By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Curriculum can emerge from outdoor play experiences in wondrous and authentic ways. The changing seasons offer invitations for learning that cannot be duplicated indoors. Curriculum can and should emerge from nature. It is in nature that children’s interests will be piqued. Whether it be building snow forts in the winter, puddle jumping in the spring, chasing leaves in the fall or looking for insects in the summer, each season offers different invitations or affordances. Affordance theory refers to the idea that clues in the environment indicate possibilities for action (Gibson, 2014). The affordances of the space or object are all the things that it has the potential to do or be. Each season has its own affordances! I haven’t always been the outdoor play enthusiast as I am now. As a practising early childhood educator, I focused on the indoor environment and winter was my least favourite time of year to be outside. Now I realize that with the proper clothing, children and their teachers can embrace play across all seasons.
Curriculum is emergent when it evolves, diverging along new paths as children make choices and connections with their lived experiences. Curriculum options are always fluid so that new possibilities may be weaved in as seasonal changes evolve. Children benefit from experiencing the four seasons as this serves to build their connections to nature. As a way to offer children experiences for outdoor play throughout the year, the coming of the seasons can be celebrated with children. When children notice the leaves of the trees are beginning to change colour and drop to the ground, this is a time to celebrate the end of the summer and the arrival of fall. When the first snow falls, it is a time to say hello to the affordances of winter with the play possibilities inherent in snow and ice. When the snow and ice melt at the end of winter, children can look for signs of new life and celebrate the arrival of spring. As the weather gets warmer and the flora and fauna more lush it is time to welcome the sun and the summer. Celebrate the end of one season and the arrival of another by introducing children to books focusing on the different seasons and by creating follow up invitations that are intended to expand children’s curiosity, play, and exploration, while continuing their learning (Dietze & Kashin, 2018).
The above table was adapted from one that will be in Chapter Nine, Programming from a Four Season Perspective, my new textbook, co-authored with Beverlie Dietze, Outdoor and Nature Play in Early Childhood Education which will be published this year.
In the textbook, we also include this table which shows some of the seasonal discoveries that children can make in the fall, winter, spring and summer. These are the affordances of the seasons. This is where curriculum can emerge.
Another table from the book, lists schemas by season. This was inspired by Michelle Thornhill’s loose parts by schema. I have written about schemas before and credit my friend and colleague, Cindy Green with helping me understand their importance. She also helped with this table so that Beverlie and I could show more affordances of the seasons based on schemas.
Emergent curriculum allows for the twist and turns of children’s interests as the natural world changes around them. A traditional curriculum has preset learning units or themes that teachers follow without the input of children as they encounter wonders about the world. This type of curriculum does not support children’s interests or opportunities to influence their play or their curiosity. Nature is unpredictable and creates the conditions for an emergent curriculum. Seasonally variant landscapes are gifts to children’s play, learning and development. What are your favourite seasonal invitations? Share them in the comment section and may we all enjoy the seasons!