Themes and Projects

          A Thematic approach in early childhood education means that the curriculum will be centered around a particular topic, theme or idea.  All the activities and lessons in the class will be centered around this theme.  This approach allows teachers to integrate a central idea across all areas of the curriculum.  This has been referred to as an integrated approach to curriculum by many researchers and educators.

          A thematic curriculum is beneficial to both the teachers and children.  For the teachers it helps them to better focus in their planning, and helps them to collect resources and materials for their prop boxes, which can be used again.  It also helps them to coordinate their efforts with their cohorts so that they can share their resources and materials.  Also using a theme based approach helps the teacher to plan ahead.

          The thematic curriculum allows children to explore, learn, and investigate ideas and the environment on their own.  It also helps them to tie together the knowledge gained, instead of learning on a piece meal basis.  One could also decide on what themes to use based on the childrenís input and ideas.  The selection of themes also depends on the preschoolís schedule, staffing, and the nature of the clientele.  The most important point to bear in mind while choosing themes is that it needs to foster all areas of childrenís growth and development.

          A list of some of themes that one can choose from are listed below:

        All about me

        My five senses

        Community helpers

        Transportation

        Fruits and vegetables

        Holidays and festivals

        Wild, farm, domestic, and sea animals

        Seasons

        Plants and flowers

        Nursery rhymes

        Authors

        Beach

        Insects

 

Some of the prop boxes (materials that go together) that one can create to go with the above themes are listed below:

        Grocery store

_ Bags

-         Empty food containers

-         Cash register

-         Pretend loaves of bread and meat

-         Signs for various sections

   Doctorís office

Scrubs

Stethoscope

Gloves

Clip boards

Medical supplies

X-ray films

        Flower shop

Fabric or plastic flowers

Vases

Styrofoam cubes

Cash register

Receipt book

    Pet store

Cages

Stuffed animals

Pet supplies

Cash register

Toys for pets

    Fire station

Firefighter helmets

Hoses

Firefighter uniforms

Phones

Ladder

    Beauty Parlor/Salon

Hair curlers

Combs and brushes

Pretend make up material

Pretend haircutting scissors

Hair styling books

Hair styling products

Cash register

     Jewelry store

Jewelry

Jewelry catalog

Cash register

Table mirrors

        Beach

Beach balls

Beach umbrella

Beach towels

Sun block

Lais

Picnic basket

Books

Boom box

Plastic bucket and shovel

 

Project Approach

          A project approach has been defined by Katz and Chard (1989) as an in-depth study of a topic by either an individual child, group of children or a whole class.  Students and teachers together will determine the topic that they will investigate, resources they will use, and the manner in which their learning will be displayed. 

          Project approach is of immense benefit to the children because it encourages them to actively seek knowledge.  This might entail them to interact with people in the community, environment, seek out other resources.  This will encourage the childrenís ability to be independent, be motivated and increase their self-esteem.  

          For teachers too the project approach has immense benefits in terms of them pointing the children in the right direction to explore and freeing them to more individualized instruction.  The project approach can also keep the teachers challenged because each group of children will have different ideas and suggestions for the project. 

          Katz and Chard (1989) have identified three phases in the life of a project.  The first phase is the is the initial phase during which the teacher assesses the knowledge level of the children in that particular area, then the children and the teacher develop the questions that they would like to investigate.  During the developmental phase the teacher guides the children to gain direct experience in the topic that they are investigating.  During the concluding phase the teacher brings a closure to the project and the children share the knowledge they have gained through several creative methods.

          The topics for projects are varied and wide, the most important criteria being that it should stem from the childrenís and teacherís interest.  Katz and Chard (1989)

have outlined the following guidelines in selecting a topic for project work:

-         the topic should be relevant

-         have plenty of opportunities to apply skills learned

-         check on the availability of resources

-         time of the year

-         teacherís and childrenís interest

After selecting the topic one can brainstorm with the children and come up with a web of the possibilities of questions, prior knowledge, and knowledge to be gained.  Then the teacher and the children need to create an environment that will facilitate their learning process and help them investigate the topic under study.  It can sometimes be hard to sustain the childrenís interest over a period of time, hence the teacher needs to be continually modifying or altering the plans, environment etc to continuously interest the children.  Some teachers also add additional projects to the ongoing projects to sustain interest.  The most important part of a project work is wrapping it up and documenting the learning that has taken place.  Some children create books, teachers display their work, or videotape the entire process.  This documentation has to be demonstrated to all interested and use this as a platform to advocate for children.