An Emergent Curriculum – What It Is and Why It’s Important

Emergent Curriculum Explorations

At C5 Children’s School, we offer an Emergent Curriculum, because it provides the best overall results for children of all ages. In our school, the children’s ages are from infancy through pre-kindergarten. An Emergent Curriculum means: What comes from the children is the curriculum. So, at our school, we say, The curriculum walks in the door every day.

An emergent curriculum involves the whole child; meaning the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical realms of development and learning.

What does that mean in practice? We provide rich, diverse resources and low key, respectful support to children’s emerging interests and their various in-depth explorations and multi-media expressions. We observe to discover what the children are interested in and build on those inclinations, interests, and fascinations to help them learn naturally and holistically as powerful individual learners and as effective members in successful learning groups.

Children initiate the explorations and projects. They explore and express themselves in their own way and in their own time. Each exploration or project can take weeks or months, depending on the children’s sustained fascination, and can morph into new lines of inquiry and investigation.

For example, for infants, we support them developing as they wish and when they wish; without interferrance. The environment is designed for and fitted out with a variety of beautiful elements for them to explore. When an infant is ready and inclined, they reach out and engage those things that are a match for their current interest and ability. A specific example is in the area of whole body physical development. Infants in an emergent curriculum at C5 are their own initiators and move in the time and manner that they are ready for in crawling, raising up, sitting up, pulling up, cruising, and walking. Because of this, the children are stronger, more flexible, and more self-confident in their early physical development. They have also learned that they are the main determinants of their own successful learning and growth.

For toddlers, we observe what things they bring into the classroom or choose there to play with, and we help them to go farther and deeper with those explorations. For example, in one toddler classroom, an interest in playing with cardboard boxes evolved into parents and teachers bringing in boxes of many sizes that resulted, after weeks of exploring, testing, and taping them together, into a large maze of tunnels and towers.

For preschool and pre-k aged children, we observe and listen to their expressed interests and support them in their gathering of information and other resources to fuel their in-depth explorations and comprehensive projects. For example, an interest in where the water in the classroom came from — led to exploring the pipes under the sink — and looking at building plans for the water supply — and mini field trips to the street to examine utility hole covers — and a classroom visit by a civil engineer who showed them slides of water sources and systems — and a trip to the building basement to see the pipes — and building their own simulated utility holes and hole covers like they saw in the streets out of large tubes that they climbed into — and experimenting with joining PVC pipes and testing water flow with gravity and pumps. The children worked on that project off and on for over eight months and intensely for over an hour each school day for about four months.

An emergent curriculum for children of all ages can also easily include cultural elements from children’s families, as the children bring them in and/or accept them as part of their exploratory activities. A example of this was in a preschool classroom when the children had cooked many types of breakfast meals over several weeks and wanted something more challenging. In response, the parents of a child with heritage from India brought in ingredients for cooking Chicken Tikka Masala.

Exploring and expressing are the fundamental strategies in an emergent curriculum. We build learning around what the children want to explore, and the learning process involves gently guiding them to explore further and getting them to express, in words, gestures, processes, and materials, when they are able, what they want, what they’re doing, and why. Thus, exploring and expressing reinforce each other.  and build individual and group cohesiveness.

In emergent curriculum learning groups, children learn to accept, understand, and appreciate the interests, skills, working styles, temperaments, and resources of the other children. Their unique offerings are aggregated into fascinating multi-dimensional projects and their individual efforts lead to more comprehensive compelling results.

When paired with in-depth explorations and a project approach, as in the examples above, an emergent curriculum is a powerful learning tool, because it is child-initiated, child-centered, and child-directed; with adult facilitation. By harnessing children’s own interests, motivation, and energy, it allows for and encourages them to determine their own learning direction, pace, focus, and rewards.

The role of our classroom staff and children’s family members is to be alert to what intrigues the children and to provide rich resources in line with their inclinations and interests to support their initiatives, persistence and adaptations.


A Few Benefits Among the Many

More meaningful learning and development occurs than in a typical school setting, and it lasts a lifetime, because it is connected to what is important to the child rather than what is arbitrarily imposed by others.

The result of an emergent curriculum is that children absorb a wide range of information and significant social, emotional, and physical development thanks to their having explored many sources, materials, and processes.

An emergent curriculum develops an appreciation for and skills in working with diversity in all its forms, including:

  • Learning Styles
  • Temperament
  • Body Types
  • Life Orientations
  • World View
  • Family Cultures
  • Skill Sets
  • Knowledge Bases
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Belief Systems
  • Work and Learning Spaces
  • Environments
  • Tools
  • Materials
  • Furnishings
  • Processes
  • Hundred Languages of Children

It also develops a strong foundation for emotional intelligence and a significant understanding of a range of emotions, with corresponding effects on self-image, self-worth, and social success.

Parents of children enrolled at C5 children’s School report that they observe outside of school that their children, in contrast to others, demonstrate increased: ease in social settings, inquisitiveness, explorations with comprehensiveness and dexterity, verbal skills, and expressiveness in various media.

Approximately 98% of families with children going to private and public kindergarten from C5 report that their children meet and exceed traditional standards for their age group and for entering kindergarten.

To learn more about our curriculum, click here.


Our infants are building a strong foundation for early literacy skills at a young age.  The very basics are being practiced throughout the day: holding a book, turning its pages, and watching their teachers reading from left-to-right.  They are beginning to understand how books “work,” how they connect the reader, and how they relate to the listener when read out loud.  When a book is read to them, the infants are developing the cognitive skills required to connect sounds into words and words into meaning.  When they listen to the reader’s changing tone, rhythm patterns, voice inflection, and repeating phrasing, they are learning how language is formed and an essential element of communication.  Infants who are exposed to books, reading, and story-telling at an early age are more likely to develop strong communication skills and a love of books as they get older.  Learn more about our Infant Program.