Early Education Curriculum: Concept Web

Concept Web: The Natural World

The Natural World

An integrated curriculum consists of several strategies that can be applied to deepen meaningfulness and support conceptual development (Bredekamp and Rosegrant, 1992). Today, many educators use curriculum webs as a response to children’s pursuits and interests. Webbing is one model of curriculum integration and is a valuable resource for interconnecting school activities. Designing curriculum webs can provide an overview of an entire unit of study.

Webs are common tools used by teachers to create a tentative plan and generate ideas for classroom activities and projects from an observed interest or theme. A thematic organization is a model in which skills, facts, materials, activities, and subject-matter knowledge are integrated around a unifying theme (Brewer, 2001). Themes provide coherence and allow young children to understand meaningful relationships across subject and skill areas. Using themes as an instructional tool organizes learning around basic concepts and ideas, and creates a general framework that serves as a basis for relating content and processing information from a range of disciplines.

The concept web illustrated above shows at one glance the direction of an early childhood curriculum. It is designed for children aged 5 to 6 years.

Sub-themes are all integrated by the main theme which is the “natural world”. The topics are all interrelated and can flow from one to another and back.

Children are naturally curious, especially about things they see around them. The concept web depicts a lot of constructs that are interesting to young children, branching out to more and more things that broaden their understanding.

Nature is one thing that children should know about.

In this world where technological advances seem to rule in the education of young children, what with all the computer software, internet usage, cable viewing, etc., being very accessible and convenient. Learning about their natural environment can come lower in priority when it comes to education. However, they do need to know the basics of life, hence, the significance of the theme.

This integrated curriculum presents several possibilities and directions that the class can take. It can touch on multiple subject areas at a time and be designed to cover all subject areas (Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Math, Arts, Music & Values) while developing all developmental domains in the child: Physical, Social, Language, Cognitive, Emotional & Aesthetic with the concepts and activities planned out.

All the sub-concepts of plants, animals, sky, water, earth, and environment are directly linked to the major concept of the natural environment. Each sub-concept may further be dissected into more and more mini-branches. The concept map presented above may be implemented for a whole term depending on how each sub-concept is given emphasis to and how detailed the class wants it to be. As always, it is the interest of the children in the topic that needs to be considered (Fraser, 2000).

Justification of Concept Map

From this concept map, so many lessons and activities may be planned out. Of course one needs to consider the children’s pacing and management of concepts that are increasingly becoming more difficult discussions. For a class of 5 and 6-year-olds, children become more ready for those. As part of the main concept map above, the following is a sample of an integrated curriculum that covers all subject areas that may run for a week or two.

In line with studies on appropriate practices and what is known about children’s natural process of knowledge acquisition, many preschool teachers currently employ curriculum integration. The principle of curriculum integration pertains to a form of instruction that provides learning experiences that combine content areas across multiple disciplines collectively. The initiative to integrate curriculum began when John Dewey proposed that curriculum be linked to real-life experiences and organized around activities that interest and engage children actively.

Dewey asserted that children’s interests naturally progress into appropriate learning activities and extend to various areas of study. As implied by the guidelines for appropriate curriculum, the concept of integration can also be attributed to the integrated nature of development; that is, development in the different domains does not occur in isolation; rather they influence one another (Bredekamp and Rosegrant, 1992). An integrated curriculum allows the young child to perceive the world around him more clearly.

Furthermore, it provides opportunities for in-depth exploration of a topic and learning that has a thorough coverage; more choices and therefore more motivation to learn and greater satisfaction with the results; more active learning; an opportunity for the teacher to learn along with the children and model lifelong learning; and more efficient use of student and teacher time (Brewer, 2001).

The colored web below is an example of a building up of an integrated curriculum on the subconcept of animals. It may go for a week or more depending on the age and pace of the children.

In line with studies on appropriate practices and what is known about children’s natural process of knowledge acquisition, many preschool teachers currently employ curriculum integration. The principle of curriculum integration pertains to a form of instruction that provides learning experiences that combine content areas across multiple disciplines collectively. The initiative to integrate curriculum began when John Dewey proposed that curriculum be linked to real-life experiences and organized around activities that interest and engage children actively.

Dewey asserted that children’s interests naturally progress into appropriate learning activities and extend to various areas of study. As implied by the guidelines for appropriate curriculum, the concept of integration can also be attributed to the integrated nature of development; that is, development in the different domains does not occur in isolation; rather they influence one another (Bredekamp and Rosegrant, 1992). An integrated curriculum allows the young child to perceive the world around him more clearly.

Furthermore, it provides opportunities for in-depth exploration of a topic and learning that has a thorough coverage; more choices and therefore more motivation to learn and greater satisfaction with the results; more active learning; an opportunity for the teacher to learn along with the children and model lifelong learning; and more efficient use of student and teacher time (Brewer, 2001).

An integrated curriculum can promote the creation of projects that address various interrelated concepts, subject areas, and developmental domains. Helm and Katz (2000) recommend the use of the project approach which may be appropriately implemented in early childhood programs. Projects ensure the maintenance of student interest in a particular concept. That is why it is essential to follow their lead when it comes to choosing themes or concepts to investigate. “It is only when children are curious, absorbed, and interested in a topic that the benefits of projects are realized. Children benefit from the added opportunity to initiate, investigate and follow through on their interests. (Helm & Katz, 2000, p. 4).

As per the use of integrated curriculum as a tool in teaching and learning, one glance at the concept map gives an individual a clear idea of where the curriculum intends to go.

Justification of Concept Map

Although this concept map covers all subject areas, a plan that emphasizes literacy and numeracy may begin with the biblical story of how God made the world. The story of Genesis tells of how God made the world in seven days, with one part of nature a day at a time. As per literacy development, students may be asked about the sequence of events (which happened first, next, last). At the same time, this may boost numeracy skills specifically learning about ordinals (first, second, third… up to the seventh day).

All the time, lessons do not deviate from the main theme of the natural world.

Many stories may be told that are on animals.

Children will enjoy such stories with animal characters and values may be imparted through the telling of stories with a great storyline that involves good treatment of animals. Stories may be charted as to the characters of the story, qualities of each character, plot, setting, etc. Later on, the story may be played out by the children through a role-playing activity. The teacher may teach related animal songs or even do animal arts and crafts to use as props for the role-playing activity. Such activities may be done in a play-like manner, allowing children to contribute their ideas culled from their thinking and understanding of the story (Cromwell, 2000).

Concerning the newsletter activities that were proposed related to the curriculum, there may be a lot of drawing of favorite scenes from the stories read. The children may talk about their drawings with the teacher while she writes verbatim what they say and prints it out under the picture drawn. This tells children that their ideas matter enough to be printed by the teacher and see the association between their verbalizations and written language. This helps them in their pre-reading skills as well as boosts their self-esteem.

The curriculum follows the philosophy of Reggio Emilia which underlie constructivist practice such as “respecting and valuing children, paying close attention to the work and languages of children, incorporating ways of making children’s learning visible through documentation and observation, and creating a social and physical environment that honors and respects children and their work, collective and individual.” (Chaille, 2008, p. 10).

In terms of literacy, teachers do not provide focused instruction in reading and writing, but instead, foster emergent literacy as the children record and manipulate their ideas while communicating with others. Teaching and learning are negotiated, with children having a voice in the curriculum design (Pope Edwards, 2002)

Conclusion

This integrated approach fuses well with the developmentally appropriate philosophy on preschool children this author has shared. It is now up to the teacher to fit in everything together to help children develop their confidence, efficiency in working with a group and to develop holistically in all domains.

References

Bredekamp, S and Rosegrant, T., (eds), 1992. Reaching potentials: Appropriate curriculum and assessment for young children, vol. 1, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, DC.

Brewer, Jo Ann. 2001. Introduction to early childhood education preschool through primary grades, 4th ed. Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.

Chaille C. 2008, ‘Big Ideas: A Framework for constructivist Curriculum’, in Constructivism across the Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms, Pearson Education, Sydney.

Cromwell, E.S. 2000, Nurturing Readiness in Early Childhood Education: A Whole-Child Curriculum for Ages 2-5, 2nd edn, Allyn & Bacon, Needham Heights, MA.

Fraser, S. 2000, Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom, Nelson Thomson Learning, Ontario.

Helm, HJ., & Katz, L. 2000, ‘Projects and Young Children’, in The Project Approach in the Early Years, Teachers College Press, New York.

Pope Edwards, C. 2002, ‘Three Approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori and Regio Emilia’, Early Childhood Research and Practice, Vol 4, No.1. Web.