A well-thought-out childcare curriculum lays the foundation for a high-quality program. Curriculum offers the framework for what children will learn and experience and how the teachers will create the opportunities to achieve the desired learning outcomes.
The curriculum you choose is a critical decision for your center as it should be a reflection of what you believe children need and deserve as foundational knowledge and how children learn best. The curriculum you choose will ultimately inform and guide teachers on your expectations and vision for the children’s educational experience at your center. To summarize and expand a bit, the childcare curriculum you implement at your center will serve these equally important purposes. It will:
- Guide your teachers’ planning and educational offerings to the children
- Ensure you are meeting the developmental needs of the children in your care
- Facilitate engaging interactions and a stimulating environment
- Determine what materials and equipment children will use to explore and learn concepts
- Create a common language for educators and families to discuss their child’s development
What is a daycare curriculum?
The word curriculum is often used in different ways, but for our purposes, we’re working off of the established definitions from Child Care Aware of America and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Simply put, NAEYC states that “curriculum consists of the plans for the learning experiences through which children acquire knowledge, skills, abilities, and understanding.”
According to NAEYC, a high-quality childcare curriculum should contain some of the following elements and meet certain indicators for effectiveness.
Some desired elements for lessons and activities:
- Thoughtfully planned
- Challenging and engaging
- Developmentally appropriate
- Culturally and linguistically responsive
Examples of indicators of effectiveness:
- Children are active and engaged
- Goals are clear and shared by all
- Curriculum is evidence-based
- Valued content is learned through investigation, play, and focused, intentional teaching
- Curriculum builds on prior learning and experiences
The first three years of life are a crucial time in a child’s development as 85% of brain development happens in these early years. As a care provider, you need to fill the day with lessons and activities that are engaging, age-appropriate, sequenced, and that facilitate progress towards meeting milestones across all developmental domains.
Types of curriculum for daycare centers
Early education curriculum varies widely based on types of childcare programs and age (i.e., center-based or home-based programs, infant and toddler programs, preschool programs, etc.). The curriculum a childcare center chooses may also be aligned or “inspired” by an early education philosophy such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and/or Waldorf to name a few. Childcare centers may purchase a predesigned curriculum, while others may design curriculum inspired by one or an eclectic mix of educational philosophies.
Emergent curriculum has been receiving a lot of attention and accolades as a highly favored approach to delivering high-quality educational experiences to children. Teachers design relevant and meaningful learning experiences that are responsive to a group of children’s interests and needs.
Hallmarks of a high-quality childcare curriculum
Now that we have established how vastly unique and different curriculum design for young children can be and the many sources of inspiration and influencing factors (i.e., such as program type and age range), let’s dive into the traits of a high-quality curriculum.
1. Curriculum should include early learning concepts and pre-skills
The learning that takes place before kindergarten is crucial to creating school readiness.
- Early literacy. Children beginning in infancy should be exposed to books, spoken language, songs, and repetitive rhymes in a print-rich environment. As they get older, they work towards learning letters and sounds, and eventually writing.
- Numeracy. From infancy, children should be offered opportunities to interact with different shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns to build number awareness, especially through toys and books. Toddlers and older children will begin to understand number sense and be able to categorize.
- Social-emotional skills. From birth, infants become increasingly aware of self and others. Through responsive care, infants learn about relationships, having their needs met, safety, and respect. As they grow, this foundation supports their self-esteem and self-regulation, and their ability to collaborate, build relationships, and resolve conflicts.
- Arts, music, and movement. Children of all ages benefit from opportunities to experience and explore visual arts, music, dance, and dramatic play. Exploring music and movement in infancy supports the development in all domains as well as promotes creative expression in older children.
2. Curriculum should be evidence-based
You’ll want a curriculum that aligns with an evidence-based set of standards, whether this is provided by your state or another organization. Each U.S. state provides early learning frameworks that outline a developmental continuum of desired skills from infancy through kindergarten entry. Most states have both an infant/toddler and preschool framework to align with. Head Start also has a highly respected and utilized learning outcomes framework that aligns with child development research and teacher best practices. If you are purchasing packaged curriculum, be sure to find out how the lessons and materials were developed, and whether they align with an early learning framework and evidence-based practices.
3. Curriculum should include opportunities for observations and assessments
Lessons and activities are only half of the core of your childcare curriculum. As you move through your planned activities, you’ll need to record observations and administer assessments to track progress towards mastering skills. In California, for example, the state has developed a framework called the Desired Results system, more commonly referred to as DRDP, which refers to the assessment piece of the framework, the Desired Results Developmental Profile. A good childcare curriculum provides ample opportunities to closely observe and document development that is directly tied to the day-to-day happenings at your center.
4. Curriculum should be flexible
A quality curriculum allows for flexibility informed by a child's progress and interests. Based on your observations and assessments, you will make ongoing adjustments to your daily plans. As a teacher, even with the best-laid plans, it is essential to remain flexible to ensure that when your children are suddenly excited by something new, you are able and willing to shift focus to build on their interests. When teachers are responsive to children’s interests, the learning opportunities become relevant and engaging, which may promote better learning outcomes.
Emergent curriculum offers a great deal of teaching flexibility. One educational philosophy, the Reggio Emilia approach, is well-known for embracing an emergent curriculum where relationships take center stage and spark learning opportunities. The Reggio Emilia approach acknowledges the importance of social learning and the significance of the children’s relationships with peers, their parents and teachers, and the classroom environment (the “third teacher”). Teachers build the curriculum in response to the observations of the children’s interests, curiosities, and existing knowledge.
5. Curriculum should incorporate DAP
DAP stands for developmentally appropriate practices. This concept is rooted in a deep knowledge of child development and builds off of individual relationships with children. For optimal child development at your center, curriculum should be informed by research and incorporate ways to engage children in ways that are uniquely appropriate for each age group in each of these domains:
- Cognitive: problem-solving, thinking, and information processing
- Language: communicating verbally and nonverbally
- Social and Emotional: relationship building as well as awareness and regulation of emotions
- Physical: large and small gross motor skills
Home daycare curriculum considerations
Center-based and home-based center childcare programs may offer different benefits to children and their families with regards to services and learning environment. However, the opportunities for children to learn and develop essential skills remain the same. Home-based childcare programs can leverage the inherent embedded curriculum opportunities inspired by the natural rhythms of life that occur throughout the day in a home such as preparing meals, household chores, and caretaking for younger children.
If you are a home daycare provider developing your own curriculum, here are some elements that should inform your curriculum design in addition to early learning concepts and developmental domains:
- Age of the children. Mix-age groups can stimulate development across all domains through observation of peers and mentorship. However, to create a developmentally-appropriate curriculum, you will need to consider the individual needs of each child and their stage of development.
- Daily Routine. Your daily routine with the children and your home environment offers many opportunities for building a curriculum from the natural rhythms of life. For example, you can simply involve your older children in preparing a meal and discuss early math and science concepts.
Children’s family life. Each child’s family life offers rich opportunities for emergent curriculum ideas that are relevant and meaningful to the children. Connect with families about what experiences they are having at home to draw inspiration for activities and concepts to explore.
Whether you’re running a home daycare program or you’re a preschool teacher at a center-based program, sharing the lesson plan with families is a great way to partner together to build a strong home-to-school connection. Download a free copy of our preschool daily report template to keep families up-to-date on their child’s day and highlight extension activities to try at home.
Childcare curriculum planning templates
Once you have chosen your ideal curriculum plan, stay organized and plan your activities and learning objectives, and outcomes with a curriculum planning template.
Writing weekly or daily plans allows you to create intentional learning experiences and document the learning objectives and outcomes as well as reflect and share your observations and the children’s progress with families and colleagues.
Here are some examples of templates for each age group to spark some ideas for how to best organize your daily or weekly curriculum plan. Before implementing a new template get feedback from your staff to make sure the template is functional and supportive of their planning.
The best childcare curriculum serves you, the children, and the families
Your childcare program will only be as good as the curriculum that you put in place. Whether you are just getting started or are looking to update your center’s offerings, using these criteria as you plan activities and incorporate resources will ensure you are offering your families the level of quality that they deserve.
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At brightwheel, we are immensely grateful for everyone making an impact in early education. Thank you for all that you do!