Emergent curriculum defies a narrow definition so it should not be simply put as “following interests”. Yes, it is true that children will probably learn better if they are interested, but learning should not only be interesting – it should be meaningful. The approach requires intentional teaching; it is not a “free for all”. It also requires consideration and thought about children’s interests.
How you describe what you do with children is significant. “I follow themes” should not just be replaced by, “I follow interests”. In a group of children, there can be many interests and some of those interests can be fleeting, while others not appropriate or worthy of a long-term project or investigation.
Consider going beyond “interests” as it can lead to surface level teaching and think more deeply to go below the surface. The quiz located at the end of this page provides a number of words, can you match the words to either “above the surface” or “below the surface” to see if you can recognize curriculum directions that go beyond “interests”.
Instead of staying above the surface and responding too quickly to determine interests to follow, start with a reflection on your context, add intention and provide investigational triggers – provocations, prompts or sparks that will lead to exploration and discovery. Capture the meaning of the learning – make it visible through pedagogical documentation – and the reflection process begins again. If we teach intentionally, to support children’s higher order thinking, then we will go beyond interests to reveal more meaning about the learning processes of children.
Listening carefully to the child who is collecting sticks reveals an interest in the enclosure schema as throughout the experience she is describing making a house for the forest gnomes. At first, you might think that the child is interested in sticks, but as the experience unfolds and the child speaks about what she is doing, there is deeper meaning.