Shomrai Preschool in Silver Spring, Maryland, uses an approach to education known as “emergent curriculum,” where a topic for investigation by students “emerges” based on the children’s interests. The topic is explored with prompting and guidance from the teachers, yet it is the children who really determine the direction in which the exploration will go.
In Kitat Tapuach, which comprises 4 and 5 year olds, the teachers observed that the children really enjoyed playing outside with sticks and bark and decided to decorate their classroom door with a tapuach (apple) tree. This led to the class taking on trees as a topic for investigation, which has been ongoing since mid-October.
“Every time I think we are nearing the end of exploring our topic on trees, the children come up with something else to take our learning further, renewing the excitement,” said Kitat Tapuach Morah (teacher) Sandy Weinberg. “For example, the children know that wooden objects come from trees. We obtained a simple rectangular piece of wood, and I posed the question to the children:'What can we make with this piece of wood?'”
They were so excited to share their ideas, said Weinberg. Although the list of possibilities was at first quite extensive — including items such as a desk, a shield, a puzzle, and a clubhouse — through the give-and-take of conversation, the children independently chose to narrow down the possibilities of what they could realistically make from that piece of wood.
“Just the process of coming up with and narrowing down the project through conversation is a valuable learning experience. The children learn to listen and to consider each other’s ideas, think critically, and really collaborate and work together like a team,” she said. “We will make a final decision at the end of the week about what we will make from the piece of wood, and it will be the children who decide what materials we will use, how it should look, and the steps we need to take to complete the project.”
Kitat Tapuach’s tree investigation has extended into multiple domains of learning, including math, literacy, Judaics, and, of course, science. The children use sticks and twigs to form the Hebrew and English letters they are learning, as well as their menorahs and dreidels during Chanukah time. They have read books about trees such as “Because of an Acorn” by Adam and Lola M. Schaefer, and “The Big Tree” by Bruce Hiscock.
Additionally, they have honed their math and science skills by observing and measuring their adopted class tree. They even plan to create a map leading to their class tree for other preschoolers to follow. Kitat Tapuach plans to visit Brookside Nature Center, as well as to have a parent visit their classroom who can teach them more about woodworking.
“It’s such a great thing to see the children really take ownership of their learning,” said Weinberg. “I look forward to seeing where it will take us.”
By Suri Kinzbrunner
Suri Kinzbrunner is the director of Shomrai Preschool.