Tag Archives: Emergent Curriculum


It was about 10 years ago when ‘The Llama Thing’ started.  On my ‘old website’ I had written a bit about the children’s interest in llamas, this is an excerpt;

At one time the school age children I had in care became obsessed with llamas.   Originally I think they just liked the way the word “llama” sounded and they liked to say it over and over.  We started collecting pictures of llamas to display around the house.  The children searched the internet and books for information on llamas – where they came from, what they eat, and how to care for them.  They found sites where you could purchase llamas and decided they wanted a llama for a pet.  When I pointed out that we couldn’t keep a llama in the city they wanted to know “why” and set out to find the answer. 

They used their new found knowledge and imaginations to write stories about and build models of “Llamaland”.  They played indoor & outdoor llama games like “Llamas From Space” and “Spy Llama”.

The preschool children never really caught on to the llama thing but because one of our llama poems included other animals too, the younger children developed an interest in rabbits.  We read rabbit books and made rabbit crafts. I set out pop-up houses and tunnels and they spent hours every day hopping about building burrows and dens.   They all became carrot lovers — kids may hate vegetables but rabbits love them!

The llama obsession lasted about two months – I call it an obsession because during that time my school-age children had ZERO other interests.  Some of the parents lamented “When will this llama thing end?”  Listening to the never-ending Llama Song may not or may not have helped depending on which side of the llama fence you were on.

The llama obsession did eventually end but this particular group of children (and I) continued to love llamas.  Years later there was a brief llama resurgence when a new group of children discovered the llama books by Anna Dewdney.  However, this group of children didn’t have much interest in llamas beyond the books.  I still find llamas fascinating and continue to seek out llama stuff.

I was thrilled to discover that Folkmanis had alpaca puppets – they may consider them to be alpacas but for us they are llamas because alpaca is not nearly as fun to say.  🙂 I have bought both the stage puppet (this one does look more like an alpaca) and the hand puppet (definitely a llama).

The children have named the hand puppet ‘Mortimer’ but rarely use his name because ‘llama’ is so much more fun to say.  The stage puppet is larger so therefore always just gets called ‘Mama llama’.  Once, just once, I played the Llama Song video while the children were waiting for lunch to get dished up.  Yes, I can see that becoming an addiction very quickly with this group too.  I think we’ll stick to the puppets and books instead.


Remember When…

Friday was an inservice day so the school-age children were here for the whole day.  I decided it might be a good day to bring out ‘the bin’.

I had filled the bin months ago when I collected some of the leftovers from the garden.  I had intended to use it as a sensory bin for the toddlers.  Now, with a good layer of snow on the ground I thought the bin might also assist the older children to remember our past gardening adventures.

As the children gathered at the table in the sunroom I opened the bin – the aroma was amazing;


MMmmm, sweetgrass smells so wonderful.  There were other things in the bin too but the scent of the herbs was overpowered by the sweetgrass.  The children spent some time exploring the items and were able to identify both the wheat and the oats;


They selected items they wanted to include in a little sachet to take home.  They cut up the bigger pieces to fit;


And created their own sweet smelling little bundle;


The sunlight streaming through the sunroom window was so bright one of the children wished he had sunglasses – and suggested that we could use the craft supplies on the table to make some.  Good idea 🙂

He selected items from the craft bin that could be used to make sunglasses – egg carton pieces and colored transparent film.  Then the construction began;


As I assisted a toddler to put glue on the front of the egg carton the older child suggested it might be better to glue the film onto the inside of the egg carton – good idea.


He also suggested that if we attached a stick on the side of the glasses they would be easier to hold instead of trying to tie a string around your head – so creative.  The finished products may not have worked as well as we would have liked but the process was amazing to watch.

Do you remember when the product was your major concern and ‘I can’t’ was a common complaint?  I do.

Pumpkin Pie

Early last week I cut our pumpkin in half and let the children remove the seeds and stringy inards;

I asked if any of them had ever tried roasted pumpkin seeds and if they would like to make some.  They were excited and then one of them eagerly announced that we would also be making some pumkin pie. Hmmm, I hadn’t planned on that.

We discussed the steps involved in making pumpkin pie and the children thought that it would take a very long time but they still wanted to try.  The first day though we just took out the seeds and roasted them;

We ate them for afternoon snack when the older children were back from school.  That evening I steamed the pumkin so the following day the children could work on preparing the pie filling.

They mashed the cooked pumkin;

then added some milk, eggs, and spices;

Eventually we had our finished product;

What a delicious end to a three day project.  We also have enough pumpkin puree in the freezer for future projects too 🙂


It started as a competition.  The school-age children were making pyramids with blocks.  The five of them were each building their own structure and they began bickering and complaining that there were not going to be enough blocks.

The arguing began to escalate and then one of the children suggested that they should combine all the blocks and work  together.  A few minutes later they announced that they had made a ‘tree’;

Later in the day, during quiet time there was another tree;

I was informed that this one was from ‘The Lorax’.  A detailed description and re-enactment of the story followed.

All this tree talk reminded me of the funky yellow thing we found at the park this past summer – I assumed it was some typed of fungi. It was growning on a tree and the children were fascinated;

Yesterday at circle time we looked at the trees in the nature guide, discussed their simalarities and differences and picked our favourites;

Then I read ‘Signs Along the River‘ by Kayo Robertson.  The children were getting restless so we went outside to run around and of course look at trees;

Later we looked through the items in our nature treasure box;

And sorted the items into two groups – ‘Parts of trees’ and ‘Not from trees’.

Trees (and children) are amazing.

Big Numbers

Last week, during a period of cooperative play in the block area, two boys became involved in an argument over numbers.  I’m not sure what they were initially counting – if anything – but when I observed them they were simply spewing out random numbers and insisting that their ‘number’ was bigger than their opponent’s number.

First the six year old would shout “One hundred forty three six” and then the seven year old would reply “Fourteen hundred seventeen eighty”.  After several turns back and forth they realized that neither of them knew which of their numbers was the largest so they asked me.

I picked up a scrap piece of paper and as I repeated the numbers they had said, adding when necessary, I consolidated them into a single number and wrote it on the paper.  Their ‘one hundred forty three six’ I wrote as 149 and the ‘fourteen hundred seventeen eighty’ became 1,497.  They excitedly listed more numbers and I continued to write them down – I needed a bigger paper.

I chose a long piece of paper and as I wrote their numbers down I put the larger numbers higher on the paper.  I also lined up the digits into columns so they could see the placement.  They were starting to catch on and when one said “one hundred and a thousand and four” (1,104) the other one would follow with “one thousand and two hundred and five” (1,205).

Then one grinned and said “Twelve thousand” which I promptly wrote way above the other numbers.  The second child thought for a minute and then said “twelve thousand and one”.   The numbers continued until the page was nearly full and the children tired of the activity.

Then, on Monday morning the seven year old tried to explain the game to the other two school-age children who only attend before school and had not been here when this game was first played. They all agreed that this was an excellent activity for 6:40am on a Monday.  I got my pen and paper — and another cup of coffee.

The girl was the youngest of the three children – she started the game with the number ‘20’.  After six turns she reached ‘900’.  The seven year old who started this game began where he left off last week – he said ’12,512’.  The nine-year-old grasped the concept immediately and said ‘one million’.  The six-year-old answered with ‘one hundred million’ which was followed by ‘one trillion’, ‘a googol’, and then ‘a googol and one’.

The oldest child said that was almost as many people as there are in the world.  I said I didn’t think there were that many people but we could find out – so I Googled (ironic) ‘world population’ and we checked out this site.  Then we went to this very interesting site to learn where each of us placed in the world.  Now they know my birthday and my age!  They also know there are twice as many people on the planet now than there were when I was born.

Every day this week we have spent the first hour of the morning exploring these big numbers.  Yesterday they wanted to know how many zeros ‘a gazillion’ had so we searched for the answer to that.  We found this site so ‘a centillion’  has become the new favourite number.  I didn’t want to write 600 zeros but the nine-year-old did…

I don’t have a lesson plan for today — we’ll have to see what their questions are.  I’m fairly certain there will be big numbers involved.

The Water Cycle

It is the middle of March and record breaking temperatures have melted all the snow in my yard.  Seriously, there is no snow at all – None!    Just look at this picture from the end of March last year.

Spring break 2011

Yesterday when I was in the yard I saw this;

Growing on the hill

There was no school on Friday so the children and I took advantage of the glorious weather and spent the majority of the day outdoors.  My teenage son joined us too – the children were excited.  Seeing all the gravel area completely free of snow they immediately asked him to help them dig a big hole – one of their favourite summertime activities.  He agreed;

The children watched.  I was a little puzzled.  Normally the children would be helping, I wondered why they were hesitant today.  Then one of the said to my son ‘Eww, look at all the dirt sticking to your hand’.  I brought this out to see if it would help;

It did, and suddenly everyone was digging, and washing their hands, and digging some more;

The hole was not getting very big though.  This is Manitoba after all.  Sure the warm temperatures had melted all the snow but that ground was frozen solid.  My son decided he needed his pick axe – one of his Christmas gifts from a few years ago.  Yes, we do buy gifts like that for him because we know he will use it responsibly – and he did.  First he made all the children move a safe distance away. Using the pick axe made digging very easy but there was a lot of flying debris so he switched to a heavy metal bar which was slower but easier to control.

He managed to create a medium sized hole in the gravel but the hole kept filling with water which made digging further very difficult.  The children discussed why the water kept filling the hole.  One of them suggested we needed a pump – but we didn’t have one.  They tried scooping the water out but more water filled the hole

Then someone commented that the hole looked like a lake – and someone else decided we needed a river.  They dug one but the water they put in it just soaked into the gravel without flowing the way they wanted so they did this;

Then they filled jars with water from the ‘lake’

And poured the water into the ‘river’;

They watched the water flow down the river and into the lake. Then they did it again and again.  One of the preschoolers announced that they had created ‘the Water Cycle’. The eight year old then explained that there was a real water cycle and narrated it as the others played.  ‘The jar is the cloud and it takes the water from the lake’

‘When it rains the water runs into the river and back down to the lake.’

It was their curriculum for the day.  They developed it and they understand it.  I love it.

Red Peppers, Tomatoes and Apples

It is quiet — I watch them play.  Indeed ‘quiet’ probably isn’t the best word to use since there is a lot of noise and movement in the play room.  The children are deeply engaged in activities of interest to them so by ‘quiet’ what I mean is they need very little from me.

Sometimes I feel like maybe I should be teaching something instead of just observing.  I have a list of planned activities that I could be doing with them.  I have boxes of stuff that I could bring out for them but they don’t need it.  They are busy, I check my email to distract myself and avoid interfering in their play.

Then I hear the question – actually first there was a correction as one child informed the other that he had made a mistake.

‘Those two don’t belong together’ he said.

‘They are red’ the other child replies as he takes the pieces apart and looks at them.

Together they spread out all the pieces and compare all the pieces.  ‘The bumps look different’ one says as they group the similar pieces together.

They combine the pairs to form all three toy fruits correctly.  Then the first child takes them apart again — one at a time to examine them more closely – like he’s not sure what the difference is.

I understand the problem – after all, these are just toys. Real fruit has more impact – it engages all the senses.  I disrupt their play and tell them to clean up for snack.  They wash up and arrive at the table to see this;

Which they quickly rearranged like this;

They were very excited.  They were also quick to point out that they don’t like tomatoes – except the green part on the top feels nice.

We examined the inside too – comparing real to imitation.  ‘The apple should be white inside’

I gave them each a bowl with some of each of the fruits and a plastic knife.  They both asked me to not give them any tomato but were reassured when I told them they didn’t have to eat it.  They practiced cutting bite size pieces.

And they both told me that red peppers are their favourite so I learned something new too.


Given the influx of tech gadgets books remain an integral part of child development. When I first opened my child care home we had about 200 books.  They were kept on shelves in the main play area where they were available for the children to read throughout the day.

Over the years our collection has grown and so has its need for space.  Considering how limited our space is finding an adequate location for the books has been a challenge.  Eventually I decided it was necessary to store the majority of the books and have just a small selection of books available at one time.

The predominant issue that this scenario posed was the time it took for me to choose which books to display.  Sometimes I would pick out all the books with a common theme like ‘dinosaurs’. We had a lot of dinosaur books and if I had them out then there wasn’t room for any other books so if you didn’t like dinosaurs there were no books for you to read.

Selecting books based on a theme was also a problem for emergent curriculum program since I sorted through and chose the books when the children were not here. Then when they arrived I’d discover that they had a totally different ‘theme’ in mind.

So a couple years ago I spent a weekend sorting and organizing all the books into twelve groups – one for each month. Holiday and seasonal themed books were grouped in their appropriate month.  The remaining books were distributed evenly among the months.  Each month contains a variety of books – fiction and resource, toddler to school-age, small and large, paperback and hardcover – something for everyone.

When not in use they are stored like this;

Looking up the stairs to the library loft you see a few of the books available;

Up in the loft there is space to relax alone or share a story with a few friends;

There are books outside of the loft too because we know that books are used often during dramatic play and other activities too. There is always a lot of excitement when the new books come out.  They bring back memories and ignite new interests.

It always makes me smile when the children hold their books like this;

Ensuring that everyone can see the pictures as you read the story to them and making story time a wonderful socially interactive experience.


Our stick bugs have begun laying eggs.

Our original stick bug – Twiggy – had died before ever laying eggs so this is a new experience for all of us.  Each new question the children come up with results in a trip to Google to find out.  I am definitely not a stick bug expert so I don’t know the answers either.

I’m amazed by the amount of stick insect info on the net and especially astounded by the number of youtube videos of hatching insects!  This has been an incredible learning experience for all of us.

The first important fact we’ve discovered is that it will be many months before they begin to hatch and some could take years.  This is a calming fact for me since my first reaction was mild panic as I envisioned a sudden stick bug population explosion.

The children however may loose interest quickly which is why I consider the internet to be such an important learning tool.  In true emergent curriculum fashion we can find the answers to our questions when the children are actively engaged in the activity instead of waiting for a trip to the library or a scheduled “insect theme” week.

So now the dilemma for me is what to do to keep the children engaged in learning with the ‘event’ so far away.  I could just wait, let the initial interest die off and them reignite it in a few months when (and if) hatching begins.

I could also guide the children towards another similar topic – but what?  The answer to that came from the five year old who asked ‘Why aren’t they white?”  After a brief discussion I discovered that he knew some eggs could be brown but most were white.  Up until now his only experience with eggs has been with the ones he’s seen in the grocery store or on the farm.

I quickly grabbed my bird book and we checked out the amazing variety of eggs. Now we have a topic.  Eggs.  Oh, the things we can do with eggs….

My mind is spinning with ideas.  It’s time to start an idea web about eggs.  This is emergent curriculum in action.


Lacing is an activity that the children enjoy and it is great for hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills. I’ve never purchased commercial lacing cards but over the years I’ve made a variety of different ones.  Most cardboard or paper ones don’t last long but they’re cheap and easy to make.

I have some plastic ones that I made from old lids that have lasted for many years and the children don’t seem to mind that they are all yellow circles.  There are some that I made from foam stars and cardboard tubes too.  During my recent sunroom reorganization I found some saved items that I had forgotten about and I decided they might be good for lacing.Intricate detail demonstrates exceptional dexterity even from the youngest child.

But it is more than just developing motor skills – as always there is also some drama

Dancing with the stars
An Electrician doing wiring

Even when they are not particularly interested in lacing they are still engaged – sorting and counting laces and shapes.  Stacking and balancing

an experiment that led to the creation of a wind mill when they discovered that they could blow on the stack and the top piece would spin.

Math and science!

Wonderful initiative that couldn’t have occurred if I had insisted that lacing toys be used ‘correctly’.  So much learning packed into one simple activity.