When Children Uncover the Learning

There is a teacher term, ‘Emergent Curriculum’, which simply means that a teacher pays attention and follows the interests of children in order for real learning to happen.  It means stopping to listen to what children have to say, and answering their questions. When the questions become abundant or when a child discovers something, then it is time to change horses.  Climb off that teacher saddle and find a new one, because the children are now driving the horse.

That’s exactly what happened this week.

We walked up to the big hill to sing songs.  It was a long walk to get to the top of the hill.  Suddenly, children saw hundreds of dandelions, the bright yellow flowers, and also the dandelions in seed.  We picked flowers!

Music could wait.

Children blew dandelion seeds over and over again.  Big breath in, and blow hard!  This is not easy to do.  Do you know that blowing is excellent for oral muscle development?  The children didn’t know. They just had fun trying so hard to blow those seeds.

Music could wait.

Just when we were ready to sing, a red leaf landed on my head!  Wait, the tree had green leaves.  We looked up, and sure enough there was one clump of red leaves.  Well, we immediately went on a red leaf hunt.

Music could wait.

At last we enjoyed music and dancing and moving.  The great outdoors made it all the better, in a field of dandelions and fallen red leaves.

We brought the red leaves into the classroom and made an impromptu science table with magnifying glasses for children to explore the leaves.  This was an important follow through to discovering the red leaves.

Thank goodness I stopped when children saw dandelions on that hill.  Lessons and learning are far better ‘in the heat of the moment’.  We talked about wind and seeds.  We watched what direction the seeds were flying.  We speculated where they would go.

None of this wonderful discovery would have happened if I had been focused on music and ‘tuned out’ what children were seeing.  Emergent curriculum is one of the best things that has happened in education.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
This entry was posted in Early Education, Inspiration, music, Nature, preschool, Teaching young children, wonder and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

80 Responses to When Children Uncover the Learning

  1. Norah says:

    Brilliant, Jennie. I totally agree. Seize the moments.

  2. beetleypete says:

    Excellent! They carried on learning, whatever the original intention.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. Loewef says:

    Really excellent post, and true for nearly all students and teachers in life’s grand classroom. Thank you for sharing.

  4. It is years since I was in a classroom but I still remember times when I could take the children into the park to identify trees. I’m not sure it is allowed any more. the curriculum here is so tight. It’s all about plans and outcomes, nothing spontaneous. If I went back, just to hear reading I don’t think I would like it. I do enjoy a little bit of freedom. Never mind, I’m writing a story for children instead.
    We should look forward, not back and just hope that things will get better.

    • Jennie says:

      Beautiful words, Julie. Thank thank goodness I teach preschool where the wonders of nature are exciting for children, and they are eager to learn and explore. I feel sorry for the kindergarteners that sit and sit in a classroom. It’s just not right. Yes, we should look forward, with hope.

  5. quiall says:

    When a child become curious, enthusiastic, they truly start to learn. It is a wise teacher that learns that.

  6. here you show how to let kids be kids and the importance of play for learning. you didn’t teach, you guided and I’d much rather be seen as a facilitor who show the importance of inquiry in learning than one who is seen as all knowing!

    on a side note… I saw an fall activity that you might like to do with your kiddos. they used a venn diagram with leaves for this they put the red leaves in one side, the yellow in the other and orange in the middle…

  7. Dan Antion says:

    I think the reason you’re such a good teacher is that you remember what it’s like to be a child, to be in the moment. It’s wonderful that you support that curiosity in their lives. The world will put the brakes on soon enough.

  8. A lovely post, Jennie. Fun for everyone. You could have done leaf rubbings.

  9. Such a beautiful and wonderful post, Jennie. Nice to see such cute pictures of children running around.

  10. Ahhhhh! The teachable moment. Perfect, Jennie!

  11. Darlene says:

    I so agree. We need to be aware of those teachable moments, even as parents and grandparents. I love the idea of the children driving the horse. What a great day you had!

  12. Ritu says:

    An emergency curriculum is the best way to see real learning 🥰

  13. What a wonderful opportunity to learn something amazing about the flowers, and leaves! You’re the best, Jennie!

  14. Cheers to seizing the moment! ❤ xo

  15. Reminds me of what fun it was to ‘be a Mom’ during kiddos growing up years plus as a Mom volunteer in theirs and others classes. To think you get to do this!

  16. Elizabeth says:

    It’s funny that a new phrase had to be coined for a very traditional way of engaging with kids. It shows you how far education had gotten from being kid centered.

    • Jennie says:

      Well said, Elizabeth. I still have many parents who think it’s all about teaching the ABC’s. That has been a driving force over the years to push for testing and more testing in schools. We’re turning kids into robots. It’s sad.

      • Elizabeth says:

        And then we wonder why they can’t think critically!

      • Jennie says:

        That is a better word than you may realize. The best presenter for preschool teachers was Bev Bos. She understood children and what they needed. I will never forget her telling teachers at a conference that what we lack are developing ‘critical, divergent thinkers’. That phrase has never left me, because she was right. She talked about the astronauts who landed on the moon, and how they had to make tough decisions on the spot. She related this back to preschool and what we need to do to develop critical, divergent thinkers. I work hard to do that.

      • Elizabeth says:

        My friend who teaches Montessori said the same about Bev Bos. Divergent thinkers sure are the opposite of either/or thinkers aren’t they.

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, they are! Good to hear your friend knows Bev Bos. She was the guru.

  17. I love how you teach. But you know that. I had fun watching those children and feeling their excitement over simple things.

  18. petespringerauthor says:

    Another brilliant lesson, Jennie. I understand why teachers write lesson plans (It’s nice to have a road map), but by Monday afternoon, it had always changed. Kids drive the curriculum—not teachers.

  19. TanGental says:

    Ah indeed the surprise of the new and the joy of the refound. Whatever age, there’s fun in finding the inner life of the familiar.

  20. This is wonderful. It shows that you always pick up the children where they are in terms of feeling. Even in times of mask duty, the lungs are trained. Michael

  21. frenchc1955 says:

    Hi Jennie, and thank you for another wonderful post and a brilliant lesson for all teachers!

  22. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is another wonderful blogpost from the extraordinary teacher, Jennie!

  23. I would love to see you write a book especially for new and aspiring teachers….You have such a resonance with the spirit of the job…You are just the kind of person a reinvented education industry needs, and the kind of authority I would seek out if teaching young children had been my passion. (Just sayin’) 🙂

  24. Pingback: Puttin’ On the Ritz – SoCS – No Facilities

  25. The children remind me of puppies. Lol. Distracted by new adventures! How wonderful to go with the flow and take advantage of their natural curiosity. And how lovely to be outside as long as possible. Wonderful post, Jennie. 🙂

  26. Chitranshisharma says:

    Nice 😊

  27. krish says:

    Learning is best carried out when both the learners and teacher are in sync and nothing better than learning in the natural environment ..and shifting the onus of learning to the students and the teacher just facilitating the process and satisfying their curiousity..

  28. aksbookclub says:

    Those kids are surely lucky to have a teacher like you.❤🕊

  29. dgkaye says:

    Absolutely the best way to let them explore and be children. Beautiful as always Jennie ❤

  30. Absolutely, more so when they were out, it is mainly their area of dominance in the energy works. My school children even though they have a small place but its always exciting how thet discover things to play with day after day. Thanks for sharing Jennie.

    Nara x

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