What is Emergent Curriculum?

Emergent curriculum is an engaging teaching method that brings meaningful and exciting lessons to the classroom through a child-centered approach.

What is Emergent Curriculum?

Mom with two children at laptop

Early childhood education plays a critical role in a child's formative years, laying the foundation for future learning and development. As you begin planning your curriculum, you may face several options and methods for teaching the children in your class. 

In addition, there are a variety of values and philosophies to base your curriculum and approach on for educating preschoolers and toddlers. With this in mind, exploring your options is essential to making a well-informed decision on how you intend to educate the children in your class while keeping them engaged.

This article will teach you about emergent curriculum, how it works, its benefits, and more.

What is emergent curriculum?

Emergent curriculum requires an in-depth understanding of your students individually and as a group. Influenced by the theories and philosophies of psychologists Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and John Dewey, this curriculum follows a child-centered method that aims to create meaningful and engaging learning experiences revolving around a child’s needs, skills, qualities, and interests.

Guided mainly by the children, emergent curriculums are created organically and are constantly changing and developing as the children are encouraged to explore and ask questions. 

Young boy watering plant while looking through a microscope. 


How's it different from a traditional curriculum?

Traditional curriculums are teacher-centered, while emergent curriculums are child-centered or directed.

Traditional Curriculum

Emergent Curriculum



Pre-planned/pre-existing curriculum

Learning activity plan based on children

Varying themes and subjects at teacher’s discretion

Topics are organically sourced from the children and open-ended

Less focus on individual skills, progress, and interests

Approach to learning is child-centered and takes every child into consideration when planning 

How does it work?

Emergent curriculum requires you to act as a facilitator and develop lessons based on your observations and interactions with your children. With a watchful eye, you'll carefully observe and document how your children communicate, play, and interact throughout the day to learn more about them and their skills. 

In addition, you'll gauge their interests, needs, and strengths which will impact how you plan your curriculum. You'll also interact with students by asking them probing questions to learn more about their thoughts and ideas. These documented experiences will support future planning and tracking of their growth and progress while encouraging curiosity.

Unlike traditional curriculums, where lessons are pre-planned and focus on the class as a whole, emergent curriculum requires you to follow the children's lead and respond to their actions. This offers them an immersive classroom experience where they can be unafraid to explore, discover, and dig deeper into topics that interest them. Although much of an emergent curriculum is child-centered, you'll still teach them basic and traditional concepts important to their age group and preparation for school, such as letters and numbers. 

Another important aspect of this teaching method is project work, allowing children to learn more about specific interests and subjects. These projects may span a few days or weeks and involve small groups of students or the entire class. For example, children discover a cocoon during recess sparking new conversations and questions about the lifecycle of a butterfly. The children may be involved in a week or month investigation about butterflies and the four stages in the metamorphosis process

This project may include hands-on activities such as drawing pictures depicting the different phases or the patterns on a butterfly's wings. It may even lead to more exploration outside to see caterpillars and butterflies in their natural habitat. 

A student participates in an emergent learning activity drawing a butterfly with chalk in the garden.


With emergent learning, the possibilities are endless. As you observe and uncover more details about your students and what topics excite and engage them, you can continue to build your curriculum and make changes to match and respond to their progress.

If you're a toddler or preschool teacher, staying organized and providing age-appropriate activities and an effective lesson plan are essential. Download a free copy of our daily lesson plan template to deliver a high-quality learning experience. Use it to observe the children, note their progress, reflect, and decide on your next steps to keep the learning momentum going.  

Download our free daily lesson plan template!

What are the benefits?

Emergent learning offers children several benefits thanks to the open and engaging environment it creates. Some benefits include:

  • Meaningful engagement
  • Enhances student's observative skills
  • Encourages imagination, research, exploration, experimentation, and discussion
  • Gives students a voice
  • Teaches collaboration and socialization
  • Supports students' interests
  • Incorporates real-life experiences
  • Enables hands-on learning opportunities
  • Encourages more decision-making and problem-solving

Children aren't the only ones who benefit from this curriculum. It also allows you to grow as an educator. Because the curriculum is child-centered, it constantly challenges you to create meaningful and engaging lessons and learning experiences. Additionally, it teaches you how to better embrace and support students' needs and interests, creating a better learning environment for them. 

Children painting cardboard boxes with their teachers. 


Is emergent curriculum right for you?

An emergent curriculum can be fun and engaging for children and is an excellent way to facilitate a child's learning and development. It is a perfect way to help them express themselves and identify their strengths, interests, and creative skills. 

In addition, this teaching method offers children unique learning opportunities specific to their interests, skills, and even cultural and home/family life. Lastly, it can positively impact a child's ability to communicate and collaborate compared to a more traditional curriculum classroom setting.

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