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An effective curriculum for young children
emphasizes thinking through inquiry and
exploration. It includes planned and intentional
guidance and instruction from a caring and
supportive educator.9
Many educators over the years, have used the
idea of integration, and developed learning
themes or units. Websites and educator resources
are full of examples for craft activities, word
games, experiments etc. Often these are educator
chosen and directed. They are focused on a
series of activities that all children complete.
Such activities often have little connection to
curriculum expectations or higher order thinking,
and do not differentiate the learning for children.
When effective planning incorporates what is
known about the particular children in the class,
these ‘packaged’ reused themes cannot meet the
needs of this group of children.
Educator Reflection: I often feel trapped by my
themes. I pick my books based on the themes, and
they are not always the best books for children of
this age or stage of development. During my Apple
theme, all of the children have to make a booklet
about apples. Some of the children find this task
very easy and rush through it, other children are not
interested and I have to convince them, and some of
the children find it too hard. I am wondering how I
can rethink my plans so they are differentiated and
meet more of the children’s needs.
Resources focused on planning for young children
clearly states that children begin to ask questions
that lead to exploration and investigation,
communication of ideas, and questions while
they are experimenting and investigating.10 It
is these questions, ideas, investigations, and
this meaningful integration that can lead to
inquiry-based units of discovery and learning.
These opportunities provide for natural, genuine,
and integrated learning. These experiences are
authentic and are more likely to engage the

3/$11,1* )25 /($51,1*
children in deep thinking. When planning, it
is important to keep in mind the background
experiences of the children and the context for
knowing about the world in which they live. It
is within real-life, hands-on contexts that the
child is able to make connections and develop
Educators need to plan towards the overarching
ideas in the Overall Expectations and to bring
teaching in-line with an inquiry-based model:
• To ensure that curiosity, wonder, inquiry,
uniqueness, and individual needs are
intentionally included in planning.
Educators should use inquiry-based learning
to build on children’s spontaneous desire for
exploration and to gradually guide them to
become more focused and systematic in their
observations and investigations.11
To plan with the end in mind based on
current evidence-based practices.
“Inquiry skills should not be taught in isolation,
but integrated into interesting topics and ideas
and in the children’s ongoing play…” 12
In choosing topics for investigation, educators
should consider:
• What are children curious about and what
interests them? In particular, what interests
this group of children?
• What do they wonder about?
• What are naturally occurring events within
the year that are of interest to young
• What is within the child’s world that can be
a topic for investigation and can be explored

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Planning in this way is based on the following:
• Subjects which children can explore deeply
and directly, (e.g., observing squirrels in
their habitat instead of studying penguins
which may only be observed by Canadian
children in captivity, learning about the
environment of the schoolyard before
studying the rainforests of South America,
the properties of water instead of “under the
sea”). In other words, children can gather
information in a concrete way rather than in
an abstract way.
• Developmentally, culturally, and
linguistically appropriate contexts, (e.g.,
studying the changes that occur in the fall,
such as the changes to the schoolyard tree
in October, instead of a monthly unit on
Halloween which may not be culturally
appropriate or familiar to all children).
• The ideas and interests of the children.
For example, exploring children’s theories
about what happens when snow is brought
inside, instead of a "Winter Wonderland
Theme". The first idea prompts exploration
and discovery, the second leads to a series of
The following charts are included to assist
educators in moving from theme-based to
inquiry-based planning. The following provides
an excerpt from a planning model based on the
Big Ideas. Educators are encouraged to use this
model as a way of approaching planning.
The chart outlines the following:
Column 1: Overall Expectations – This column
lists an example of overall expectations from
each program area. Note: In some cases there
are overall and specific expectations grouped
together from one program area.
Column 2: Assessment Tools and Strategies –
This column outlines the assessment tools that
are the starting points for instruction. It is the
assessment information that determines the
focus for teaching; the knowledge, and skills
emphasized; the need for grouping children with
specific needs; and how to support, extend, and
differentiate the learning.
Column 3: Big Ideas – This column represents
the overarching concept, knowledge, and skills.
This column is intended to replace the topics
or traditional themes previously planned in