Early learners tend to digest, assimilate, and incorporate knowledge more easily and independently when they are genuinely interested in a particular subject or activity. In our classrooms, significant space and time is sanctioned for free exploration so that educators can observe where the class should be heading next. Our teachers act as co-investigators in the learning process by listening to the children’s insights and interactions and structuring that week’s curriculum accordingly.
First, teachers document the children’s interests – art projects are saved, conversations are recorded, pictures are taken, and objects chosen during free play are analyzed. This allows them to look back over their development and recognize patterns, trends, and connections that emerge over time. It then presents opportunities for teachers to ask provoking questions, research topics, or gather materials to introduce into the curriculum according to the children’s curiosities.
For instance, when a child returns from a family trip to NYC and shares her adventures, the class may become curious about her experience – What was it like? Teachers track down books about the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, bring in maps of the borough of Manhattan, and locate materials for art projects that replicate the sights and sounds of the city. This could lead to questions about how cities are different from our own hometowns and what kind of environment the children would like to live in. The sequence might culminate with a project on planning a small-scale model city using recycled parts.
The curriculum emerges organically, thereby encouraging a sense of wonder in the learning process and allowing the children to develop their imaginative capacities. As they become self-conscious of their educational journeys, they mature into independent researchers willing to take risks and explore for themselves. The documentation allows parents to see their child’s unfolding interests and to pursue and celebrate similar questions and activities at home, which make their way back into the classroom in new and exciting ways.