Where to Start: Mapping Early Childhood Curriculum
By Darby Cave, Support Specialist and Former Early Childhood Educator
At the start of my early-childhood education (ECE) career, I thought things would be easy. I was teaching 1, 3 and 4-year-old English classes, and I imagined that I would get to play with my students all day, become their favorite person, and sit back to watch their English skills flourish.
Turns out, I could not have been more wrong. From my very first day, I was absolutely exhausted. I remember coming home at around 8 pm, the armpits of my polo soaked in sweat, and falling like an old growth fir tree on to my couch.
And that was just day one. As the year went on, we had huge curriculum books to study before each class, and we were not allowed to speak to our kids in their native language, as we were a Natural English academy. Most of my sweet little students were still learning their own language, not to mention, how to walk. This meant that planning, preparing, and over preparing every class was key. On average, we needed a new activity about every 7 minutes, with a backup. It was also important to carefully track student learning, and make improvements along the way.
Looking back, if I’d been able to map my early childhood curriculum, it would have helped me immensely. If I had it to do all over again, here’s how I would go about mapping (and avoiding those pit-stained evenings).
What’s your school philosophy? At my academy, we believed in the Natural Method for language learning and all our classes were centered around it. This pointed my curriculum in a clear direction, specifically toward speaking, repetition, games, and activities. Most ECE schools have a philosophy or mission which will automatically focus your curriculum.
Which resources do you use? As early childhood educators Pinterest and blogs for kid-friendly activities are our best friends. Make your life easier by collecting resources you find on the web, your curriculum manual and anything else you use to plan before you start to map. As you move along in the process, you can attach these resources where appropriate. When you come back next year, they will all be there in ONE place to use and build upon.
STEP 1: Define your goals.
Start your mapping process by determining and articulating the developmental goals for your students so you can plan activities and reinforcements around them. In the world of Early Childhood English, my goal was to help my students achieve a certain level of language skill. In ECE overall, the goals are usually more developmental. For example, a three-year-old who can say her ABC’s is honing speech skills and a five-year-old building a house out of blocks is improving fine-motor abilities.
Step 2: Assess your activities and align them to development.
Some ECE schools have heavy spiral notebooks full of activities and knowledge building games that you can use in class. Others have strict curriculum all laid out for you to follow. There are also schools that allow the teacher to create from scratch. Whatever your situation is, review the activities you will use to ensure they help kids master the appropriate developmental domains. Ask yourself:
- What are students learning/practicing through this activity?
- How can I adjust or differentiate for all levels of development?
- How can I repeat this activity for practice, but keep it fun for the kids?
Once you have answered these questions, jot down some notes to keep track of how your activities align to your student’s development. And perhaps, you should do another quick search online for more resources, in case the 2-year-olds stage a coup. In ECE, you ALWAYS need a back-up plan 😉
STEP 3: Fill in your units or weekly plans.
At our academy, we had anywhere from 10 to 15 activities we needed to cover per hour, which felt like a lot. Organizing your activities into weekly plans can feel like a huge task and upfront time commitment. However, as you begin mapping your curriculum, a routine will start to form, you will make a long-term investment in your teaching, and reinforce the knowledge the kids are gaining.
Once you have your first year planned out, you will have the bulk of the work done for year two as well. Start where you left off when the new school year rolls around and update as needed. You are giving yourself the curriculum gift that keeps on giving! Be sure to include activities that work on a variety of milestones and repeat them or expand on them as much as the kids need in order to continue growing.
STEP 4: As you teach, reflect.
Now that you have organized a good chunk of your curriculum, you are ready to start taking the kids through it – that’s the fun part! After teaching our weekly plans at the academy, we would take a few minutes at the end of each week to reflect on what we observed in our classrooms. This could be simple, perhaps just a quick note that explains the growth you see on the way to hitting a milestone. By the time Parent-Teacher Conferences came around, we were ready to talk about each child with real, personal examples of their development for moms and dads.
This reflection also came in handy for the next school year, when adjusting activities. I often made little notes to myself about what the kids liked, or didn’t like, and how I thought some of the activities could be made better.
STEP 5: Adjust and flex for the following school year.
Just after your school year ends, or a few weeks before the new year starts up, read through your reflection notes. Take the advice you gave yourself and add more resources, expand, shrink or replace any activities that need adjustment. Your curriculum will continue to get sharper as the years pass, while the process of mapping becomes smoother.
Learn how Atlas can support your curriculum design and mapping needs.
Things to Consider:
Put those end-of-the-day faculty room chats to good use! Check in with other teachers at your school and learn about their mapping process. Or, map together to cut down on some of the work for each of you and save time. Having meaningful conversations about your students and your curriculum will make learning a richer experience for everyone involved.
Transform your Reflections
Another way to save time and get ahead is to enhance your reflection section. Attach a Google Doc set up as a Parent-Teacher Conference questionnaire and create one for each child you teach. When it’s time to prepare for conferences, you will simply need to review what you have written about each child and edit to make it more parent-friendly.
Share as you Go
Use your early childhood curriculum map to communicate with parents weekly, if not daily. You could send a few quick emails or start a blog using the information you are collecting in your map. Parents are chomping at the bit for a little news about their kids during the day and your map should make it easy for you to have it at the ready.
Download my early childhood curriculum map samples: