What is Curriculum in Early Childhood Education?

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  • 0:01 What Is Curriculum?
  • 0:36 Curriculum Is Play
  • 1:51 Curriculum Is Relationships
  • 3:03 Curriculum Is Physical
  • 4:20 Curriculum Is Family
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

We often hear about the importance of getting children off to a strong start via solid early childhood education. This lesson will introduce you to the meaning of curriculum in the context of early childhood.

What is Curriculum?

Young children can seem like sponges sometimes. They learn quickly and are often filled with curiosity about the world around them. Schools and daycare centers that work with the youngest of children have such a unique opportunity to guide students and families toward a lifetime filled with a love for learning. Curriculum is an important part of this process. Curriculum is everything that students learn. It can be implicit or explicit, planned for or spontaneous. This lesson will describe the dimensions curriculum can take on in the context of early childhood education.

Curriculum is Play

April is a teacher of four-year-olds in a pre-K program that is part of a large elementary school. At staff meetings, her colleagues often want to know why it seems like her students are always playing rather than learning. April explains that in early childhood, play is truly the most important part of a curriculum.

Children learn so many things through play. When two four-year-olds work together to set up a dollhouse, they are learning language about family, relationships, and furniture. They are learning different perspectives about how to organize things, planting the seeds for critical thinking, or knowing how to think from multiple perspectives. When a four-year-old spends seemingly endless stretches of time fitting a golf ball through a hole and watching it drop, she is learning about gravity, geometry and even probability. The learning that happens through play cannot be replaced by any other learning, as it is self-directed, creative, and authentic.

A teacher's role during children's play is to watch and provide language to help children describe what they are experiencing. Teachers also provide rich settings with ample opportunities for different kinds of play. They observe and notice what kinds of play their students gravitate towards, and they work on ways to enrich and diversify these inclinations.

Curriculum is Relationships

Ann teaches two-year-olds in a large daycare center. Many of her students have never been away from home for a full day before, and even those who have sometimes struggle with separation and drop-off. Ann considers that the most important thing she can teach her students is that she loves them, and they can learn to love her in return. She understands that at this age learning to self-soothe, to be soothed by a safe and caring adult, and to begin enjoying the company of peers is the most important theme underlying the curriculum. Therefore, Ann makes certain to build into the curriculum plenty of time each morning to make sure each of her students is comfortable. While they do simple art projects and free play, she talks with each of them, offering language to describe their feelings and showing that she is glad they are here.

As the year goes on, Ann puts more energy and time into helping her students form friendships with one another. She helps them learn how to play together and enjoy each other's company. They sing songs together, go on walks in partnerships, and play in small groups. Learning how to develop relationships is an aspect of the early childhood curriculum that Ann knows will serve her students well throughout their school careers and their lives.

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