Building on Children’s Interests
During outdoor playtime four-year-old Angela discovers a loose metal nut about half an inch in diameter. She shows the nut to her teacher. Angela: Look what I found. It looks just like the big one on our workbench. Teacher: Yes, it sure does, Angela. It’s called a nut. Angela: I wonder where it came from. Teacher: Where do you thinkit may have come from? Angela: Well, actually it is the same as the ones in the workbench inside. Teacher: This nut looks very similar to the nuts and bolts inside. I think this nut might be bigger than the nuts and bolts we have inside. Angela: Maybe it came off of something out here. Teacher: What do you think it is from? Angela: Umm, I don’t know—something out here. Teacher: Maybe you shouldcheck. Angela: Okay. Holding the nut tight in her fist, Angela walks around, stopping to examine the play equipment, the tables, the parked trikes, and anything else she thinks might have a missing nut. She can find only bolts with nuts on the trikes. She spies a large Stop sign, puts her special treasure in her pocket so other children cannot see it, and sets up a roadblock for the busy trike ridersso she can check the nuts and bolts on their trikes. Edmund stops and asks her what she is doing, and she explains. Edmund says he needs to see the nut. When Angela shows it to him, he gets off his trike and starts helping her inspect the other trikes. They eventually find the one that is missing the nut. Other children, curious, crowd around.
INCIDENTS SUCH AS THIS AREHilary Jo Seitz, PhD, is an assistant professor at University of Alaska, Anchorage. She has worked in early childhood settings for the past 18 years as a teacher, administrator, and instructor.
in early childhood settings, teachers may not listen for them, seize upon them, and build on them. When teachers do pay attention, these authentic events can spark emergent curriculum that builds onchildren’s interests. This kind of curriculum is different from a preplanned, “canned” thematic curriculum model. In emergent, or negotiated, curriculum, the child’s interest becomes the key focus and the child has various motivations for learning (Jones & Nimmo 1994). The motivations are intrinsic, from Illustrations © Marti Betz. Photos above © Kathy Sible. deep within, meaningful and compelling to thechild. As such, the experience is authentic and ultimately very powerful. This article outlines a plan that teachers, children, and families can easily initiate and follow to build on children’s interests. It is a process of learning about what a child or a class is interested in and then planning a positive authentic learning experience around and beyond that interest. Teachers, children, andparents alike are the researchers in this process. All continuously observe and document the process and review the documentation to construct meaning (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman 1998). Documentation is the product that is collected by the researchers. It may include work samples, children’s photos, children’s dialogues, and the teacher’s written interpretations.
Beyond the Journal • YoungChildren on the Web • March 2006
“The Plan,” as it became known in my classroom, is a simple four-step process of investigation, circular in nature and often evolving or spinning off into new investigations. (See diagram below.) The Plan consists of 1. Sparks (provocations)—Identify emerging ideas, look at children’s interests, hold conversations, and provideexperiences. Document the possibilities. 2. Conversations—Have conversations with interested participants (teachers, children, and parents), ask questions, document conversations through video recordings, tape recordings, teacher/parent dictation, or other ways. Ask “What do we already know? What do we wonder about? How can we learn more? What is the plan?”
Step 1: Sparks
Sparks can be things,...