Below the Surface there is so Much More: The Early Learning Programming Cycle

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. There is almost nothing I like better talking about than emergent curriculum. It comes up a lot in workshops and classes that I teach and there seems to be some misunderstanding. The approach does require intentional teaching; it is not a “free for all”. It also requires consideration and thought about children’s interests. Yes, the definition of emergent curriculum is that it based on the interests of children but it is up to the teacher to “cultivate interests”. Back in the day, I am ashamed to say, if I were asked how I develop my curriculum as a preschool teacher, I would have said, “I follow themes”. Today, when I ask this question of others, the answer I am most likely to get is, “I follow interests”. Why are we so obsessed with children interests? Especially when they can lead to surface level teaching that focuses on the children learning facts and information about a topic. Below the surface there is so much more.

Below the Surface

How do you get below the surface? Start by reflecting on your context. The starting reflection point for optimal programming that speaks to children across many domains and in many languages, including their spiritual self, is context. Context is the features related to the early learning environment, such as the economic, political, and social context, which place the program within a broader societal context. Every early learning program has a context. Reflecting on the broader community and the program’s place within it can define the broad intentions, or deliberate, purposeful, and thoughtful decisions and actions that fuel the programming process as it evolves. What are the areas of meaning to the players within the learning environment and the surrounding community? Beginning with families, early learning professionals develop programs based on identified intentions that may include having natural, environmental, or democratic experiences (Dietze & Kashin, 2016, p. 264-265).

Programming Cycle

Instead of staying above the surface and responding too quickly to determine interests to follow, start with a reflection on your context, add intention and provide investigational triggers – provocations, prompts or sparks that will lead to exploration and discovery. Capture the meaning of the learning – make it visible through pedagogical documentation and the reflection process begins again. If we teach intentionally, to support children’s higher order thinking then we will go beyond topics such as “cars” to ones that focus on the bigger ideas of wheels and motion. Bloom’s taxonomy is a handy reference to consider as learning facts about cars, situates children at the lowest point. Teach with intention and you can trigger children’s creative and analytical skills.

Bloom's Taxonomy

So when a child builds an airplane from Lego, think deeply about what is truly interesting to the child. Is it really the names of the parts of the airplane? Or is it the balancing of the wings? Is it aerodynamics and the idea of flight? Let ideas take flight! Malaguzzi suggests that we let ideas bound around, accumulate, rise up, fall apart and spread. Give yourself time to reflect on interests and one idea will fly higher than the others!

Loris Malaguzzi on ideas

4 thoughts on “Below the Surface there is so Much More: The Early Learning Programming Cycle

  1. Hi Diane. Are you open to adding self-regulation to the below the surface list? Then I can see evidence of all of the 4 foundations of learning from How Does Learning Happen? (2014). Belonging, well-being, engagement and expression.


    • Absolutely! There so much below the surface. My list is certainly not exhaustive. That is why we need critical friends to help see the depth more clearly 🙂 Thanks for your comment and thanks for being my critical friend, Cindy!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Visual Reflections: A Language of Documentation and Collaborative Professional Learning | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  3. Thank you so much for all of your wonderful insights and resources. Your analogy of the iceberg, representing what’s under the surface, sheds light on the documentation process and gives great insight to the role of the educator.


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