Because children’s growth is continuous, their early educational experiences must also be continuous (Scully, Seefeldt, & Barbour, 2003). One experience builds on another. A thread of meaning runs through a number of experiences, forming a coherent, whole, continuous learning curriculum for young children.
Experiences can stem from every discipline. Some revolve around concepts key to mathematics; others arise from the biological and physical sciences, the earth sciences, music, dance and the visual arts, and the social studies. Each experience is chosen, however, because it builds on a previous one and leads to new experiences. Experiences are chosen not only because they are connected to other experiences, but also because they will enhance, deepen, and strengthen children’s concepts, ideas, and perceptions of content.
Experiences continue over time. They are not one-shot occurrences that begin and end quickly. Nor are they units that begin on Monday and end on Friday. Experiences continue, each expanding and extending the other. Time is given so children can continue to expand and extend their ideas and work. They know as they leave school each day that when they return, there will be something for them to continue doing, learning, and experiencing.
Teachers in Reggio Emilia, Italy, understand the need for continuity of experiences. The video, To Make a Portrait of a Lion (Commune di Reggio Emilia, 1987), illustrates how children’s interest in stone lions guarding one of the village squares led to a year-long study of lions. Children sat on the lions, drew them, looked at pictures of lions in books, visited museums to see other portrayals of lions, and learned where lions live.
When experiences are continuous, children have the time and opportunity to see relationships between facts, to develop ideas, to generalize, to extrapolate, and to make a tentative intuitive leap into new knowledge. This leap, from merely learning a fact to connecting one fact to another, is an essential step in the development of thinking (Bruner, 1966).
Continuity should be present across children’s early childhood years. This means curriculum experiences should be coordinated and continuous from one school placement to another. Thus, Active Experiences for Active Children—Social Studies offers suggestions for extending and expanding experiences so they can form a complete whole as children progress from preschool to kindergarten and into the early primary grades.
Just as experiences serve to integrate the curriculum and connect children’s thinking, so can they serve to unite home and school. This article demonstrates how to involve parents in children’s learning. Each experience specifies a role for children’s families so families will be active partners with teachers in the education of their children.
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