Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Theme Teaching vs Emergent Curriculum

For my entire career as a Kindergarten teacher and the first two years as a preschool teacher I taught using the Theme approach. I chose the topic or theme. I chose the length of the unit. I chose all the activities, the field trips, the books, the visitors and the songs ahead of time. And I used this theme year after year with any group of children. Topics included apples, dinosaurs, harvest, farm life, transportation, butterflies and so many more. They were rich developmentally appropriate topics full of fun activities.

However, as my teaching has evolved I realized that what was missing from above is any input from the children. A big part of my job as an educator of young children is to empower children and to make them a big part of their own learning. I needed be able to give up full control and to really watch what the children were doing and listen to their interests. This is the process followed with Emergent Curriculum.

The topic of study comes from the interests of the children. The direction the activities take is based on the questions or wonderings of the children. The field trips the class takes or the visitors who come are scheduled to help answer these questions or feed these wonderings. The materials offered for play are to extend their thought process along these lines. Along the way, the children are watched, listened to, consulted with and listened to some more!

With Emergent Curriculum they are empowered learners and the teacher takes the journey along with her class. It can be a daunting task. Gone are the days where your year is planned in advance and repeated. Field trips and visitors must be scheduled quickly. It can feel uncomfortable at first. You are truly learning along with your students. However, once the process starts to work, it is incredibly exciting to see them so engaged in their learning!

Some may ask does it have to be an either-or approach. At a workshop the other night, Patricia Reinhardt, Educational Consultant had a very interesting thought. She coined the phrase, Child Centered Curriculum. In her opinion, it doesn’t matter from where the topic originates, as long as the direction it takes from inception follows the lead of the children. This idea may work well as a bridge for those teachers new to the Emergent Curriculum approach.

Last week in class I could feel the interest waning about the Polar Regions that we had been studying. We revisited all the questions the children has initially wanted to research and realized that we had satisfied our curiosity in all of them. We talked as a group and decided that we were done studying this topic for now. We invited the parents in to look at all the toys we had been playing with and the projects we had made and the books we had been enjoying to celebrate our learning.

Where will we go next? I do not know. When we return from vacation, my job will be to watch and to listen to the children. In the meantime, I will provide general materials that engage exploration and creativity; very open ended activities that will help them decide where they want to go-then I will help them take me along with them.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Joyful Paint

I’m taking a commercial break today from the difference between theme teaching and emergent curriculum to talk about the simple joys of combining white glue and shaving cream.

Combining these two art mediums in approximately equal amounts and mixing them together creates homemade foam paint that is wonderful to use. We add liquid watercolor to ours to make many beautiful shades.

Today we used it to make the bottoms of shoebox habitats that we have creating for polar creatures that the children made out of clay a couple of weeks ago. They had to use our non-fiction books and look at the pictures to “research” where the animals lived and rip paper to decorate the background scenery in which that animal would live; land, water or both. Today they used this magnificent foam paint to build ice caps or ocean waves or snow drifts.

This paint has depth, texture and fullness. It feels luxurious to use. The children often rub it all around their hands as they use it, so make a lot. Remember young children need a lot of a material like this and they need time to just play with it.

The only way my students were able to use this paint in a project was because they have had ample time to explore its properties. Process is so much more important than the product. And even with that-my students and my assistant and I were pretty covered today.

But as I always say, “a dirty kid is a happy kid.” Today, we were joyful.