What is the Emergent Curriculum?
The Emergent Curriculum refers to a model of learning that places the child at the centre. The adult trusts that children are naturally curious and will be moved to experiment, build, create, make observations, etc. The role of adult then becomes one of a facilitator, observing the child and then making links back to the Big Ideas of the standard curriculum. When given the time and space to engage in freely chosen, intrinsically motivated play children are engaged and uncover learning in a deep and meaningful ways.
To embrace this emergent approach to learning, we began by taking our students outside to play and found we needed to teach our students how to engage in free play. This new childhood phenomena is seen the world over, as students, like those at Meadowlands PS, have limited access to wild outdoor spaces where they can engage in free, unstructured play. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that open-ended, unstructured play has a significant effect on their socio-emotional (e.g., ability to work cooperatively) and cognitive (e.g., problem-solvinng) well-being. By adding the element of working with large loose parts outside, we are addressing another need, physical well-being. Inviting students to lift and manipulate large loose parts in the Adventure Playground encourages them to be more active, developing both gross and motor skills.
The role of the educator is to keep the curriculum in mind while engaging in rich talk with students. Asking them about their play or built structures and teasing out their knowledge and understanding of the BIG IDEAS in the curriculum, provides an opportunity to capture their learning and thinking in a very real and authentic way. This type of Pedagocial Documentation allows us to assess our students in non-tradional ways.
Through a collaborative research project with the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education, we have documented how educating the whole child (heart, mind and body) through free play with risks, has had a positive impact on student achievement. This evidence dovetails with our school board's goal of educating the whole student.