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The Project Approach, Thematic Planning, and Emergent Curriculum

Updated on August 7, 2011

When creating lesson plans for your classroom there is a lot that needs to be thought about before you can start.  It needs to be based on the children in your class, and it needs to be relevant and all tied together.  One day you cannot be talking about frogs and the next day volcanoes.   There needs to be a connection.  There needs to be interest, age appropriate, you need the proper resources.  It is not an easy task.  It needs to be well thought out and planned.  When you walk into a classroom you will see many different techniques.  Three techniques that are good approaches to take in your classroom are the project approach, thematic planning, and the emergent curriculum.  Each is different, yet similar.  Each have there benefits in the classroom.  Personally I feel that a combination of three is beneficial to your student’s.

                The project approach is a good curriculum approach, because it really involves the children in the work they are doing.  It is something the children already have an understanding of like shoes, or grocery stores.  When planning according to the project approach you want to base the subject on something the children show and interest in, a theme that is a curriculum requirement, something that you have the resources for near-by, and a value of topic for children’s learning.  You want a lot of first hand experiences while using the project approach.  It may not be the best idea to do an ocean theme if you do not live by the ocean.  If you could look at tide pools with your class it would be a good theme but were we live it is almost impossible for children to get that first hand experience.   There are three phases in the project approach.  The first phase is discussing what the children already know and sharing it with one another.  Together they formulate questions that they might like to answer.  Putting together a web of vocabulary and terms that the children say is a great way for the children to see what they already know and think about what they want to know visually.  Phase two is when the teacher arranges first hand observation, exploration, field work, and the chance to meet experts.  Children are able to ask questions and formulate new questions.  The teacher should also put out books and research materials for the children to explore.  This is why the proper resources are needed.  You need something that is relatively close to home.   Phase three is when the children share what they have learned.  With parents, other classes, other teacher, ect.   The teacher’s role is to help choose the material to share, to review the whole project, and to personalize what the children have learned by putting it into art, stories, and drama.  The benefit of using the project approach is that it is usually a longer project lasting several weeks, resulting in deeper understanding.  It is based on the children’s interest, making the children self-motivated to learn.   You are able to involve many different curriculum area’s, children observe, record, research, and ask questions to find answer’s to their own questions.

                Thematic planning is also a great way to plan the curriculum for your classroom.   When choosing a theme you want to make sure it covers many different curriculum areas.  You want to make it relevant and a topic of interest for that individual group of children.  You want it to be hands on and have first hand experiences; you need the proper resources, and have potential for project work if children show interest.  First you want think of the main ideas, then create a web, think of your resources, and list the main terms, principles and vocabulary you want the children to learn.  Then you want to create a plan.  Depending on the depth of the theme you may want it to last a week a few days or maybe several weeks.  Then you want to create a semantic map making sure to cover the key areas of learning and development:  Center based activities such as math, science, language, arts, dramatic play, child initiated activities, and child directed, there is also small group, and large group that needs to be planned.    The benefits of thematic planning are that it gives the child a whole understanding of a topic, it engages multiple intelligences,  it keeps the curriculum varied, and it foster’s group cohesiveness.

                Last but not least there is the Emergent Curriculum.  The emergent curriculum is based on the child’s interest, what is going on in the classroom (Billy broke his leg, children want to know more), Issues in a child’s life (divorce, death of a pet…      ), builds on experience within classroom, and community, teachers interests, as well as living together (dealing with conflict, routines).  Any topic you choose can integrate language arts, art, motor skills, cooperative learning and responsibility.  This curriculum planning is based on what is going on in the classroom.  You still have to plan but you do not introduce it to the children the children introduce it to you.  The benefit of the emergent curriculum is that it is socially relevant, intellectually engaging, and personally meaningful.

                Personally I believe that each curriculum approach has its benefits and it down falls.  The project approach, thematic planning, and emergent curriculum are all great ways to get children excited about learning and exploring their environment.

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