Shandra Patton is our Seedlings Fellow at Augusta Lewis Troup School in New Haven. She teaches preK and is collaborating with kindergarten teacher Gyna Grant and art teacher Rebecca Looney, both two-time participants at the SEC summer workshop, to integrate curriculum and explore process art at various age levels. Here are some of her thoughts on emergent curriculum.

As early childhood educators we take into account the skills of the children with whom we work.  We build attachments with these children in order to recognize their individual needs and to help them explore their interests.  As someone who has attended Seedlings Educators Collaborative I feel equipped with the tools necessary to do so, and I feel capable of my ability to create a project-based, emergent curriculum.  Of course this would mean planning, implementing and facilitating a curricular plan that actively tracks the children’s interests, while building on their present knowledge.  In order to create an environment in which children are constantly exploring, discovering, predicting and generating an understanding of the world around them, teachers should be creative in whatever way possible and not be afraid to make mistakes.  A teacher must be willing to commit to the moment, and trust the process.  As an early childhood educator, I have come to learn that mistakes are part of the learning and can indeed be a factor that shapes a particular project or piece of an emerging curriculum.

In a recent experience, I attended a planning meeting that was being facilitated by one of my supervisors.  The objective of the meeting was to have a discussion about the direction of the classroom’s curriculum.   Shortly into the discussion I was asked if I could give an example of an emergent curriculum, and immediately I gave an account of an activity that did not quite turn out the way I thought that it would have and how this unexpected outcome turned into an even more interesting avenue of exploration for the children.

The activity was a discovery activity in which children were encouraged to explore a material: synthetic snow.  After observing the child play with the synthetic snow and asking several open-ended questions I was a little let down that none of the children discovered the snow was not real.  This immediately caused me to think of ways in which the children would come to realize there was indeed a difference between the synthetic snow and real snow.  This is what we came up with and executed the next day. This is an emergent curriculum.

Let the discovery begin!!! This is how the children came in to find the sensory table set up the following morning.  Teachers said nothing to the children about the changes made to the sensory table.  The children continued to walk past it, just looking inside.

During Morning Meeting the groundwork was laid and the discovery challenge was introduced.  Little do the children know that I collected ice and snow that morning on my way to work!

After Morning Meeting a group of children sat in the science area and started the challenge. Children were encouraged to try to figure out what was inside the bag without opening it.

After a little bit more conversation the children move on to the next stage of their discovery. Not using any props or tools lends a hand to their initial discoveries.  The children here are merely using their senses to supply them with an abundance of information.

After a couple more minutes the children make choices about the tools they are interested in using in order to extend their discovery and exploration.


Open-ended play is the best way for children to build self-esteem, problem solve and make connections that include various domains.

When I first thought about adding the synthetic snow in the sensory table I never thought to provide the children with the actual snow at the same time.  When I realized that our discussion fell flat while investigating the synthetic snow, I realized my mistake in not providing the real thing.  Through experience, good mentoring, and my Seedlings training, I have begun to trust my knowledge of early child development, embrace my creativity, and learn from my mistakes, elements often essential to implementing a truly emergent curriculum.