Emergent Curriculum and Your Teaching Journey
By examining all the parts of this image, you can see that both teachers’
and children’s dispositions, relationships, and areas of prior knowledge affect
emergent curriculum. At the same time, you can also see the processes of
generating emergent curriculum—observation, reflection, documentation, and
changing the environment—and recognize that here, too, there are possible
entry points for teachers.

Dispositions Since we think of ourselves as being child-centered in early childhood educa-
tion, let’s think further about the disposition of the child. She is a researcher,
an explorer of her world. She constructs her knowledge as she handles real
objects, ventures into the community, collaborates with her peers, and rep-
resents her ideas through play. Different children, of course, have different
dispositions. For instance, one child may try out his ideas in a solitary way,
quietly using materials over long periods of time until one day he finally
makes a statement about his ideas and discoveries. Another child might be a
very social learner, using the ideas of others to build upon in play or enticing
other children to help her play out her own ideas. We’ve all encountered the
child who dives into sensory experiences,
as well as the one for whom the “touch
with one finger” approach feels safer. When
The term disposition refers both to
designing curriculum, all these dispositions
a person’s qualities of mind and to
must be taken into account.

a tendency to act or respond in a
The teacher’s disposition also has an
certain way.

enormous effect on what happens in the
classroom. Emergent curriculum requires
the disposition of genuine curiosity about
children and their play. A teacher who is
curious, who wonders why children are
doing a particular thing in a particular way, will be genuinely interested in
finding a meaningful response. Therefore, throughout the emergent curriculum
journey, it is important to generate questions. Not questions for the children
but questions for ourselves, based upon our curiosity. As you watch children at
play or listen to their conversations, you can ask yourself, “What do I wonder?”
and “What is puzzling or intriguing about this play?” These types of questions
have the potential to lead you to next steps. For instance, how will you find out
the answer to these questions? What kinds of responses/invitations/activities
can be set up for children that not only capitalize on their play ideas but also
lead you to new information about their thinking?

18 Chapter 1
The tendency to engage in lifelong learning is another important dispo-
sition. A teacher willing to try different approaches, to keep abreast of new
developments in the profession, and to take risks testing different teaching
approaches is more likely open to the give-and-take of planning curriculum
from children’s interests and questions.

With a reflective disposition, a practitioner will keep an open mind and
examine one’s own practice, taking a frequent and hard look at why things are
done in a certain way. It means always questioning and always thinking.

A teacher who views disequilibrium as a sign of growth will likely feel
enlivened and stimulated by the process of generating emergent curriculum,
rather than feel intimidated by not knowing all the answers as new situa-
tions unfold.

Your teaching team may include teachers who each possess one or more
of these dispositions. This makes for a wonderful collaborative journey, with
teachers lending their strengths to the process. You are likely to find diver-
sity in all teaching teams, and diversity can lead to a stronger and livelier
curriculum. Prior Knowledge
Within the image of emergent curriculum, you will also notice a reference to
prior knowledge. Both teachers and children possess prior knowledge; we all
come to the classroom with previous experience and knowledge of the world.

Children express their knowledge and experiences through their play ideas,
whereas teachers demonstrate their professional expertise—and previous
training—through the decisions they make and the scaffolding they provide.

Part of a teacher’s professional expertise also includes knowledge of these
particular children: their development, their interests, their families, and their
culture. He knows about their previous play, questions, misunderstandings, and
investigations. For example, when a five-year-old recently drew a series of straight lines
and told me, “This is a phoenix,” I would have been confused had I not known
that she was learning Chinese characters at home. Knowing both this child
and her family, I could work with her family to support this exploration at
school. Where children’s and teachers’ dispositions and prior knowledge meet with
teachers’ observations of children’s interests, emergent curriculum can begin to
take shape.

There are many starting points for emergent curriculum. Depending on
your previous training and experiences, you may want to begin by practicing
the art of observation, thereby refining those skills. Or you might reflect on