Emergent Curriculum

The following is an example of an emergent curriculum from our Director Kim Turnbull's former Threes class at Beginnings Nursery School in New York City.


Early in the year a teacher observed a child drawing a treasure map. She gathered children to show them what had been made.

This exciting new idea created an avalanche of mapmaking by the entire class.

The teachers met together and began to ask themselves, “What is meaningful to the children about this? And how can we help to propel their thinking and explorations?”  The teachers decided that the next step would be to present all the maps that were created by the children at their next meeting time.

After the meeting the drawing table was filled with busy children making maps; maps of their homes, their routes to school, their grandparents’ homes, and other important places. The teachers’ questions about the meaning of this for the children became more specific: How much is one’s sense of identity, at 3-years-old, rooted in one’s physical places in the world?

Some things children said about their maps were:

“This is a map of my home.”

“I live on 25 11th Street. This is how I go to my school.”

Children also talked about which trains they took from home and to and from their favorite playgrounds. The teachers brought in subway maps and street maps of New York City. Children were eager to locate their homes on the maps.

Teachers identified an interest in learning to use maps.

We are always asking questions about the meaning and values of the work we are doing with children, and responding to the children by planning, posing questions, and presenting the children with new materials and challenges.

To help the children understand how to use maps, we made “Our Map”, a map of our city, with everyone’s face, in their place on map, and school. Examining the map, children would touch their own pictures and their friends’ pictures. They would talk about who lived close by, and whose houses they had gone to, and how they got there. As children played with the map, we were able to gain insight into their understandings about maps.

At this time the maps children made began to include their friends’ homes, and other important places to them such as parks, shops, and subway lines. In this, the teachers could see the children’s developing social awareness and cognitive growth.

Symbolic representation was an important aspect of their mapmaking. Symbolic representation means understanding that drawn or written symbols can hold or convey a specific meaning. This is an important part of the process leading towards reading and writing, which involves a complex symbolic code.

To add to the children’s experience with maps the class took small-group trips to the children’s buildings. 


The school year culminated with a celebration with all the children and families at Brooklyn Bridge Park, where the children had a view of their city.

This is the way that an emergent curriculum develops. The collaboration between children and teachers in the learning process is like a ball being passed back and forth. This style of pedagogy helps teachers to reflect, to articulate their thinking and process, and to understand what is important and meaningful to children.