Emergent curriculum

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Emergent curriculum is a way of planning curriculum based on the student’s interest and passions as well as the teacher’s. 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 children’s interests. This is not to say that the teacher has no input, in fact teachers may well have a general topic they think is important for children to study and they may purposely include certain materials or experiences related to it as jumping off points. Elizabeth Jones points out:

We are the stage directors; curriculum is teacher’s responsibility, not children’s. People who hear the words emergent curriculum may wrongly assume that everything simply emerges from the children. The children’s ideas are an important source of curriculum but only one of many possible sources that reflect the complex ecology of their lives. (Jones p. 5)

This process requires a great deal of flexibility and creativity on the part of the teacher. Carolyn Edwards notes: “The teachers honestly do not know where the group will end up. Although this openness adds a dimension of difficulty to their work, it also makes it more exciting.” (Edwards p 159)

Once teachers see an interest “emerging” they brainstorm ways to study the topic in depth. Webbing is often used because of its playful and flexible nature. A web doesn’t show everything that will be learned, it shows many things that could be learned. However it is important to use the webbing as a tool to open the teacher to possibilities not a “plan.” Teachers brainstorm many possibilities for study sparked from the particular interest, not as a plan but more as a ‘road map’ as one teacher put it: To get a plan, we chose an idea and brainstormed ways that children could play it – hands-on activities we could provide. Putting all the activities on a web gives you a road map full of possible journeys. (Jones p. 129)

An idea for a curriculum topic may be sparked by anything or come from anywhere. For instance, a teacher may overhear a group of students having a discussion about bugs that leads to the class sitting down and coming up with a web topic that explores all the possible directions the class could go in their quest to learn all they can about the topic of bugs. Ideas may also be sparked by offering experiences such as taking a walk through the neighborhood, visiting local businesses, or reading books.

"Reggio Emilia" schools are one variety of school that use emergent curriculum.

Another emergent curriculum in the education of 3, 4, and 5-year-olds is helping them make the connection between symbols and objects. Put up pictures on the shelves where toys and games go so the children can match the picture to the object. Draw outlines of blocks on the block shelf so that the children will understand where to replace them when they are done playing (Gonzalez-Mena, 2011). Try using all kinds of symbols in the classroom. Make tags with houses on them for the children to wear when they are playing in the kitchen area. Teach universal symbols, such as the slashed circle, to represent off-limit areas; or draw boy and girl figures on the bathroom doors. Eventually add words alongside the symbols so that the children can make verbal associations as well (Gonzalez-Mena, 2011).


  • Booth, Cleta. “The Fiber Project: One Teacher’s Adventure Toward Emergent Curriculum”. Early Childhood Education p. 66-71.
  • Cassidy, Deborah J. Mims, Sharon. Rucker, Lia, Boone, Sheresa. “Emergent Curriculum And Kindergarten Readiness”. Association for Childhood Education International, 2003 Retrieved 4/21/05 http://infotrac.galegroup.com
  • Clarke, Ben. “Leaving Children Behind. Special article written for “corpwatch” - http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=11543
  • Edwards, Carolyn. Gandini, Lella, Forman, George. The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education. New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corp. 1993.
  • Hart, Linda. “The Dance of Emergent Curriculum”. Copyright© 2003 by the Canadian Child Care Federation. All rights reserved. 201-383 Parkdale Ave, Ottawa, ON K1Y 4R4 1-800-858-1412
  • Jones, Elizabeth. & Nimmo, John. Emergent Curriculum. Washington DC: NAEYC 1994.
  • Jones, Elizabeth., Evans, Kathleen.,& Stritzel, Kay. The Lively Kindergarten: Emergent Curriculum in Action. Washington DC: NAEYC. 2001.
  • Paley, Vivian Gussin. A Child’s Work: the Importance of Fantasy Play. University of Chicago Press. Chicago: 2004.
  • Wright, Susan. “Learning How To Learn: The Arts As Core In An Emergent Curriculum”. Childhood Education, Sept 15, 1997 v.73 n6 p361(5) Retrieved 4/21/05 http://infotrac.galegroup.com

Gonzalez-Mena, Janet (2011). Foundations of Early Childhood Education (Fifth Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill