By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. The end of the year is a time to think back and reflect. Rather than considering just 2018 I decided to go way back to a time when I discovered emergent curriculum. It was twenty years ago that my quest for an alternative to themes lead to the discovery of a curriculum that emerges. At the time, I was not working directly with children. I was teaching early childhood education to adults in a college classroom. I had found the curriculum approach that had eluded my practice with preschoolers, and I was eager to share it with colleagues and students. While the students supported and encouraged an active and reciprocal teaching and learning environment, colleagues showed resistance. They were on the most part, resistant to teaching in an emergent way and were opposed to the constructivist theories that underpin the curriculum. I was increasingly frustrated with this instructivist rather than constructivist attitude. I felt it was important to model an emergent curriculum in the college classroom. I decided to be a constructivist. I decided constructivism would be my rock.
I am grateful to Lillian Katz, whose article in 1999 on constructivist and instructivist paradigms helped to solidify my pedagogy. I am also grateful to Elizabeth Jones whose book Teaching Adults: An Active Learning Approach, changed my life. Jones (1986) explained the dilemma of content delivery or “covering” the content:
The notion of covering, incidentally, has nothing to do with learning. It means only that I have salved my conscience by exposing students to all those important things, through lectures or reading assignments. That is no guarantee that they have learned them. (p. 17)
I will never forget the time when I was fixated on providing my students with a hands-on experience that would lead to an understanding of an inquiry-based curriculum that emerges. What I was looking for was an invitation that would lead to a provocation. As a child I cherished our family trips to rock quarries where I would hunt for specimens to add to my collection. I settled on rocks as I believed that this was an invitation that would provoke interest. I asked my mother if she still had my rocks and was not surprised that she did, as she rarely throws anything out.
I have expanded my childhood collection and added many, many more rocks. Some I have received as gifts, some I have purchased, and others I have collected from my favourite summertime beach destination, near my cottage in Grand Bend, Ontario. Rocks are one of my favourite loose parts.
I now have so many valued loose parts that I bring to workshops. Buttons, tree cookies and rocks as these are a few of my favourite things! What I love about rocks in particular, is that they have metaphorical qualities. Early childhood education is the rock or the foundation of lifelong learning. Early childhood educators rock! Over the years, I have also collected and shared many children’s books that rock! Here are just a few.
I have learned so much from rocks. Thinking metaphorically, a rock serves as my anchor, a stable centre that keeps me from drifting away and straying from my core beliefs. I have a purpose in life and will not get distracted. As an early childhood educator, I am rock solid. Thinking of yourself and your professional practice, what keeps you anchored to your core values? What is your rock?
What keeps me centered/grounded is my love of nature. I have always made things from loose parts. Going back to my childhood where we collected chestnuts, black walnuts, acorns, pinecones, sticks, Catalpa tree pods, maple keys and anything else we could find on the property, etc – to make pictures with – I have always gone back to nature. Nature provides opportunity for wonderment, and an endless source of loose parts. Every time you notice something new in nature, it provides a perfect teaching moment in a learning environment that is reflective of the children’s interests. The moment I am outside, I find that no matter what I find, my mind immediately starts to wonder what the children will do with it. I know what I would.
Luckily I was never a “resistant colleague”! My rock is feeling joyful while playing. I think this is what fuels my passion. It’s not work, its play. I feel a blog post brewing …
Rock on 🤘
I enjoyed this
D. Bonnie Wolman
Thank you Diane for your blogs. As a learner your work has asked me to reflect and be reflexive. I find the concept of emergent curriculum one that is greatly misunderstood as a curriculum as well as a way of being. I will try to clarify my thinking in these few sentences but hope to capture the essence and evolution of my understanding at this time. When I think of emergent curriculum, I think of the stances I must take: observer/ listener and advocate/ facilitator. As an observer participation in the learning I must also advocate for the child’s right to engage in rich learning within a freely democratic citizenship of learning to make decisions about materials, time, process, guidance and vision of learning. As an advocate I must facilitate the learning of the child’s spoken, gestural and inquisitive ways of being. Within this space of learning the curriculum is ‘uncovered’ rather than covered. There is a broader and yet deeper curriculum unfolding within the child’s and advocate’s world as they engage in the learning process together. As an example, literacy is defined in traditional terms of reading and writing but that definition is evolving through new literacies to encompass multi modes of communication including technology. If we regard literacy as a stagnant definition are we honouring our own learning and providing access to the child’s right to learn beyond the definition. Traditional methods have served us well and allow us to take risks, ask questions, test hypotheses and interpret information from a variety of points of view. To me this is emergent curriculum as well as the right to inquire, be curious and innovative communicators.
You should also check out Pebble by Susan Milord…if you have not read it already.
Diane, how coincidental that our brains should use the metaphor of loose parts to apply to the professional practice as educators! I suppose it’s an apple rich for plucking, but I’m so excited to see this blog. I will be presenting my own take on the metaphor of loose parts as adult perspective as an educator at the Super Saturday Conference in Irvine on March 9. I hope you will enjoy my reference to this blog in my presentation!
I love this! I also love that you have a cottage near Grandbend, Ontario! I go every summer to visit family in Grand bend right on Lake Heron and collect tons of rocks to bring back home to the classroom. Thank you for sharing. I enjoy your articles immensely.
What has always inspired my practice was your pointing to the direction of DISCOVERY.
What have the children taught me?Precisely that :I am a learner,and my vision is refreshed with the spark of each new child I encounter,of each new journey we embark together.
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