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Topic

Overview
of Child
Curriculum

LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1.

Describe the different components in a curriculum document;

2.

Explain the relevancy of a curriculum document;

3.

Discuss what can influence the design of a curriculum; and

4.

Analyse the different learning theories used in a curriculum


document.

INTRODUCTION
This topic raises questions such as What is child curriculum? and What
distinguishes a child curriculum from a curriculum per se? This topic also
discusses the purpose of the curriculum and the process of its development.
A curriculum may not identify the developmental theory on which it is based,
but it probably reflects one of the many theories that explain a childs
development and learning. Several major theories which will be discussed in this
introductory topic are maturational theory, psychodynamic theory, cognitive
developmental theory, ecological theory, multiple intelligence theory and social
cultural theory.

ACTIVITY 1.1
What do you understand by the word curriculum and what
components should be in a curriculum document? Discuss.
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1.1

OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

CHILD CURRICULUM

In general, the word curriculum suggests different concepts to different


audiences, be they teachers, administrators or parents. A curriculum can be:
(a)

A set of specific activities;

(b)

A framework for making decisions about the choices of materials and


activities; or

(c)

A comprehensive approach to fostering the development of a child.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the
National Association of Early Childhood Specialists (NAECS) in the State
Department of Education (SDE) define curriculum as an organised framework
that delineates the content that children are to learn, the processes through which
children achieve the identified curricular goals, what teachers do to help children
achieve those goals and the context in which teaching and learning occurs
(Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992). In addition, for infants and toddlers, curriculum
is defined as every experience, and every minute in the day is part of the infant
and toddler curriculum. Diapering, feeding, washing and comforting are
elements of the curriculum, including singing, playing, watching and moving
(Watson, Watson & Wilson, 2003).
A curriculum has many process levels or terms including what takes place in a
classroom, which in turn reflects the centre philosophy, goals and objectives
(refer to Table 1.1).
Table 1.1: Terms Used in Curriculum
Term

Meaning

Philosophy

Basic principle, attitude and belief of the centre

Goals

Broad general overview of what the children are expected to gain


from the programme

Objectives

Specific teaching techniques designed to meet the physical,


intellectual, cultural, social, emotional and creative development of
the children

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Regardless of the curriculums specific focus, most early childhood educators


agree on the following set of assumptions about a childs curriculum:
(a)

A curriculum is related to the overall programme quality;

(b)

A curriculum must focus on the whole child programme as well as


integrate all areas of development;

(c)

Playtime serves many functions for young children; among the most
important is that it is the primary mode for learning in early childhood
education;

(d)

Teachers must agree with the philosophy and practices of the curriculum
and understand its content;

(e)

Teachers also must understand a childs development and theories of


learning;

(f)

Children are active learners;

(g)

A curriculum should be developmentally appropriate; and

(h)

A curriculum should be aware of the role of the social and cultural context
in a childs development and learning process.

1.1.1

Purpose of Curriculum

There has been a growing concern over the curriculum for early childhood
education and care. The reasons are as follows:
(a)

Society is trying to make early childhood institutions more visible.

(b)

With relevant research, society has come to realise the importance of a


childs early experiences.

(c)

Early childhood education and care needs a national curriculum.

(d)

It provides professionalism in early childhood education and a shared


framework.

(e)

A guideline to measure quality in improvement and equity.

(f)

It provides early childhood professionals a common framework to allow


efficient communication between teachers and parents.

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Designing an early childhood curriculum is a dilemma as designers would need


to guide personnel with low certification, cover all learning areas, adopt common
pedagogy and reach a certain level of quality across various age groups.
Additionally, the curriculum would need to cover all developmental areas at the
childs own pace.
Early childhood curriculum plays an important role in achieving the goals for
social competence and school readiness in young children. An early childhood
programme would need a curriculum that could support every childs
development from patterns to learning styles. Goals and objectives are what
children would need to learn, and the roadmap to achieve this is the curriculum.
This is achieved through routines and experiences.

1.1.2

Influences of Curriculum

A curriculum for young children varies widely and some actually detail out
every activity and what to teach, yet others only act as guidelines.
Even definitions and how play is used can vary considerably. A single curriculum
might not address all different areas of learning. It may appear to be
comprehensive yet the focus of individual domain is superficial. Some might fit a
schools philosophy but are not relevant to the children or impossible for teachers
to implement, thus making it ineffective. Therefore to ensure the appropriateness
of a curriculum, the role of teachers and the learning process of children have to be
addressed. The curriculum should take into account the following areas:
(a)

Childrens age;

(b)

Childrens developmental stages;

(c)

Behaviour or childrens learning needs;

(d)

Linguistic and cultural background;

(e)

Economic status;

(f)

Teachers prior training; and

(g)

Teachers professional development.

A proper assessment system should be specifically designed to perform an


ongoing measurement of learning objectives and children engagement in
meaningful tasks. A childs curriculum should also include parental involvement
and partnership to establish meaningful ongoing communication. The
stakeholders involved should carry out constant research to collect evidence of a
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OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

models effectiveness and attempt to see the model in action in different settings.
With the availability of multiple curriculum models, there seems to be some
confusion regarding which ones are appropriate for young children or more
effective for specific demographics such as for four- and five-year olds. Although
the early childhood education professionals recommend the adoption of
developmentally appropriate practices in programmes, there is not yet any
research base to promote any single curriculum model as the best.

1.1.3

Process of Curriculum Development

Curriculum development is an ongoing and lengthy process that needs to follow


certain steps (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1: The process of curriculum development

The above steps are important in any curriculum development process as the
curriculum must be appropriate and relevant to a childs needs and level of
interest.
Let us now discuss the process in detail.
(a)

Design
The design stage involves all early preparation work to ensure the
curriculum has relevance, appropriateness and practicality. At this point,
the curriculum is conceptualised and focus is given to the philosophical
underpinnings, learning experiences and evaluation. The curriculum is
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OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

prepared through consultation with all stakeholders involved which will


benefit the education of young children.
(b)

Develop
At the curriculum development stage, a step-by-step procedure is used to
produce the document which would include vision statements, goals,
standards, performance benchmark, learning activities, learning and
teaching materials, instructional strategies, interdisciplinary connections
and other integration activities which serve as a guide in the
implementation of the curriculum.

(c)

Implement
This is the stage when all stakeholders participate in the process to
operationalise the curriculum and put it into practice. Teachers would need
to go to seminars and workshops to equip them with the relevant
knowledge, skills and attitude.

(d)

Monitor
Monitoring is required in order to collect data and verify that classroom
practice is consistent and the desired goals and objectives have been met.

(e)

Evaluate
Data collected are analysed to determine the effectiveness of the curriculum
design and its implementation as they relate to the child. The process also
involves finding deficiencies and root causes.

(f)

Review
During the review stage, any information analysed will be used to improve
the curriculum. The various adjustments will incorporate any strengths and
address the weaknesses. Additional resources and useful teaching materials
can be added into the document.

ACTIVITY 1.2
Review your school curriculum and discuss with your coursemates if
the document is complete and has the appropriate components.

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1.2

OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

DEVELOPMENT AND LEARNING THEORIES

There are several major theories that explain child development and learnings
which we will discuss in this subtopic. This subtopic covers maturational theory,
psychodynamic theory, cognitive development theory, ecological theory,
multiple intelligence theory and social cultural theory.

1.2.1

Maturational Theory

Arnold Gesell puts forward one of the oldest theories, the maturationist theory.
This theory explains that a childs maturity depends on his/her genetic makeup
and has little to do with environmental influences. In other words, this theory
maintains that as children mature and grow older, the surrounding environment
has little influence on their personality and temperament. Gesell identified
developmental milestones or events that will occur at specific age levels these
have been used as helpful guidelines for parents to track their childs
development. From a maturationists point of view, the childs environment
should be adapted to their needs and characteristics that have been genetically
determined.

1.2.2

Psychodynamic Theory

Sigmund Freud established his early psychoanalytic theory (1886 to 1914) which
focused on instincts and the role of pathology. The theory describes how a childs
personality develops during his or her childhood. Freuds theory proposed that
the mind can be divided into three main parts: The id, ego and superego (see
Figure 1.2).
Freud believed that thoughts, ideas and wishes that are in a persons brain
actually show how we behave. However, this is not easily accessible by the
conscious part of our mind. In other words, our brain knows things that our
mind doesnt. This aspect that we are not aware of is called the unconscious part
of our mind. Psychodynamic theory proposes that personality characteristics are
mostly a reflection of what is in our unconscious mind.

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Figure 1.2: Three main parts of the mind

Let us now discuss the three main parts of the mind in greater detail.
(a)

Id
During infancy, before personality begins to form, children are ruled
entirely by their unconscious or what is called the id. Id is largely based on
the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs.
For example, when we are hungry, our pleasure directs us to eat. This
aspect of a persons personality is entirely unconscious.

(b)

Ego
Ego refers to the Greek and Latin word for I, a personality structure
which begins developing in early childhood and can be interpreted as the
self. This is partly conscious and partly unconscious. The ego operates
based on reality; that is, it attempts to help the id get what it wants by
judging the difference between real and imaginary. If a person is hungry,
the id might begin to imagine food and even dream about food. The id may
be regarded as irrational in nature. The ego, however, will try to determine
how to get some real food. The ego helps a person satisfy its need through
reality.

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(c)

OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

Superego
Superego means above the ego, and includes the moral belief that a
person learns from his or her family and the society. The superego makes
people feel proud when they do something right (the ego belief) and feels
guilty when they do something they consider to be morally wrong (the
conscience). The superego, like the ego, is partly conscious and partly
unconscious. The superego is like an instrument that checks on our moral
conscience, and creates feelings of pride and guilt according to the beliefs
that have been learned within the family and the culture. This explains the
aspect of personality that holds all of our internalised moral standards and
beliefs of what we perceive to be right and wrong that we acquire from our
parents and society (see Figure 1.3). It provides guidelines for us to make
judgments. According to Freud, the superego begins to emerge at the age of
five.

Figure 1.3: Existence of duality in an individual


Source: https://advancedhindsight.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/leggoego.png

1.2.3

Cognitive Development Theory

Jean Piaget (1896 to 1980) was an influential researcher in the 20th century in the
field of psychology. As a biologist, he was interested to see how humans adapt to
their environment which he described as intelligence. Behaviour or actions
shown by humans to adapt to the environment is controlled by mental schemata
or schema that is used to understand the world and designate action. This
adaptation is driven to obtain a balance between schema and the environment.
This balance is what we call achieving equilibrium. Infants are born with
schema operating at birth called reflexes.
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Piaget further explains these reflexes that control behaviour last a lifetime for
animals but in humans such as in infants, they use the reflexes to adapt to the
environment and then these will be replaced with constructed schemata.
According to Piaget, there are two processes used by individuals throughout
their lifetime to adapt to the environment in a more complex manner
assimilation and accommodation.
Assimilation is the process of using the environment so that it can be placed in
the pre-existing cognitive structures. Accommodation is the process of changing
cognitive structures in order to accept something from the environment. Both
processes are used simultaneously and alternately throughout life. An example
of assimilation would be when an infant uses a sucking schema that was
developed when he was sucking on a small bottle when attempting to suck on a
larger bottle. An example of accommodation would be when the child needs to
modify a sucking schema developed by sucking on a pacifier to one that would
be successful for sucking on a bottle.
Piaget identified four stages in cognitive development (see Table 1.2):
Table 1.2: Four Stages in Cognitive Development
Stages

Description

Sensorimotor
stage (infancy)

This period has six sub-stages. Intelligence is demonstrated


through motor activity without the usage of symbols.
Knowledge of the world is limited but it is at the developing
stage because it is only based on physical interactions or
experiences. Children acquire object permanence or memory
at about seven months old. The childs mobility allows the
child to begin developing new intellectual abilities.

Pre-operational
stage (toddler and early
childhood)

In this period, intelligence is demonstrated through the usage


of symbols, language begins to mature, and memories are
developed, but thinking is still in a non-logical and nonreversible manner.

Concrete operational
stage (elementary
school and early
adolescence)

In this stage, intelligence is demonstrated through logical and


systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete
objects. Operational thinking develops mental actions that are
reversible and egocentric thought diminishes.

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Formal operational
stage (adolescence and
adulthood)

OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

11

In this stage, individuals are able to relate to abstract concepts


through the logical use of symbols. Only 35 per cent of high
school graduates in industrialised countries obtain formal
operations; many people do not think formally during
adulthood.
Many pre-schools are modelled on Piaget's theory, which
forms the foundation of constructivist learning. Discovery
learning is one of the best teaching methods as it involves
learning through exploration which is the natural way for
children to acquire knowledge.

1.2.4

Ecological Theory

Urie Bronfenbrenner first introduced the ecological theory in 1970. He believed


that the development of a child is affected by his or her surroundings.
Bronfenbrenner divided the environment into five different levels which are the
microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and chronosystem (refer
to Figure 1.4).

Figure 1.4: The ecological theory


Source: http://www.jped.com.br/conteudo/04-80-S104/ing_print.htm

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Now, we will look into the levels in detail:


(a)

Microsystem
This is the closest system to an individual such as his or her home, school or
day-care. The microsystem would normally include people such as the
family, peers and teachers. The relationship in this system is a two-way
relationship and it is the most influential level in the ecological system.

(b)

Mesosystem
The next level is the mesosystem. At this level, there are interactions
between the different parts of an individual microsystem. They are
interconnected and have influence over one another. These interactions
have an indirect impact on the individual. An example is the relationship
built between a parent and a teacher.

(c)

Exosystem
The exosystem refers to a level that does not involve the child as an active
participant but any changes that occur will still have an effect on him or
her. For example, if a father is transferred to another state for a promotion,
there is a higher likelihood of a child being affected by his or her fathers
absence.

(d)

Macrosystem
The fourth level of the ecological systems theory is the macrosystem. This
system consists of the cultural environment in which a person lives. An
example is economy and cultural values.

(e)

Chronosystem
This system involves the dimension of time as it relates to a childs
environment. The elements in this system could either be external or
internal factors. An example for external factors would be the death of a
mother whereas for internal factor, a childs growth could be a cause of
concern. These factors will cause a child to react differently to the
environment.

When designing a curriculum, based on this theory it is important to involve


parents, family and the community at large. As explained in the earlier
paragraph, each stakeholder has either a direct or indirect impact on the child.

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1.2.5

OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

13

Multiple Intelligences Theory

Multiple intelligences theory was developed by Howard Gardner in 1983. In his


book Frames of mind, Gardner suggested that everyone has a different mind and
that no two profiles of intelligence are the same. He further stressed that the
practice of measuring intelligence by using the IQ test is too restricted. Gardner
explained that there are eight primary intelligences, and an individual could
excel in one, two or three of these areas but no one is good at all (see Figure 1.5).
Hence, Gardner indicated that educators should take into account childrens
strengths and weaknesses, and determine their learning styles. A more
productive way of learning could be achieved for all children if a broader range
of learning methods is applied.

Figure 1.5: The multiple intelligences theory


Source: http://questgarden.com/96/85/8/120318091157/

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1.2.6

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OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

Social Cultural Theory

Vygotsky (1978) described learning as a social process where interaction between


peers and adults plays an important role in the development of cognition.
Vygotsky believed everything is learned in two levels. First, at a social level
where children interact in exchange for new information and later at a individual
level where understanding occurs inside the child, involving voluntary attention
to logical memory and to the formation of concept.
Another aspect of Vygotskys theory is the idea that the potential cognitive
development is limited to the zone of proximal development (refer to Figure 1.6).
A teacher or experienced peer could scaffold and give children the necessary
support to enhance their knowledge domain or complex skills. Collaborative
learning, modelling and scaffolding are strategies to support intellectual
knowledge and skills of learners and facilitate learning. The distance between the
actual development level and the potential achievable level could be determined
through problem solving under guidance.

Figure 1.6: Zone of proximal development


Source: http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/constructivism.htm

ACTIVITY 1.3
If a curriculum is based on multiple intelligences, what concept or
approach should be used and inserted into the document? Discuss.

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OVERVIEW OF CHILD CURRICULUM

15

A curriculum is an organised framework which delineates the content that


children are to learn, the processes through which children achieve the
identified curricular goals, what teachers do to help children achieve those
goals and the context in which teaching and learning occurs.

Curriculum plays an important role in achieving the goals for social


competence and school readiness in young children.

An early childhood programme would need a curriculum that could support


every development pattern and learning style.

All stakeholders should be involved in the designing of any curriculum.

Curriculum development is an ongoing and tedious process that involves the


following steps, which are design, develop, implement, monitor, evaluate
and review.

Curriculum design

Objective

Curriculum development

Philosophy

Framework

School readiness

Goal

Stakeholders

Bredekamp, S., & Rosegrant, T. (Eds). (1992). Reaching potentials: Appropriate


curriculum and assessment of young children (Vol 1).Washington DC:
NAEYC.
Frede, E., & J. Ackerman, D. (2007). Preschool curriculum decision-making:
Dimensions to consider. National Institute of Early Education Research,
(12).

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Piaget, J. (1990). The childs conception of the world. New York: Littlefield
Adams.
Watson, L. D., Watson, M. A., & Wilson, L. C. (2003). Infants and toddlers:
Curriculum and teaching (5th ed.). Clifton Park, New York: Thomson
Delmar Learning.

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