15 The Dynamic Process

Curriculum planning for young children is a dynamic process that takes into account children’s ideas and interests. As stated earlier, infant/toddler and preschool curriculum should reflect the unique context of each group of children, families, and teachers. The curriculum plan that works well for one group of children may generate little interest in another group of children.


A group of children living near a large urban park may have the opportunity to experience several trips to check on a nest with eggs laid by one of the ducks living at the pond nearby. The ducks, their habitat, and the eggs become the object of study for several weeks, as the children discuss, tell stories, plan ways to protect the eggs from danger, and count the days of waiting. The teachers did not anticipate this curriculum prior to the discovery of the duck nest, yet the duck nest became part of their curriculum plans. Another group of three- and four-year-olds in a different program in the same city might be developing the same emerging skills and learning the same concepts yet be focused on their classroom pet—a tree frog—exploring his food likes and discovering how to maintain his habitat in a way that keeps him healthy and thriving. Like most journeys, early childhood curriculum follows a course that is unique for each group of children, with unpredictable content from group to group and from setting to setting.

What is constant and predictable in a dynamically generated curriculum is the foundation of concepts and skills that teachers support as children pursue ideas and topics of interest. Through professional preparation, teachers who work with young children understand how to recognize the concepts and skills described in California’s early learning foundations. Teachers look for opportunities to engage the minds of young children in meaningful play, interaction, conversation, and investigation—creating curriculum that nurtures the inquisitive minds of the children and connects with their experiences and developing knowledge and skills. Dynamic curriculum emerges throughout the year and changes each year as teachers respond to the unique teaching opportunities that present themselves

Co-Constructed Curriculum

Early childhood curriculum is co-constructed with input from family members, teachers, and the children themselves. Teachers and families observe and reflect together on children’s experiences and generate many possible ideas for what new experiences or materials might extend and render more complex and coherent children’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas. In volume 2 of the California Preschool Curriculum Framework (CDE 2011b), the story of children’s investigation of fresh food from the garden illustrates the dynamic and co-constructed nature of early childhood curriculum. In this excerpt from a vignette in volume 2 (CDE 2011b, 17), the teachers describe how they generate possibilities for exploring this topic with a group of three- and four-year-olds


In this project, both parents and teachers wanted to find ways to support children’s health and nutrition, a desire that emerged during a presentation at a parent meeting on nutrition and obesity prevention in young children. Many of the parents were surprised to learn that “picky eating” is a stage that can evolve into long-term resistance to eating fruits and vegetables and that one way to prevent children from becoming resistant is to encourage them to try a variety of fresh produce.

An idea that emerged from the discussion was to give children a series of opportunities to explore and taste fresh fruits, vegetables, and other edible plants in their natural, preprocessed state. Parents and teachers together began to think about the varied smells, textures, colors, and tastes of locally grown fruits, vegetables, and edible plants that young children could explore.

In this particular vignette, the teachers and families co-construct an idea for a curriculum project. In other situations, an idea that becomes the topic for an ongoing investigation might come from a child. When an idea for a curriculum project is proposed, teachers generate possibilities for how that idea might be explored, being mindful of how, within the investigation or project, children might have an opportunity to use emerging foundational skills and concepts. The teachers invite families to join them in coming up with ideas for the investigation. In the investigation of fresh foods from the garden, the following planning question guided discussions among teachers and families: How might we give children an opportunity to explore and learn about fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the garden?

Child Watering Plants. Credit: Pixabay free image.

Reflecting on different possibilities, the teachers became curious to see what children would do if given the chance to explore root crops such as carrots, beets, or onions that still had stems and leaves attached. Teachers shared this idea with children’s families through a note near the sign-in sheet. Soon after the note was posted, one of the parents brought in big bunches of fresh mint that she was ready to remove from an overgrown section of her yard. Other families responded to the note by offering to bring in cucumbers, apples, and lemons from local gardens or farmers markets. Teachers began to anticipate the ways in which children might build emerging skills, concepts, and ideas in exploring these plants.

In the preceding example, teachers are aware of how this topic holds possibilities for children’s learning to extend to multiple domains of study. Children will have opportunity to use foundational concepts in mathematics and science, story comprehension and language, as well as skills in drawing and painting, among others. Teachers will also look forward to sharing and naming for families their children’s learning, as the investigation directly connects with key concepts and skills children are acquiring in each of the domains of learning.

Responsive Approach

Early childhood curriculum planning is responsive to the interests and opportunities that exist in a group of children, families, and community. This means that as they plan, teachers observe and listen to children’s ideas. Curriculum plans that are dynamic, collaboratively constructed with children, and responsive put children’s thinking at the center of the curriculum planning process. Teachers should be reflecting on what is meaningful to the children within their community. Rinaldi (2006a) offers this advice on how to approach curriculum planning that is responsive to children’s thinking: “What kind of context, what kind of possibility can you offer to the children for the next step and the next step, not because you know the next step, but because you want to offer [them] a possibility for going deeper and deeper in their research?”

A written plan that is responsive is seen as holding “possibilities” for children’s inquiry, rather than delivered as an activity focused solely on a particular skill. A responsive plan may be proposed as a question—“What might happen if we . . .?” or, “In what ways will the children explore . . .?” When posed as a question, the plan prompts teachers to observe what ensues and to record what delights, surprises, amazes, or puzzles the children. Mindfully noting children’s responses adds to teachers’ understanding of how children are thinking and making sense of the experience. A responsive plan is more than simply the proposed activity written on a planning form. It includes observations of what occurs and teachers’ interpretations of what children appear to be thinking and feeling during the experience. The following table illustrates how teachers might create a plan that offers possibilities for children to explore, along with examples of observations and interpretations of how children engage with the materials. The interpretations will inform what might come next in the curriculum as well as inform the ongoing assessment of children’s learning.

Planning Question: What will happen when the toddlers encounter squeeze bottles in the play spaces?
Observation Photos Taken Interpretation
Jerrod wrapped his fingers around the bottle, but no liquid emerged. This was a struggle for J., because he still grasps and holds things with his full hand. [DRDP (CDE 2015) Fine Motor]. We may want to adapt the object using a bottle that is easier to squeeze (i.e., easier to grasp and hold), so that he can experience success.
Elaine makes a steady stream of water emerge from her squeeze bottle. She looks at Jerod, frowning and whining, and then reaches over and squeezes Jerrod’s bottle for him. He smiles, but then pushes her hand away and tries squeezing the bottle again. x E. interacts in simple ways with familiar peers as they play side by side. [DRDP (CDE 2015) Social and Emotional Understanding] She wants to help J in a simple way.
Alexander and Raj find the squeeze bottles in the play kitchen and squeeze imaginary liquid into pots on the stove. Raj directs Alexander: “Like this! Put some in the soup.” A. & J. incorporate this simple tool into their pretend play [DRDP (CDE 2015) Symbolic Play.] Adding plastic squeeze bottles that are easier to squeeze will also offer an element of discovery for the others, who might begin to experiment with the pressure they need to exert in order to make the water flow.

DRDP refers to the Desired Results Developmental Profile (CDE 2015), a periodic assessment of an infant’s learning. The Plan of Possibilities was adapted and used with permission (Maguire-Fong 2015).

It is the careful observation and documentation of what children do and say as they play that generates ideas for the next steps in the investigation. The next step might simply be to change or add materials, as a way of extending or adding complexity to the play and to offer children opportunities to build and to use emerging concepts and skills. Teachers look for moments in which the children are amazed or surprised. Documentation of what children found unexpected not only provides evidence of their sense of wonder about what people and things are like and the way things work, but it also guides what to plan next in the curriculum.


This chapter is copied from Unit 4.2 in Introduction to Curriculum for Early Childhood Education by Jennifer Paris, Kristin Beeve, & Clint Springer shared under a CC BY license.

This unit reproduces content from The Integrated Nature of Learning (2016) created by the California Department of Education is used with permission.

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