What happens when you follow a child’s interest? Understanding Emergent Curriculum

Childhood 101 | Understanding Emergent Curriculum - Following A Child's Interest - A Learning Story

In my last Emergent Curriculum post, I promised to share a story about the difference exploring a child’s interest can make to the learning potential of the child.

This is the story of 2 1/2 year old Henry. Henry wasn’t one of those children who stood out from the crowd. He wasn’t loud or overly talkative. He didn’t have behavioural challenges. He wasn’t one of those overtly bright children who ask lots of questions or who always want to give the answers. In fact, Henry was a wanderer. During free play or activity time Henry would wander from activity to activity, engaging for mere moments with the activity or the other children.

In our general discussions about her class, Henry’s educator flagged this as a concern. When I asked her what Henry liked to do, what he was passionate about, what he was drawn to, what he talked enthusiastically about, there was very little we could identify for Henry, certainly not enough to create a curriculum from. We knew we needed to engage Henry in the program but our observations were not providing us with very much to go upon. What were we to do?

I have previously talked about the importance of educator-parent relationships and the benefit for the educator of tapping into the wealth of knowledge parents possess about their child (read more here and here), so the logical thing for us to do was to speak to Henry’s parents about his interests and passions. His mother told us that at home he was currently obsessed with the Disney movie, Dumbo.

Dumbo! What were we to do about Dumbo? We didn’t have any commercial Disney toys and few Disney books in the centre, certainly no Dumbo. So we thought instead about the themes of the movie and began with the most obvious – elephants and the circus.
We started small, after all this was one child in the group and we were not yet sure if he would transfer his interest at home into the centre’s environment. The teacher dedicated a small table in a corner of the room to a table top wooden circus resource and added additional elephants from our zoo animals. One of the elephant figurines was modified to have large ears (made with felt) just like Dumbo. On a nearby shelf we added some books about elephants and the circus, sourced from the centre’s collection and the local library, and some dress up items representing clowns, acrobats and a ring master. On the walls we displayed circus related pictures from magazines, some images from the movie sourced from the internet and some photos of children from the centre dressed as clowns at various dress up events that we had held over the years.

(Sorry this photo isn’t the best ever but it should give you a bit of an idea of where we started)

Well, from day one of this new interest, Henry was a different child. He was more animated with the educators and with the other children, he spent a lot of time in this little area exploring the resources and learning with his educators and peers, and Henry quickly came to see himself as the ‘expert’ of this interest which was incredibly beneficial to his self esteem and to his view of himself as a learner. I have a photo (which I wish I could share) of Henry enthusiastically jumping for joy as the ringmaster of the circus, surrounded by other children each playing their role in what appears a beautiful pantomime.

The investigation of this interest continued to develop over time and drew in more and more children. It included parent initiated and led ‘juggling’ demonstrations, learning all sorts of acrobatics skills (balancing, ball and hoop skills), lots of role play, many hours of reading together, opportunities for creative representations, and lots, lots more.

The purpose of this story however was to talk about Henry and his learning and I can tell you that he became a completely different child in the centre. The skills he developed and demonstrated were maintained and built upon well after the circus investigation was discontinued. This experience positively impacted Henry as a learner in many ways, most unmeasurable but all inherently valuable.

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. Veronica Lee says:

    Hi! I'm visiting from MBC. Great blog.

  2. Lovingmums says:

    This was really interesting… thank you.

  3. Peta @ Pippiwillow says:

    I wish for my child (children) when she (they) starts Kinder' someone as passionate and observant, and gentle as you. I LOVED reading this post. I Love that, gently you reached into 'Henry's world and coxed him forward with his own passion so he could shine in the Kinder world amongst his peers and for himself. Loved it , thank you. Peta

  4. Great blog

  5. What a wonderful read. I just wanted to share some thoughts on play-based learning and some of the reasons why I think it is so beneficial for children and really, the best way for them to learn.

    Here’s the link. I would love it if you popped over and shared some of your thoughts.



  6. That is a terrific story and inspires me to use my elder son’s obsessions with helicopter and rugby as springboards to further learning – not as a destinations of themselves.

    Thank you

  7. Doris Wong says:

    Thanks Christie for sharing your great learning story. It is a great learning story to share with other early years educators.

Comments are closed.