Following Children’s Interests – Understanding Emergent Curriculum

Childhood 101 | Understanding Emergent Curriculum - Following Children's Interests

‘Interests’ are subjects, ideas, things, topics and events which fascinate and stimulate the curiosity of the child.

Within an Emergent Curriculum educators use ‘interests’ of the children, families, community and themselves as the substance of the learning program.

Selected interests are then developed through ‘projects’ or ‘investigations’ – involving related fun and interesting, hands-on learning experiences in which the children and adults work together to further explore the interest and express their own theories and understandings through a variety of representative mediums.

Even very young children have interests. For example, at any moment a young baby or toddler is learning to roll, or crawl, or walk, or jump. This is their current interest, they are determined to master the new skill, they practise and practise. So we (often spontaneously) formulate experiences to encourage mastery of this new skill. We support and cheer on their efforts to jump, we jump with them, we sing and jump to make jumping fun. This is a form of Emergent Curriculum – taking what the child is interested in learning about and making it interesting and engaging for them to learn it.

For a slightly older child it might be an obsession with a particular toy or book that provides the leap pad for further learning. I can tell you that this…
…is a key figure in one of Immy’s current interests, cats! This grotty, sucked on, snotted on, fed porridge and drinks of milk from her own bowl and cup, beanie toy is her constant companion. At eighteen months of age, Immy loves cats. We had a cat, Millie, until we moved to Perth when Immy was 12 months old and Immy was fascinated by her. She would light up when Millie came into the room, crawl after her once she was mobile and she mastered opening our sliding, screen door to get to Millie out on our balcony!

I can (and do) use Immy’s fascination with cats to further her learning about the world.

In my work I have seen children with interests in all manner of things, from the common ones like snails or superheroes, to the more bizarre (try creating an interesting curriculum about garbage trucks), to those stimulated by popular culture like a TV character (think Dora or Diego) or children’s movie (Nemo has changed the world of aquariums forever).

The key is for the educator (be it teacher, child care worker, or parent) to be attuned to the child’s play, conversations and activity for clues to each child’s interests.

What are your child/ren’s current interests?

Read more of the Understanding Emergent Curriculum series;

PerspectivesUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum - Perspectives An Image of the ChildUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum - An Image of the Child
Are 3 Year Olds Too Young to Vote?Understanding Emergent Curriculum Is Your Teacher a Pirate?Understanding Emergent Curriculum
The Child in the CommunityUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum Creating Learning CommunitiesUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum - Communities of learners
Parents ParticipatingUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum Following Children’s InterestsUnderstanding Emergent Curriculum
What Happens When You Follow a Child’s Interest?Understanding Emergent Curriculum How Does an Interest Differ from a Theme?Understanding Emergent Curriculum
Are We Supporting the Hundred Languages of Children?Understanding Emergent Curriculum Revisiting the Hundred Languages of ChildrenCurriculum


  1. Catherine says:

    These are very interesting posts (your series about emergent curriculum). I never really thought about following the child's interests with children as young as you are talking about, but you are right, you do, because you make games around what they want to do.
    But this is definitely what I like to do with my preschooler (3. y.o.) and he does have very definite interests – which often become stronger if I get some books or follow it up. And I like to use his interests to help with learning other things eg. reading skills or maths.

  2. Christie Burnett says:

    Hi Catherine,

    Thank you for your comment, I am glad you are enjoying the series. It sounds like you are doing a great job with your preschooler and you got it spot on, interests are great for introducing them to language and math concepts.


  3. Pamela Wallberg says:

    The photo of the cat is funny for me – we have endless photos of our toddlers with the puppy behind the glass sliding door. . . I find with infants and toddlers, so much of responsive curriculum is really just slowing down and watching – and then realizing what we are observing and how important it is. Perhaps our need to be 'teaching' in a way that is easily understood gets in the way?

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