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Curriculum

My dayhome curriculum is emergent, responsive to the individual interests, needs, and developmental readiness of the children and informed by years of formal education and ongoing training, as well as years of practice in the field.  I am inspired by the educational philosophy developed in Reggio Emilia I follow the FLIGHT curriculum program developed by my instructors at MacEwan University.  I gain energy for my work every day from the work of learning through play advocates like Bev Bos, Kisha Reid, Teacher Tom, Dan Hodgkins, Jeff Johnson, Lisa Murphy, Denita Dinger, Peter Grey and many others.  I am profoundly influenced by Carol Garboden Murray's important work on the pedagogy and primacy of care in education

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Curriculum in Practice

When I first started running a dayhome, I thought it would be like an old-fashioned preschool every hour of the day, with a firm schedule of monthly themes, learning objectives and daily learning activities, and myself as the teacher, standing in front of my "class" and running the show while they watched and learned from me. I soon realized that I needed to be more flexible in my thinking!

I now see my role more as that of a caregiver, facilitator and coach, rather than as a teacher in a traditional classroom. My main role is to set up a safe and enriching learning environment for the children and to be with them, as much as I possibly can, observing what they do, intervening when they have a problem they can't solve and helping them to find what they need to build on their learning. I want to work with the natural learning styles of the children rather than setting up rigid objectives and routines that might not work for them. Friends who homeschool tell me that my style would be called "unschooling", and is a common approach of people who educate children in a home setting. From my reading in early childhood education theory, I believe my approach is related to the practice of "emergent curriculum."

Children are amazing and powerful learners. I believe that if you create a rich learning environment for them and respond to their cues, most children will be naturally motivated to work on what they most need to learn at whatever age and stage they are at.

Babies and toddlers are busy working on their developing bodies and independence skills, listening and talking, and some social learning -- their most important "curriculum" is to learn that loving adults are always near to respond to their needs. Preschoolers have these needs as well, but they are also ready to learn more about the world around them. By watching children's free play, and giving them the attention they need, a caregiver can find those "teachable moments" and move through those moments with them, whether they are most interested in learning to walk, to share with another child, to count, to recognize letters and learn the sounds letters make, or to learn about planets and stars. By the way, if children are interested, we do "play school" and practice everything from packing our backpacks to holding a pencil, to doing preschool worksheets and learning projects at our activity table.

I do have what you might call learning themes - but I am free to change them if the children are not interested, or stay with them if they are in a way that a larger group in a daycare or preschool cannot easily do. This year, so far, themes we have returned to over several days or weeks include apple trees, school time, Thanksgiving, ABCs and colors in French, dress up, art gallery and surrealist pictures, dolls and baby care, wild animals, farm animals, children around the world, Christmas and the nativity play, fire safety and fire drills, construction site and builders, sharks, doughnuts, typewriters, Martin Luther King, and I am currently cutting up the laminated posters and setting out space books and my son's rocket ship tent to start an Outer Space theme next week. We are always looking for opportunities to reinforce learning about numbers and counting, the alphabet and reading. We talk about calendars, seasons, clocks, and ways of measuring both time and space as children's curiosity and play interests demand. Birthdays are both great fun and a great learning opportunity!


The babies and toddlers are aware of what we are doing, and I help them engage with their materials and ideas at their own level. Babies may sit on my lap while I read part of a book about sharks to an older child, chew on soft toy fish or carry around a laminated flash card with a picture of a shark, join in the actions and dance to Charlotte Diamond's song "Slippery Fish". Toddlers may roam the room during the same story, still listening on one level, gather up toy sharks and fish in a bucket and dump them, pretend to be sharks and chase each other at the playground, rip paper from the magazine that the preschoolers are cutting shark pictures out of, try to use the gluesticks and learn that they are not for tasting.

The very best teachers for children are other children. One of the beauties of a mixed-age group in a family dayhome is that the older children teach the younger ones and the younger ones are often ready to learn earlier than they might be because they want more than anything to do what they see the older children doing!

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My Philosophy of Early Learning

I believe that young children learn through practical experience, through social interaction with others, through play, and through self-directed investigation of their environment. Young children build theories the same way that adult scientists do, by observing and exploring the world around them, making predictions about what is going to happen next, and making and testing hypotheses. Each child brings previous knowledge from his or her own experience to their learning. This learning is facilitated by collaboration with others, including peers and the teacher, rather than a model where the teacher is the expert giving knowledge to the child. Children can be astonishingly intelligent, competent, and powerful learners, especially if they are in an environment where the adults around them hold this image of children. Children learn best if adults around them are committed to collaborative learning with children, model a joy in learning themselves, and show children that their ideas and investigations are valued. Early learning educators may be required to document curriculum planning across different subject areas or learning domains, but it is important to recognize the essential nature of this learning as holistic, not compartmentalized (Chaillé, 2008, 4).


I believe that the learning environment is important. There are many ways to design a quality learning environment, but however it is done, the environment should with the needs of children in mind. It should allow for inclusion and respect for diversity. Such an environment should offer plenty of outdoor play and natural materials, minimal if any screen time. It should be print-rich, and there should be many opportunities to explore what Reggio Emilia philosophy calls the hundred languages of children, including art, music and literature.


However - and this is the most important thing I have learned in my work with children and my Early Learning and Child Care studies - without responsive, nurturing caregivers and an environment that creates secure attachments over time and supports young children¿s relationships to their families, high-quality learning is just not possible. Alfie Kohn defines attention to the emotional well-being of children as an absolute prerequisite to ¿positive development¿:

If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow. If they are taken seriously, they can respect others. If their emotional needs are met, they have the luxury of being able to meet other people's needs. (Kohn, 1999, 229).


Young children need to be understood and accepted in the context of their families, their communities and their cultures. They need to be supported as they develop social skills and lasting relationships with others. They need the consistent presence of caring teachers and adults in their lives over time, and they need opportunities to form lasting relationships with their peers. I admittedly have a bias towards family child care, because most of my professional experience thus far has been in a family day home environment. Nevertheless, I do truly believe that quality small-group care in a good play-based family day home program, where a committed and educated provider and her family form relationships with the child and the child¿s family over the years from infancy through to school age, is the optimal childcare situation for most children and families.


References


Chaillé, C. (2008). Constructivism across the curriculum in early childhood classrooms: Big ideas as inspiration. Boston: Pearson Education Inc.


Kohn, A.(1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise and other bribes. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

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