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What is Emergent Curriculum in Early Childhood?

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  • 0:01 Emergent Curriculum
  • 2:14 Webbing
  • 2:51 How to Apply It
  • 3:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Hultzman
This lesson is all about emergent curriculum and how it can be used in early childhood education programs. We'll define emergent curriculum and provide an example of how it can be used to construct a lesson.

What Is Emergent Curriculum?

Have you ever talked to a five-year-old child? It can be difficult, to put it diplomatically. They often give you single word answers, stare off into space, or are distracted by everything other than you. However, if you're lucky, you'll hit on that one thing they love more than life itself. Sometimes its bugs or dinosaurs, other times fairy princesses or dogs. I once met a first grader who wanted nothing more than to talk about cookies. Being that I have a healthy appetite and a serious sweet tooth, we got on smashingly. The fact is that children in this young stage of development aren't phenomenally well-rounded individuals. They have areas of interest that they can become fascinated by, and they'll want to learn anything and everything about them. Figure out that area and you have their attention.

What, I hear you asking, does this have to do with curriculum? Some people, real smarty-pants types, examined the way children at this age behaved and figured out that trying to use traditional curricular methodology simply wouldn't work. They devised a strategy known as emergent curriculum, which are lesson plans that are open-ended and directed by the interests and activities of both students and teacher.

The role of the teacher in emergent curriculum is to observe and participate in play with the children and utilize teachable moments to encourage their students' learning. The role of the student is to engage in activities with an open mind, observing, participating, and learning as they go throughout their day. Those familiar with the Reggio Emilia approach will notice serious similarities.

An important note is that emergent curriculum is not just a free-for-all. Teachers must plan this methodology like any other. They are to set goals and objectives and to try to meet these goals. The difference is in how they reach the learning objective. Traditional curriculum is designed around an outside expert telling the teacher what the student should know and the teacher planning a lesson, activities, quizzes, or essays to try to achieve this objective. In emergent curriculum, the teacher still has a learning objective, but they utilize their own interests, the children's interests, their environment, current events, or the social environment to guide the lesson.

Webbing

A powerful tool in emergent curriculum is webbing. Webbing is a method of generating curriculum based on a starting point, much like a brainstorm. When utilizing webbing with emergent curriculum, a teacher would take a concept that was introduced through any of the previously mentioned methods (e.g., student interests, current events) and put it at the core. From there, the students and teacher come up with more ideas that are connected to this central concept, each of which may in turn spawn more ideas. It's then up to the teacher and students to decide which of these ideas they want to explore, and how they can connect the idea to a learning outcome.

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