The Dictionary Definitions of Emergent & Curriculum:
Emergent: arising unexpectedly
Curriculum: the courses offered by an educational institution
This is actually quite an accurate description of how one aspect of “curriculum” works at The Patchwork School. The teacher led activities that children participate in arise somewhat unexpectedly in that “offerings” are not planned very far in advance of when they occur. Some offerings are concocted that very morning by small groups of children while some are scheduled a week or two out by a teacher, parent, community member or older child. Also, they truly are “offered” and children can choose whether or not they want to participate.
However, one important aspect of our “curriculum,” is not really touched on by this definition - the environment. In Reggio Emilia, the environment is thought of as the third teacher, offering everyday choices like dress-up or the sandbox but also intentionally created “provocations” set out by teachers.
In addition, this definition misses the primary realm of study that children are often most focused on: the social. Children are truly working hard, almost studying human nature through their play and everyday experiences. Toddlers are working hard on separating from their parents for the first time, on experiencing the world from a very sensory level, on being able to eat and walk and talk independently. At the preschool age, children really start to focus on what friendship is all about, who they are in respect to others, self-regulation, and they start to develop their own personal interests and favorites. Within the K-12, children are experiencing much deeper social interactions and finding long-lasting friendships, they are becoming attuned to their strengths and weaknesses, and beginning to really pursue their own passions.
Thus, a huge focus of our “curriculum” is creating space and time for this natural social work to happen through play, through conversation, within meetings, and through the course of everyday experiences like lunchtime or walking to the park. In addition, every year we focus on the world around us, through our community and also through the seasons.
And finally, rather than the more linear "banking" model, we utilize a more cyclical approach, inspired by Paolo Freire and the "praxis" approach to education. This tends to create a a “See, Think, Act” approach to our offerings and provocations:
We view children as competent individuals who are interested in having a say in their own education. Children naturally want to learn, and it is often a matter of getting out of their way. By closely observing the child's interests and areas of focus, we are able to help them to develop their ideas, expand upon their initial interpretations and deepen their understanding. By encouraging them to follow their interests, we are supporting the development of critical thinking skills, allowing for time in the learning process, and allowing them to come to reading, writing, math, science and more on their own terms. Within this naturally meaningful context, the knowledge attained in the content areas has staying power by association to the interest of the child.
Additionally, in a multi-age setting children will encounter opportunities to scaffold each other, and be scaffolded in the learning process. This type of peer support is powerful in a way that adult support cannot be; it allows children to teach each other, and therefore own their knowledge, skills and ability to communicate.
Environment & Materials
By offering children a wide variety of materials, we allow them to construct their own learning. Materials that are open-ended and can be used in various ways are the most effective for promoting critical thinking and imaginative play. In addition, we can help encourage children to be confident and competent by organizing materials in a way that allows children to easily access them and understand how to put them away. We are always looking for new materials to ensure that we have a variety of novel provocations, so if you have anything you might like to donate, please see our donation page for ideas.
Children should be respected as people, and valued for who they are, rather than for who they might become. Therefore, it is important to provide an education for the whole child by valuing their social, emotional, physical, linguistic, and logical-mathematical intelligences.
Because we believe that no child can be forced to learn, we think children should be offered an environment which encourages their natural inclination to learn. By respecting the child's right to make choices regarding his or her education, we support the development of their self-awareness, as well as their self-regulation.
In an environment where children feel safe and confident, they are free to be their naturally competent selves.
Just as we respect the children in the space, we view the teachers as human beings who bring their own differnt strengths, passions and ideas to the space. All of our staff members are included in regular consens-based decision making meetings similar to those that the children participate in so that we practice what we teach. One of the big decisions teachers participate in, is the hiring of the staff itself, requiring that we make really tough decisions, and work through conflicts that are for us equally challenging to those the children are asked to work through. Teachers are viewed not just as caring for the children, but equally as caretakers of the school environment, the philsophy, themselves, and most of all the community as a whole.
When working with children, the teachers’ first job is to be an observer and listener, first attending to the child’s social emotional well being. The teachers next job is then to perfect the art of balance. The teacher must learn to balance freedom with responsibility, to offer and model academic options while also respecting the learning that arises naturally from play, to model compassionate communication while also being quiet enough to amplify voices of smaller people, to keep children safe while also offering space for safe risk-taking.
This is no easy task and cannot be doen alone, which is why we co-teach and encourage constant communication among the staff. The teachers work together in ways that model problem solving, critical thinking, compassionate communication, and a love of learning.
At school we believe that computers can be used for research, for communication, and for expression. We frequently use the school laptops to look up some tidbit of information we couldn't find in a book, or to find a video of some type of insect or musical instrument that the children have never seen but are curious about. The computers are always used with a teacher, who can use the opportunity to talk about search engines, about finding trusted sources of information, about avoiding advertisements, about how careful one must be with the computer itself, or about other topics that may come up. These concepts, along with the idea that computers are helpful tools, are then explored and experienced in a meaningful and safe context. As for communication, we use the computers to show the children pictures of events so that we can reflect on our experiences together, we show them short videos of themselves, and sometimes we might send an email together if it is relevant (such as a note inviting parents to an event). As an example, we once took a video of a group of children putting on a puppet show for the first time and then let them review the video so that they could see what improvements they wanted to make (one particular puppet kept slipping behind the stage, which they could then see once they became the audience). In addition, we also hope to expose children (as appropriate) to programs like word processors, paintshop, and digital photo progams so that they have additional means for expressing themselves. For example, we have discovered that some children who might not have the fine motor skills to write well, but who are interested in letters will get excited about learning to spell by using a word processor, which will in turn help them learn to read and write.
Ultimately, these guided experiences with technology will allow children to become computer literate and will help them understand the many ways that computers can be useful tools.