10 Profound Facts About The Emergent Curriculum

montessori academy emergent curriculum

Emergent curriculum is a course of study conceptualized by Loris Malaguzzi in the 1960s. This curriculum is usually applied in early childhood education.

In a nutshell, the emergent curriculum goes against the traditional view of education and learning. This view, in general, implies that learning is limited to the knowledge established by a pre-existing curriculum. As researchers Osberg and Beista put it, the conventional notion of education is it is “planned enculturation.” In other words, the educators in the classroom and school, in general, can control how the knowledge in class.

To understand the emergent curriculum further, we have listed ten facts about it. Later in this article, we will provide emergent curriculum examples.

What is emergent curriculum?

  • It is based on the strength and interests of the child. According to Elizabeth Jones, faculty emerita at School of Human Development and Family Studies in Pacific Oaks College, “the goal of the emergent curriculum is to respond to the interests of the child.” That means learning via an emergent curriculum is open-ended. An educator must observe carefully whether the learner is interested in the learning or not and adjust accordingly.
  • It is a play-based environment. Since this curriculum is aimed at very young learners (i.e. infants, toddlers, preschoolers, etc.) educators let them acquire skills and knowledge through the activity natural to them–play. The emergent educators build play activities around the interests of the learners.
  • It involves the whole child. When considering a child’s interests as the springboard for learning, the emergent curriculum considers all of the child’s realms of learning and development–physical, social, emotional, and cognitive. This leads us to the next point.
  • It is developmentally appropriate. Because this course of study or learning is learner-centered, it ensures the activities provided for the children are developmentally appropriate. It takes account of all the realms of learning and development, as mentioned earlier, and designs activities accordingly. In other words, the emergent curriculum is mainly based on what the child can do instead of what they should do.
  • It posits that knowledge is a creation or invention that emerges. The operational words here are creation and invention. This line of thought opposes the idea that knowledge appears as a result of transfer from a book or teacher. In other words, the learners themselves can come up with knowledge and/or make sense of what surrounds them apart from the influence of others. Advocates of this curriculum postulate that knowledge or meaning is not merely acquired. It is a dynamic entity that’s “made and remade through engagement with our world,” concludes Osberg and Biesta.
  • It needs the coconstruction of teachers or adults and the environment. Despite being a child-centered approach, this curriculum does not ignore the teacher’s and the environment’s role in learning. In fact, as discussed earlier, it is still the teacher who develops the lesson. It is just that the latter is based on the learner’s interest in the current environment. The environment may then be adjusted to facilitate learning further.
  • The learning process is individualized. Standardized curriculums are designed by “outsiders,” or someone not directly involved with what’s happening in the classroom. The result is a generalized approach to learning, which may or may not be interesting and/or developmentally appropriate for the learners. The emergent curriculum in early childhood, in contrast, is naturally individualized.
  • It needs daily planning. Because the lessons are open-ended, the teacher has to observe and grab opportunities for learning daily. If the students are cranky, the teacher may use it as an opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions.
  • Its exploration of a topic may last months. Based on the outlined premise above, learning about a topic and its related subjects can go on for days, weeks, or months. For example, the exploration of water may be extended to include water-living plants and animals.
  • It is still a form of planned enculturation. While the curriculum supports each individual’s uniqueness, the educators cannot completely stay away from shaping this person. Hence, it is, in a way, based on pre-determined knowledge or planned enculturation. For example, if one student is interested in physical games with classmates, one that can hurt other individuals, the teacher is still in charge of discouraging this activity while explaining why it is not allowed.

Emergent Curriculum Examples

These examples are taken from a paper authored by Deborah J. Cassidy, Sharon Mims, Lia Rucker, and Sheresa Boone entitled “Emergent Curriculum and Kindergarten Readiness.” The authors observed how the emergent curriculum in preschool works alongside the Standard Course of Study in the state where the school is.

Social studies

Competency goal:

Construct simple maps, models, and drawings of home, classroom, and school settings


Treasure hunt

The activity took inspiration from the learners’ regular pastime of hiding “treasures” in the classroom and creating “treasure chests.” It went on for months throughout the school year. It started from the normal hiding and searching with friends to the teacher encouraging the learners to create their own treasure.

Later on, the teacher draw maps for the treasure hunt, which the student used. Then the students learned to create their own maps using the classroom’s layout.

English Language Arts

Competency goal:

Develop and apply enabling strategies and skills to read and write.



The teacher observed the students to be interested in making their own “books.” this is evidenced by cutting, gluing paper together, attaching pictures, etc. The teacher then expanded this activity to write stories centered on feelings. Some students asked the teacher to write words on the board then they will copy them in their book. Others asked teachers to spell out words for them.

This activity evolved into subtle ways of teaching phonemes, phonological awareness, left to right orientation of writing, and so on. Although guided, the students were still in control of what goes into their book.

The emergent curriculum is indeed a fun way of letting the students learn the way they want it. This entails several benefits. One, diversity is appreciated, Two, parents can be involved, Three, individual strengths may be expressed freely.


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