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A Roly-poly and Lost Puppies: A Look at Emergent Curriculum

By Celia Cruz

“Follow the child’s interests in people, objects, places, and activities, and talk with them. It’s social interaction that creates a link between the child and an ongoing activity. Help them learn how to articulate themselves and participate in the world.”

Anne Haas Dyson

Our nursery learners make a variety of choices during morning inside-outside play. Over the past few weeks, we’ve observed a flurry of planning and collaboration among the children while they performed a Wedding Ballet, constructed a house for puppies on the loose,  made a temporary habitat for caterpillars beneath the walnut tree, and designed Magna-tile palaces for cats. Their emerging interests and pursuits provide us with so many possibilities for extending their investigations.

Anne Haas Dyson, whose scholarly works focus on children’s early literacy development and sociocultural language in play, notes that “Children learn the way we all learn: through engagement, and through construction. They have to make sense of the world, and that’s what play or any other symbolic activity does for children.”

One morning during choice time, two friends exclaimed that they discovered a “roly-poly” bug beneath a rock. At once other children ran over to observe the finding, and soon a group of roly-poly detectives was formed. We used this exciting exploration to modify our plans for the day. We borrowed the book  Hank’s Big Day: The Story of a Bug, by Evan Kuhlman and Chuck Groeninkwhich was in our lineup of stories to read sooner or later this spring because not only does it feature a pill bug a.k.a. roly-poly protagonist but also the bug’s friend, Amelia, who enjoys pretending that she’s a pilot! How meaningful for our learners to be whisked into a story that connects to our ongoing study of female pilots such as Brave Bessie Coleman, Sarla Thakral, Amelia Earhart, and Ruth Law and to our ongoing interests in Miquon wildlife and insects.

Next, we used our Inquiry time for that morning to take a hike to the Bamboo Forest to look for more pill bugs and other creatures featured in Hank’s Big Day beneath logs and rocks and above us in the trees. Many of the children practiced using binoculars, while others crept quietly like a fox, hoping to find deer or — a fox and her kits!


“A bug restaurant!” “A palace for ants.”

The dramatic play centering around Cat Family, Lost Puppies, and Puppy School is familiar yet new each time the children engage in re-enacting and role play. To extend the children’s stories and understandings, we read The Cat Who Walked Across France, by Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben, Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats, and City Cat, by Kate Banks and Lauren Castillo. During Inquiry time, we thought about what we needed to take care of stuffed animals who walked for miles or who needed check-ups by a veterinarian. Then we gathered tape and bandages, stethoscopes, and medical charts attached to clipboards as we transformed our classroom into a veterinary clinic. The doctors reported the following findings:

“Your rabbit needs to stay overnight. You can pick him up tomorrow morning, and bring a bag if he gets sick in the car.”

“This chickadee fell out of a tree and broke its wing.”

“This turkey needs a shot. It’s going to hurt.”

“I’m typing up the chart. These are the instructions for taking care of your patient.”

We extended our in-depth Inquiry by taking a field trip the following week to visit Dr. Patten at the Liberty Veterinary Clinic! Dr. Patten and her veterinary staff invited us to examine two friendly patients, Penelope and Mabel, carefully using the stethoscope and otoscope for listening to the heart and checking the ears, respectively. We shared information about our stuffed animal patients as we compared colorful medical charts that included animal pictographs and space for drawing and writing. For the next several days, our Inquiry time provided the continued space for our learners to apply their veterinary clinic experience to their play. Rest cots were available for stuffed animal patients who needed to stay overnight at the hospital, and the children put on their scrubs and masks donated by Dr. Patten’s office to make sure the stuffies weren’t exposed to germs.


REMINDER: Please come to our Nursery Group Story Quilt, Stitchwork, and Rock Exhibit next Thursday! 

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