How to Use Emergent Curriculum with Toddlers
When we left the fire station it was clear our twins were fascinated. They chatted all the way home and all afternoon about what we had seen and done. They were running around the house putting out imaginary fires and asking me questions about fire trucks.
It was obvious that a new interest was emerging.
What do you do when that happens with a toddler? Obviously you can't have the extensive conversation you could with an older child, but you can still build a project around their interests.
affiliate links are included below.
I have read extensively about Reggio Emilia and Project Approach. However, both in my work before having children and with our twins, I have worked with very young children. Much of what is written about following the interests of children on the other hand is geared towards preschoolers and above.
Now I understand that more children enter a formal setting around 3 or 4 and I also understand that toddlers are interested in the world, everything in the world. They flit from thing to thing rapidly. In our case, our twins flit rapidly from thing to thing in different directions so that I start to feel like my head might literally spin off.
HOWEVER...toddlers have interests.
My son was interested in trains almost constantly for his first 3 years. Although he temporarily directed his attention towards fire fighters, trains was an interest that stuck for a long time. He is now five and still pulls out his trains and train books sometimes. A lifelong interest that developed before 2.
I think the hardest part with toddlers is trying to figure out which interest you should grab onto and help them probe deeper. Sometimes this is obvious (trains) sometimes it is not (rocks). Some interests will putter out in a day or two, some will last for weeks and months.
It gets easier with practice.
Two things to consider when choosing an interest to pursue.
Is this something that you could pursue in depth with a toddler? Something that you have the ability to see first hand? That offers a depth of vocabulary and ideas to learn about?
Do they go to the zoo and get excited about monkeys but then never mention them again? Or do they like the monkeys at the zoo, on their blanket, and in a book? Does the interest seem to appear in different places and without prompting?
Once you notice an interest, here are the 5 main things I start brainstorming:
Where can you go to see, feel, touch, experience the interest. Peruse our places section for some ideas.
Request a stack of books from the library also have your child ask the librarian for ideas.
Similar to field trips, but what real examples can you go to or bring into your environment? For example, during our Firefighter Project we walked to the fire hydrants on our block to look at them up close.
Toddlers are in the sensory stage where they need to get their hands on a topic. Consider all 5 senses. What can they see, hear, touch, taste, smell? What about this topic's sensory properties may have grabbed their attention? How can you expand on that? Can clay or other sensory materials be incorporated into their learning?
How can they learn about this through pretend? Can they dress up like it? Can they engage with a miniature version?
I have the resources below on hand and then help me think of ideas when I get stuck. There's also always Pinterest.
On Pinterest, you can obviously type in a couple keywords (like Firefighters Toddlers) and browse, but I also keep a running board of fun ideas for toddlers. When I am brainstorming I often go through it and see what sticks out. Often an idea that worked for one interest and sounds like a good fit for my kids can also be adapted to work with their current interest.
Most Helpful Books:
This one is a beautiful introduction to art with young children. It covers the basics of teaching your children how to use simple art materials. I also use it as a reminder of the art options for young kids.
I used this book constantly when my kids were infants and toddlers. It has tons of ideas for materials to use with young kids. It always gets my wheels spinning.
This is the basics of project based homeschool. It is geared towards older kids but I still find it useful in thinking about our process.
If your projects lean more towards the Reggio approach, then this is a must have. It walks through the process of emergent curriculum in the Italian way and is again useful when I'm thinking about the process. Questions to ask, ways of presenting ideas, etc.
If you want more, here is a full list of my favorite books for inspiring homeschooling practices.
Keep these ideas in the back of your mind. Then start with gathering books and putting 1 or 2 things in the environment to see how they respond.
Lay out a simple sensory clay invitation or water experience.
Put some play props on the shelf. Watch how they play with the materials, ask them questions, or listen to conversations they have with peers or siblings.
Read books and listen to their questions.
Use the observations and questions to direct where you go next. Toddlers might need a little more prompting than preschoolers, but generally they know what is interesting to them even if they can't make a KWL (Know, What to Know, Learned) chart with you yet.
For instance, from my observations on the topic of fire fighters after our trip to the station I learned that:
*My son was most interested in the hoses and how the water is involved.
*My daughter was most interested in the fire fighters themselves. Where they ride in the truck, how they save people, etc.
See Recommended Resources Above
Click the image below to learn more about our guide for learning with toddlers.
comments powered by Disqus