Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Next?

One of the most difficult parts of the process of emergent curriculum is often getting started.

During the past couple of years that I have been exploring this with my students, we have seemed to flow from one topic to the next. As the interest in one topic waned, the excitement in another area seemed to develop just as intensely and we’d be off on our new adventure.

Of course, now that I have decided to write about these endeavors, this is not the case in my classroom.

A few weeks ago we finished an amazing exploration of the Polar Regions. It came to a close just before our February break. Usually we would have talked about where we were headed next, what we were interested in, and started to formulate some questions. I would have been able to have the classroom ready with books and some activities to spark these interests upon their return.

We had been watching a few children acting out fairytales out on the playground, under the strict leadership of one of the children. So we were thinking that they might be interested in fairytales, or drama-putting on a play, but the interest in that seemed to have ended.

We had a couple of boys who liked to yell, “Tornado!” and throw all the pretend food and dishes in the air and run across the classroom spinning. We briefly thought about a weather study, but after spending time trying to find these boys some more constructive uses of their energies inside, and the tornado game not catching on, that idea, also passed.

I find that once you’ve been doing emergent curriculum for a bit, the parents get excited and start offering suggestions. Towards the end of the Polar Study, they’d pop in and ask what we’d be doing next. My reply was always, “I don’t know yet, I am watching the children to see where they’ll take us next.” Then they’d start offering ideas. “The Olympics would be really cool.”

So I would take this time to explain how we figure out what direction to go in next by observing and listening to the children. Some parents did understand it better and would say, “My son has been asking me a lot of questions about weather lately and telling me about how it feels outside. Maybe you guys should study the weather.” This child should definitely learn more about the weather, but is a good part of our class interested? A tornado is weather…..

So what did I do? The past few weeks I have been putting out a variety of materials to spark interests. Magnets, puppets, play dough, all new books that vary from fairytales to number books to pirate ships, really freshened and opened up all of the centers for free exploration with new materials added here and there for interest.

It does pose the question. Do I need a new emergent topic? The classroom is a buzz of activity; the children are engaged and intrigued by the various materials and manipulatives. There are what I call “light bulb moments” happening with the children¬-when something clicks within them and they get a particular skill or concept.

But something does seem to be missing. And perhaps only the adults miss it. So, I watch and I listen and I reflect. The children are still teaching me-what is it I will learn from this?

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