Thursday, July 14, 2011

Engaging Children's Minds: The Project Approach Day 1

I am currently attending Engaging Children’s Minds: The Project Approach with Dr. Lillian Katz and Dr. Sylvia Chard.  

Today I asked Lillian to explain the difference between Emergent Curriculum and the Project Approach.  It was not an easily answered question.
First I was surprised that she didn’t have strong feelings about Emergent Curriculum or react as if she had heard this question a million times before.  I would have thought this question would come up often.

I am still trying to formulate my take on the explanations she and Sylvia gave, but I believe the gist of it is that Emergent Curriculum follows the lead and interests of the children, but on a more surface level.  The Project Approach takes an interest of the children OR of the adult who has made it engaging for the children and then investigates it at a much deeper level.  The children are much more responsible for conducting the investigations not just participating in activities related to this area of interest. 

In thinking about what I do in my classroom, I believe I am doing a hybrid or rather a combination of the two.  My classes and I participate in in-depth investigations of topics and participate in the three phases of the project.  At the same time, I create learning centers that relate to the investigation we are attempting. 

What I have not done, is chose the project for my students, which she describes as perfectly acceptable.  She explained that sometimes children are not interested in something because they haven’t been exposed to opportunities to even know about it in the past.  If it will expose them to something new, fitting in the guidelines of topic selections for projects: real, meaningful and relevant, than it has merit. 

I so want a one-one session with these two women to describe what I am doing in my classroom and have them help me define it.  Then, again, why do I have to have a clear definition of one or the other? This hybrid is working and working very well.  Would it be better more clearly delineated?  Do we ever actually only teach one way?

These are the questions I am wrestling with among many others at the close of day one. I am looking forward to simulating the approach starting tomorrow as we will be studying our own projects in groups and going through each phase.
A few women I have met today and I are thinking of investigating the water features in the hotel; the fountain in the lobby, the pool and yes, the hot tub.  We will need to do a lot of research!

I am interested in engaging in this discussion, so I would love to hear your thoughts.  


  1. I love your project ideas :) I think what you point out about the answer illustrates how it can sometimes be a challenge to define and justify project work to others. I also took a project workshop in which Dr. Lillian Katz and Dr. Sylvia Chard presented. I teach children with special needs only...this may not be "ideal" (we do a great deal of integration and spend a large amount of time with peers though!) but I was disappointed when the only answer I got about attempting project work (at a more basic level- more typical of a toddler project- which I know has been done) is that it couldn't be done with my group since all the children have special needs. Now this answer did NOT directly come from Lillian Katz or Sylvia Chard, but the other presenters as we broke off in groups. I'm kicking myself now for not asking more questions directly related to project work with children with special needs (and significant language and learning delays)- and for not asking these questions in the larger group! So, I'm right there with ya' wrestling with more questions than answers! Maybe we can corner them and insist on having them personally mentor us! LOL...

  2. I am so glad I found your blog! I am a preschool teacher that uses the Project Approach as well! I recently attended trainings with Judy Harris Helms. I learned so much from her!

  3. Hello Dana
    Sounds like you are at the cross-roads that so many of us get tangled in - trying to determine if project based work or emergent curriculum is the base of our classroom pedagogy. As you noted, it doesn't seem that you have to be exclusively of one or the other, or even know the 'exact' differences. If you are coming from a lens by which inquiry is how you relate with students, then it seems that you are making YOUR classroom work exactly as it should.
    I agree with you: I don't think we ever teach ONE way. As a 20 year constructivist educator, I have studied RE, project method, emergent curriculum, High/Scope...and use elements of all of them in my daily explorations with children.
    For me, the term INQUIRY connects them all together and keeps the image of the child as the meaning maker at the forefront. So, whether the children have instigated a study, or if I have introduced a focus, or if we are doing a skill-based exploration with pens - the open-ended model of inquiry always works for me.
    Hope the workshop continues to offer quality reflection!

  4. My google search "project approach VS emergent curriculum" did not yield much insight, but I was impressed that the 4th choice on the search was this blogpost!