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Emergent Curriculum

Emergent curriculum is quite different from the standard adult imposed teachings that we are accustomed to. Emergent Curriculum is planning the focus of learning or what happens in the classroom, as a result of interaction between educators and children, with both contributing ideas and reacting to them to build on appealing and worthwhile units of study. Emergent curriculum is socially and intellectually engaging and personally meaningful to children. Educators follow the children’s lead and then introduce new and exciting activities to sustain their interests and deepen their explorations. This is a method that requires genuine responsiveness and attention to children rather that just educator’s goals. Our emphasis is focused on developing social skills, problem solving skills, fostering independence and building a foundation for lifelong learning.

Historically, preschools and childcare centers have followed a classroom model in which the teacher chose what information and activities the children would ‘receive’ and when. In this model, the teacher presented only those activities which were “age-appropriate”, based upon published developmental stages. Lesson plans and weekly themes were often created for an entire year before the year begins. One’s teaching success was measured by the ability to get children to take interest in the chosen lesson and stay focused. The child’s success was measured by how well they could cut a straight line, form a letter or a letter sound, arrange shapes by colour, and of course, behave. The length of the inquiry is arbitrary (example: Monday-Friday), which means it ends whether the children have finished their wondering or not. Often the themes were scripted for the whole year in advance.

According to new research, young children withheld from directing their own learning at this age experience disappointment and boredom, creating permanent negative associations with school. In most pre-primary schools, time is typically set by the clock. Activities are given a certain length of time to occur, and if a child is fast or slow, they must stretch or contract their work to meet the time expectations of teachers. Children who are excited to continue work are rushed to clean up and move to the next scheduled activity. Some of the children, who are finished long before the other children, become bored. The consequence is that children are given the impression that their natural attention span for an activity is not valid, and their learning becomes divided into arbitrary timeframes. It is no surprise that we struggle to retain their attention later in life. The traditional preschool schedule teaches them to ignore their own learning rhythm. If a child can paint for 50 minutes, they should be allowed to do so. If a child gets bored after painting for 10 minutes, he or she should be allowed to seek another activity that will inspire them.

Resources in Early Childhood Education, A Publication of Ryerson's Gerrard Resource Centre
What is Emergent Curriculum? By Marie Goulet, George Brown College
Fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education