creations using unexpected materials. This resulted in the creation of a child-sized wooden-block Santa Claus. Although, the robot and Santa were amazing to see as a parent, both the teacher and I knew the journey to get there had been even more valuable. There were many discussions involving biology, lessons in collaboration and teamwork, planning and execution; which spanned all of the developmental domains.

  • One day the Director at our centre observed an interesting connection that our three-year-old made between some books they were reading on dinosaurs and an activity he chose to do outside. She emailed us to say, “I wanted to share a WOW moment with you.  This morning, during outside play, Oscar was excited to dig through the snow. He pretended to find fossils buried deep underneath the ground. This connection is significant because we are currently talking about fossils, how they are formed, and where they are found, in our classroom. So, it is neat to see he is taking that a step further. It demonstrates cognitive reasoning, connecting ideas and continued development of his fine motor skills. Way to go Oscar!"

  • Our 14-month-old daughter has been slow to begin walking. She prefers to scoot around on her bottom. In her classroom, she is the only one not toddling about yet. Her teachers have been encouraging her to practice standing, reaching, walking with assistance and pulling herself up. One of her teachers suggested that Mae probably didn't feel that motivated to walk with two older brothers who constantly brought toys. I was so touched when she recounted the achievements Mae had been making and showed me how the room had been set up with unique areas to discover for an active crawler. They had ensured her environment was well-stocked for Mae to explore, play, learn and thrive. Even with infants and toddlers, a teacher trained in emergent curriculum is always observing, facilitating and thinking about the experience and development of the child, both cognitively and physically.

By: Melissa Sawatzky
Melissa lives in Calgary and is the Director of Brand Strategy for Kids & Company. Her vision of what she would be like as a mom was shattered years ago when she discovered nothing ever goes as planned for parents, but laughter and community sees you through. You can reach her at msawatzky@kidsandcompany.com.