Curriculum, broadly speaking, is “what schools teach.” This includes all that is planned for children in the classroom, such as learning centers, morning circle, or a teacher-initiated small-group activity. Curriculum also consists of the unplanned experiences a child has while building a bridge with paper towel tubes, string, and popsicle sticks, waiting for the bus, at the snack table or when frustration leads to a temper tantrum. The curriculum is the entire range of experiences that children have at school. Content objectives and learning outcomes, knowledge of child development, and careful observation of the needs and interests of individual children guide a curriculum. The National Association for the Education of Young Children calls this “developmentally appropriate practice” (Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp, 2000). Developmentally appropriate practice follows the interactive or constructivist approach.
The Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards delineate effective teaching practices linked to developmentally appropriate learning outcomes. This is the framework for planning and adopting curricula for preschool classrooms. It is not meant to replace planned curricula but instead to be a guide for making critical curricular decisions. There is no one “best” curriculum for all programs. There are many excellent models that meet the guidelines for developmentally appropriate practice and Standards. The four curriculum models below each meet the following criteria for effective curricula:
- Aligned with the Standards;
- Provide methods for inclusion of students with disabilities;
- Have clear, research-based content and teaching strategies;
- Include significant content taught with focus and integration;
- Focus on maximizing child initiation and engagement;
- Are developmentally appropriate;
- Show evidence of benefits.
Tools of the Mind
Tools of the Mind, which started in 1992, is the result of collaborative work between Russian and American educational researchers based on the theories of Lev Vygotsky. Utilizing the Vygotskian approach, a series of strategies were created to support meta-cognitive and meta-linguistic skills and other skills essential to literacy development. Play is the central teaching tool within a scaffolded learning environment that focuses on giving children the tools they need to develop higher mental functions (Bodrova & Leong, 2007). Techniques include the teacher’s facilitation of children’s construction of individual play plans and asking children to describe multiple, imaginative uses for open-ended objects such as blocks. Central to the approach is scaffolded writing to help children recognize words as units, work with the sounds that make up words, and use letters to represent those sounds. The program emphasizes that young children must build strong speaking and social skills and exercise emotional and behavioral control (self-regulation) before they can learn to read.