ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.
Emergent curriculum is a method of planning and curriculum decision making used readily across the sector. It describes curriculum that is responsive to children’s interests, and is meaningful, relevant and engaging for each child.
Yet, the pedagogical intentions of the approach are often misunderstood or misrepresented. A current myth is that planning isn’t required and programs emerge solely from children’s interests. This is not the intention of the emergent curriculum.
Planning for children’s learning
- has a strong theoretical background
- is inquiry and play-based
- is responsive to children’s interests, strengths and aspirations.
This approach allows educators to respond to observations of children, build upon their strengths and scaffold their learning. It requires professional knowledge, planning for learning, and a focus on progressing each child’s learning and development towards the learning outcomes.
Educators working within the emergent curriculum, endeavour to build on children’s prior learning and current interests, and provoke new ideas and learning opportunities that challenge and extend children’s existing understandings about the world.
Planned learning programs are flexible and responsive to the spontaneous and emerging interests of children and serve to seize key ‘teachable moments’.
Informing decision making
Emergent curriculum can initially come from a range of sources including:
- children’s interests and current knowledge
- educators’ interests
- the physical environment
- the social environment
- values held in the education and care context (school, community, cultural group).
Elizabeth Jones is an American educator who has written widely on emergent based curriculum and suggests:
“We are the stage directors; curriculum is the teacher’s responsibility, not children’s. People who hear the words emergent curriculum may wrongly assume that everything emerges simply from the child. The children’s ideas are an important source of the curriculum but only one of many possible sources that reflect the complex ecology of their lives” (Jones and Nimmo 1994, p.5).
Emergent curriculum identifies the need to include child led learning, coupled with educator-supported learning opportunities. Curriculum is viewed as a ‘child-initiated and educator framed’ process, a negotiated and co-constructed process in which educators and children have a voice.
Emergent curriculum is not an unplanned process but very much intentional in its nature. Intentional teaching and curriculum decision making are often seen as at odds with a child-centred, play based approach. This is another myth to debunk.
Intentional teaching can be responsive to both children and the learning outcomes identified in the approved learning frameworks.
The term ‘intentional teaching’ is not used to describe a formal or structured approach to teaching. It is used to describe teaching that is purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate.
When we look at the practice of intentional teaching through this lens, we can see how it compliments rather than contradicts the emergent approach to curriculum decision making. Intentional teaching offers a rich opportunity to actively promote children’s learning and knowledge building.
Approved learning frameworks
The approved learning frameworks and National Quality Standard do not prescribe how educators should plan for children’s learning, as the context and setting of the service will guide each service’s approach. Services may use a variety of approaches, such as emergent curriculum, to inform their curriculum decision making.
When planning it is important to consider the key elements of the approved learning frameworks, including the belonging, being and becoming, principles, practices and learning outcomes (Early Years Learning Framework, p.10 Framework for School Age Care p.9).
Use the following questions to prompt further professional discussion at your service.
– How does this information fit with your view of emergent curriculum?
– How do you incorporate intentional teaching while planning from children’s ideas or interests?
– How do you use children’s voices to promote the learning outcomes?
– How will you use the approved learning frameworks to strengthen your pedagogical beliefs and develop a spirit of enquiry about what you do and why?
See also Early Years Learning Framework, p.38
Further reading and resources
Understanding emergent curriculum in practice
Thinking Big Extending Emergent Curriculum Projects
Educators’ Guide: My Time Our Place
Educators’ Guide: Early Years Learning Framework