Emergent Curriculum

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


On our teacher visits before the first day of school, some parents mentioned that their children had been sending letters and postcards to each other over the summer. 


We wanted to invite the children to bring this interest into school, so on our first day we provisioned a Quiet Work Space with a variety of writing materials, postcards, paper, and envelopes. 


We were surprised by how enthusiastic the kids were; the Quiet Work Space was packed for the first few days!


At first, children put their finished mail into their cloth mail pockets outside the classroom. And at the end of the day they took it home and gave it directly to the person they had made it for. 


But eventually we started sending our notes through the mail...



The children's enthusiasm for making mail continued to grow...

They were making so much mail that we started taking trips to the mailbox almost every day. 




One day, while Kisna and Luciana were delivering mail to the mailbox, the mail carrier arrived to pick it up!

When he unlocked the side of the mailbox, and dumped the mail into the bin, they saw all the letters our class had just made.

Then he carried the bin full of mail to the truck, and told them he was taking the letters to the post office to be sent out.


When we got back to class we showed everyone pictures of meeting the mail carrier, and told everyone he invited us to go to the post office.

The kids were excited about that idea...

...so we did!


In talking with the children after the trip, we found that they didn’t understand that the mail we deliver to the mailbox goes to the post office, where it gets sorted and sent to the person it is addressed to. And they didn’t seem interested in learning the technicalities of the mail system.

Because our goal is not to teach the kids about certain subjects, but rather to help them develop a love of learning, through exploring what is meaningful to them — we didn’t try to teach them about the postal system.

Instead, we paid close attention, looking for what was compelling them...


Some children became interested in the printout of families’ addresses that we keep at the mail table. Soon children started making mail for teachers and extended family members, so we added those addresses. And the address list continued to grow.

Looking at the addresses, children asked about where they live, and where their friends, teachers, and extended families live in relation to them. 




So we brought in a map of Manhattan, and marked where children and teachers live, and where school is.


We then started getting mail from around the world - both from extended family, and from families traveling.




When we received mail from faraway places, the children asked questions about where it came from, so we brought in a world map. We put a sticker on New York City. When we got mail from another state or country, we put another sticker on the map, marking each new place. The children like to see where the letters came from, and how far they "flew" to get to us.

During this time, we found that many of the children were increasingly interested in writing their names, short phrases such as, “I love you,” and letters of the alphabet.


So, we made a name card for each child to help the children write their names.


In the beginning we saw a lot of

  • Experimenting with writing materials
  • Experimenting with pencil grip
  • Experimenting with representational drawing (moving from scribbling to marks intended to look like something)


As their work progressed we helped them work on their pencil grips, concentrating on new ideas...

  • Writing letters
  • Drawing shapes

By the winter break, there was a lot of drive towards writing their names.




Before the break, the teachers came together again to discuss the evolution of our mail endeavors, and to revisit our questions regarding the meaningfulness of making mail for the children.

We saw some common themes of interest and inspiration that seemed to be driving one or a few children.

For most children, it seemed to be about:

  • Connecting with others
  • Showing love for someone
  • Receiving mail and studying the map to see where it came from
  • An interest in reading and writing, and a sense of pride in beginning to master some letters