In early childhood education and care, the word curriculum means different things to different people. It can mean a philosophy, a program, an approach, or a set of specific materials and activities that are purchased as a boxed curriculum.

 Here are a couple examples of commonly understood definitions:

·       “The curriculum consists of the knowledge and skills to be acquired in the educational program as well as the plans for experiences through which children’s learning will take place.”       Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs, NAEYC (2009) p. 42.

·       “Curriculum – the knowledge and skills teachers are expected to teach and children are expected to learn, and the plans for experiences through which learning will take place.” The Intentional Teacher by Ann Epstein (2007) p. 5.


Although there are many definitions for curriculum, they all include this concept:

goals and plans for children to acquire skills and knowledge through activities, experiences and opportunities”


Many definitions also include direct teaching or facilitation of learning by the educator/provider. With this in mind, all philosophies, programs, approaches, or specific materials and activities can provide the curriculum foundation necessary for high quality care.   It is the educator/provider’s responsibility to make sure the daily programming is based on early learning standards and addresses the individual needs of each child

 Whole Day, Whole Child Programming

Children are eager to learn and experience new things. Their job all day, every day is to take in new learning. Early childhood educators and providers know that children learn when all of the developmental domains are supported. Educators/providers that provide activities and experiences that integrate all of the domains are addressing the needs of the ‘whole child.’

 The educator/provider’s job is to plan for and recognize the learning that is taking place. Providing a variety of experiences and opportunities, that are accessed through different delivery systems such as free choice, small group/large group activities, child/teacher directed, learning centers/stations etc., will address the ‘whole day’ approach as well as meet the differing needs of children.

 Curriculum or programming for early childhood education and care begins the moment the child walks through the door. Having daily routines, providing self-help learning and life-skill development, structured and non-structured activities are all part of a child’s day. Educators/providers that understand this are able to provide an environment and activities where learning happens all day.

 Here are some specific examples of learning, but are not typically thought of as learning activities and include both the domain and component from Minnesota’s early learning standards:

·       A child arrives and says hi to the educators/providers, goes over to the cubby area and hangs up his jacket. 

Domain: Social and Emotional Development

Component: Self-Concept

·       Next, he heads into the playroom to find his friends and easily finds some cars to play with on the mat next to his friends.  

Domain: Approaches to Learning

Component: Imagination and Invention

·       When it’s time for group, the educators/providers asks all the children to put their cars, blocks and other small pieces away in the bins that are labeled with pictures and words.  

Domain: Language and Literacy

Component: Listening

·       During group time, the educator/provider hands out musical instruments to play while singing favorite group songs

Domain: Creativity & the Arts

Component: Creating

·       After a story, singing, and calendar time, the educators/providers asks the children to wash their hands and get ready for snack.  

Domain: Physical and Motor Development

Component: Physical Health and Well-Being

·       Each child is asked to get one paper plate, one napkin, and one cup to put on their placement.  

Domain: Cognitive Development

Component: Mathematical and Logical Thinking

 Did this surprise you to see all of the domains are covered? It’s often thought that learning happens only during activities where a educators/providers is leading and directing an activity. In reality, children are always learning and it’s important to recognize that all parts of the early childcare program provide learning experiences for all developmental domains.