A developmentally appropriate curriculum is a cornerstone of any great early learning program. Your curriculum serves to put your philosophy into practice and to showcase the intention and skill your teachers bring to their work. Although there are many off-the-shelf curriculum products you can buy, purchasing boxed curriculum is neither financially feasible nor entirely desirable for many programs. After all, it’s unlikely that a mass-produced set of lesson plans will be universally applicable to all classrooms.
Here’s how to build lesson plans for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers that will meet their individual needs and set them up for developmental success.
Learning as the foundation
A quick internet search will yield a wide variety of free resources and ideas for curriculum planning. Some of these tools might be great, while others might be mediocre or misguided. High-quality lesson plans will always be connected to specific learning goals, so it’s best to use lessons that answer the questions of who, what, why, and how students will be learning from the materials.
Here are a few different ways to ensure you’re building your curriculum on a foundation of learning.
Consult your state’s early learning framework
Your state has an early learning framework. This framework is a roadmap of the skills and knowledge children are expected to develop throughout their time in childcare and preschool. While each state’s framework varies in length, word choice, and details, it will generally be organized by learning domain and age group and grow more complex as kids approach kindergarten. For an example of a nationally-recognized framework, check out this neat interactive tool from Headstart.
Your state’s early learning framework is one of the places you can source the “why” and the “so what” behind your curriculum planning. Your lesson plans should cover all aspects of a child’s development and connect to the developmentally appropriate learning goals for your age group. You’ll also want to be familiar with your local early learning framework to make sure your students are prepared for the next step, whether that’s preschool, kindergarten, or another track.
Choose your preschool developmental assessment
Ongoing child assessment has many benefits for both you and your students. First and foremost, it provides a full picture of your students’ developmental stages so that you can meet them where they are. It also provides feedback on your lesson plans so you can accurately address the needs of your class. Finally, it’s a helpful tool you can share with parents to keep them updated on their child’s progress and how they can continue their child’s learning at home. At the end of the day, parents want to make sure their children are on track, and a comprehensive assessment is a great way to keep them informed.
Similar to your state’s early learning framework, your developmental assessment provides an outline for the different skills you should be supporting in your students’ development. While you could decide to use your state’s framework as part of your observation and assessment, it might be simpler to pull your learning goals from a developmental assessment tool (such as the DRDP) instead.
Ultimately, you’ll want to establish your framework for early learning so your curriculum can best support your students’ development. Choose the system that works best for you and your students—you know them best!
Some early educators are ready to start planning their curriculum once they have a learning framework in place. For others, having an open calendar feels incredibly daunting. Where do you begin? How far out should you plan? How long should your students study each topic? Do you have to study something just because it fits with the season (for example, Halloween in October)?
While planning tends to be a very personal process, it can be helpful to have some guidelines for how to get started. Here’s a key piece of lesson planning advice: start with your children and your community and what’s most interesting and relevant to them. There’s no limit to what you could explore in your classroom, so narrow it down by being intentional about what your students are currently interested in.
If it’s the beginning of the year and you’re not sure, start with the standard “About Me” unit! It will give you a chance to get to know your kids while also helping them feel comfortable. Throughout the course of that unit, you’ll learn what kinds of topics your kids are interested in so you can dive in more deeply in the future.
Another lesson planning tip is to make use of the skills and milestones outlined in your early learning framework when searching for activity ideas. For example, a quick internet search of “one-to-one correspondence activities for preschool” will provide a range of ideas. Use your best judgment to pick lessons you think will work well in your classroom.
Infant lesson plans
Your infant lesson plans will be the most individualized and the most grounded in developmental milestones compared to the curriculum for other age groups. Infants develop at such a rapid rate that age differences of only a few weeks can translate into very different developmental goals. For example, an infant who is just working on rolling over is going to have different goals than an infant who is getting ready to crawl.
Don’t panic—you don’t need to write an entirely separate lesson plan for each infant every week! Rather, think about lesson plans that speak to the whole group, with a small section dedicated to each infant’s individual development. Pick 1-3 developmental milestones each infant is working on that week and plan corresponding activities to support those goals. You’re likely already thinking about your infants’ developmental progress—document these details and share them with parents so they’re more connected with their infants’ progress.
Parents of infants will likely look to their teachers and care providers to be trusted experts on how their little one is developing. The better you’re able to speak to their infants’ current and upcoming milestones, the more at ease parents will feel.
Toddler lesson plans
When writing lesson plans for toddlers, prioritize flexibility and being open-ended. Toddlers may be happy doing the same activity over and over again one day, only to tire of three different activities in a row the very next day.
Use your lesson plans to capture the broad ideas of what you’re exploring together, while also leaving room for toddlers to take the curriculum in their own direction. If it sounds like you need to have an infinite number of lesson plans, remember that your toddlers will also want repetition, so you may only need to plan two to three new activities for the week. These can be repeated and adapted each day (for example, by adding new materials). You’ll know when your toddlers lose interest and it’s time to introduce something new.
Preschool lesson plans
Preschool lesson plans will most reflect your philosophy on early education. While play-based learning is one of the most common approaches, there is a wide spectrum of what that means in practice and how it is represented in a lesson plan.
Create lesson plans that show that you have a plan for the day and for the week. Map out the specifics for each part of the day: morning meeting/circle time, small group time, independent playtime, outdoor play, and so on. Things don’t always go according to plan in the preschool classroom and responding with flexibility and creativity is a must, but including as much detail in your lesson plans shows intention.
For many educators, our best ideas are spur-of-the-moment and often inspired by the students themselves. For this reason, it’s important to make sure parents know your lesson plans aren’t set in stone and are meant to be a guide. Present your curriculum as living, breathing, and changing lesson plans while also updating parents on what happened in the classroom each day. This will allow you to be an effective teacher for your preschoolers and an educator who parents can trust.
Note: with brightwheel, it’s easy to make changes to your lesson plans so you can stay as flexible and adaptable as possible. You can also categorize your lesson plans by classroom, theme, and developmental level to keep your whole staff team organized!
The goal of any curriculum plan is to outline how your students will develop the skills they need to be successful learners today and moving forward. As you continue to build and adapt your own lesson plans, you’ll ensure your students are receiving an amazing education that’s as unique as they are!
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at www.mybrightwheel.com.