As we take a nature walk on the paths through a large garden area tended by church members, the children always want to “go to the pond.” This body of water is an 8’ by 10’ pool with pump-circulated water flowing from a raised area. We watch the flow, bubbles and talk about the fine netting covering the entire water surface. I remind the children frequently to keep their feet on the grass as they creep closer to the rocks bordering the water. I’m sure they would wade in if it were their pond. I hope all of them get to wade in some body of flowing water with close adult supervision. I share their interest—in my childhood I had free access to “the creek” at the border of our property next to the airport. We waded, built dams with loose rocks and slid down the larger algae-covered rocks.
The children speculate on the reasons for the netting over the water, describe it as looking like spider webs, talk about the leaves that have fallen onto the net, and reach towards it as they talk. On a day when we didn’t go outside I decided to follow up on this strong interest in the water and net, guided by the emphasis of emergent curriculum* on focusing on the diverse strengths of children, and building on their strengths and interests. I provided two small tubs of water, netting from bags of oranges and tree leaves from the garden. I was sure the children would be engaged with these materials for a long time, and was concerned that two tubs would not be enough.
As a small group of children entered the room, I told them about the water and a painting exploration, also set up. They did go immediately to the water, and bunched up the nets, added leaves and swished their hands joyfully in the water. Over two days, there were 6 small groups—two each of 2’s, 3’s and 4’s—and each group of children repeated these actions. I asked the children if the set-up reminded them of the pond, wondering if they would begin to use the net as a leaf-catcher, and with another group I initiated a game of pretending to be a tree and dropping leaves on the net covering the water. A few children played for a few minutes but this model of the pond was obviously not engaging. And I was so proud of myself for following up on something that was so meaningful to the children! I was sure they would be interested in exploring ways to use the netting as a tool. Why do you think this small scale pond with netting did not engage them?
Many more children were interested in the painting exploration where they could paint on different surfaces—wax paper, felt, aluminum foil and pumpkins. I’ll follow up on this interest by providing larger pieces of the materials and setting out two kinds of paint, liquid watercolors and the thicker tempera paint.
*The goal of emergent curriculum is to respond to every child’s interests. Its practice is open-ended and self-directed. It depends on teacher initiative and intrinsic motivation, and it lends itself to a play-based environment. Emergent curriculum emerges from the children, but not only from the children. Curriculum emerges from the play of children and the play of teachers. It is coconstructed by the children and the adults and the environment itself. To develop curriculum in depth, adults must notice children’s questions and invent ways to extend them, document what happens, and invent more questions. The process is naturally individualized.
Elizabeth Jones. 2012. Our Proud Heritage: The Emergence of Emergent Curriculum. Young Children. 67(2): 66-68
Some additional resources for learning about emergent curriculum:
Jones, Elizabeth, & J. Nimmo. 1994. Emergent Curriculum. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Stacey, S. 2009. Emergent Curriculum in Early Childhood Settings: From Theory to Practice. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf.
Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Queensland kindergarten learning guideline: Understanding emergent curriculum in practice. July 2014.