What’s the BIG IDEA? Children’s Interests that Make a Difference

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

BIG IDEAS refer to concepts that are meaningful to the lives of children. If we look beyond development to children’s emerging interests as a focus of observation there is an opportunity to consider what is really important. Everyday there are opportunities for children to explore ideas that are rich and valuable. The examination of the topic of self is an idea that has big potential. Co-investigating our ideas about what we value in the world has big possibilities. Imagine the possibilities when topics like kindness, trust, love, and friendship become the core of the curriculum? That’s the BIG IDEA!

According to MacNaughton (2009) BIG IDEAS are linked to possibilities for a better world. BIG IDEAS expand the thinking and knowledge of children and lead to improved practice for educators. Rather than take the easy route of recording what children are saying or doing, BIG IDEAS ask us to interpret what they are learning or thinking. When we take the time to observe, document and interpret children’s play to look for the learning that should stick we are on our way to the BIG IDEAS.  Cognitive knots or sticky points are moments of disequilibrium where possibilities for BIG IDEAS are born. “They can produce interactions that are constructive not only for socializing but also for constructing new knowledge” (Edwards, 1998, p. 187). Chaille (2008) suggests that a big idea is the overarching concept that unifies, inspires, and resonates with children. It is an idea that is rich with possibilities.

BIG IDEAS support thinking and learning. BIG IDEAS are rich and valuable. BIG IDEAS cross all curriculum domains. BIG IDEAS help children make connections in ways that make sense to them. BIG IDEAS support responsive and intentional planning. No wonder, BIG IDEAS are so big. In searching online for BIG IDEAS in early childhood education, I came across this rich and valuable resource that references Loris Malaguzzi’s thoughts on ideas.

Light exploration leads to BIG IDEAS where children can be theory builders working through cognitive knots together with others. Connection is the BIG IDEA. Connections made to other children while pursuing investigation into light supported by teachers is what is important. Light sparks connection. Imagine how children would respond to this intentionally offered invitation to explore light offered by my friends at the Seneca College, Labschool.

BIG IDEAS offer possibilities for reflection. So, what is the BIG IDEA in this blog post? It is for you, the reader to consider your role in the pursuit of BIG IDEAS in early childhood education. Is it the teacher’s role to notice knots and bring them centre stage as Edwards (1998) suggests? What comes next once we notice knots? Is this where intentionally provide invitations are offered to provoke ideas that will stick? In pursuit of sticky points, we can search for the BIG IDEAS as they make a difference. These are the ideas that we want children to stick to. In the spirit of my soon to be published book, with Redleaf Press, tentatively titled Cultivating Professional Friendships in Early Childhood Education, I wonder what possibilities for reflection, a professional dialogue about BIG IDEAS would spark? What is the BIG IDEA about BIG IDEAS?

2 thoughts on “What’s the BIG IDEA? Children’s Interests that Make a Difference

  1. Thank you for posting about the concept of big ideas. Somewhere along the way it has been my observation that big ideas are loosing traction in the teaching world. There seems to have been a not so subtle shift to curriculum attainment problems including loss of learning leading to learning recovery. I wonder if curriculum in terms of pedagogy has been decentralized from teaching and learning to problem solving.


  2. Pingback: Cultivating Capacity to Contemplate Complex Concepts | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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