An ‘Interest-based' curriculum in the EYFS – just what does it really mean and is it actually achievable?
The new EYFS Statutory Framework requires practitioners to:
“..consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care, and use this information to plan a challenging and enjoyable experience for each child in all of the areas of learning and development.” EYFS learning and Development 1.7
But what does the word ‘interest' really mean? Are we setting ourselves an impossible task?
Firstly, perhaps we should unpick the definition of the word ‘interest'. There are in fact two meanings of the word. The first: those things which interest children or in which they are interested. The second: the premise that some things are in a child's best interest. It is clearly in the interest of children, for example, that they should learn to read, write, get along with others, dress themselves, develop relationships, hold a paintbrush and so on.
Here is the problem. How do we ensure that any curriculum we provide in the early years provides a true balance between those two types of interest? Creating a curriculum that enables us to do this is indeed a big ask. There is a school of thought that argues that a curriculum entirely based on children's own interest is in fact too fragmentary and impossible to plan, prepare, evaluate and assess. Others regard an ‘Interest-based' curriculum as essential, due to the perceived inappropriateness of the alternative – a prescriptive, school-orientated curriculum.
And this is the crux of the matter. How can we provide a curriculum that is co-constructed, creative, developed around children's interests and still maintains the opportunity for the essential skills and experiences needed as part of children's early development?
The Reggio Emilia Pre-school provision in Northern Italy has exactly this type of approach. Whilst is it easy to be romanced by the amazing outcomes seen in the pre-schools of the Northern Province, it is important to look a little closer at the role played by the Pedagogistas. Here you will see familiar projects and themes introduced by the adult; examples include My City, Shadows and so on. These projects are not only offered by the adults but provide a range of rich, stimulating experiences that provoke creative and thoughtful responses from the children, and engage them in the co-construction of their own learning. Making this approach work requires observation, documentation, creativity, flexibility, patience and responsibility:
Elizabeth Jones (PhD), Author and Faculty Emerita at the School of Human Development and Family Studies, Pacific Oaks College, Pasadena, California points out:
“We are the stage directors; curriculum is teacher's responsibility, not children's. People who hear the words emergent curriculum may wrongly assume that everything simply emerges from the children. The children's ideas are an important source of curriculum but only one of many possible sources that reflect the complex ecology of their lives.” Page 5 – Jones, Elizabeth. & Nimmo, John. Emergent Curriculum. Washington DC: NAEYC 1994.
When faced with the task of creating the Cornerstones EYFS Curriculum Framework, the following points were considered:
- Use interests that start from you, the children and the world around them. A balance of these starting points is necessary and relevant
- Make sure you have opportunity to carefully observe ways in which the children respond to initial stimuli (an object, a question, an experience) and provide space and opportunity to talk about, reflect and plan how these starting points might be built upon
- Use an interest web to grow your and the children's ideas in a creative and flexible way. Allow enough space for the plan to grow and change as the project or interest progresses
- Accept that a web or any form of planning won't show everything that will be learned but will grow and change as the interest develops. It is important to use the web as a tool to plan possibilities and not to create a concrete ‘plan'
- Consider possibilities that might spark from the range of different starting points, think more of a ‘road map' or ‘pathway of possibilities'
- Consider how, through the areas of learning, hands-on activities can be provided that develop the children's interests and skills needed for their overall development
- Remember that children's interests often form in groups, making the process much easier to manage than on an individual basis
- As the projects and planning emerges, make sure that you are able to observe what the children say and do so that you can continue to build upon their interests and document their learning
- Be flexible with the length of a ‘project' or interest, be open to the fact that some will last a long time and some a short time depending on the children's motivations
- Try to achieve a balance of child-led, adult-led and environment-led basis for projects over a period of time
- Reflect back after the interest to make judgements and/or evaluations about the children's development, using ‘Development Matters' where appropriate
- Be brave and expect the unexpected, the place where you arrive will not necessarily be your expected destination!
Cornerstones EYFS Curriculum Author
To find out more about ‘Interest-based' learning or to view our ‘Interest-based' curriculum materials for the EYFS visit our Cornerstones EYFS Curriculum product page.