Preschool Planning Guide
Laura M. Thurman and Karen B. DeBord
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
University of Missouri-Columbia
When planning learning for young children, there are several ideas
to consider. First, it is especially important to provide activities,
projects and themes suited to the age and individual needs of
each child. Second, carefully think about each of the following
elements while planning.
- Age appropriateness. Consider the ages of the children
in the program. A single age group (all 4-year-olds, for example)
has different needs from a mixed age group of preschoolers. The
curriculum should be suitable for the developmental level of
each age group and should offer a range of activities. Set group
goals after assessing the needs of a particular age group.
- Individual appropriateness. Think about each individual
child and focus on his or her development. Children follow similar
growth patterns, but the time frame for each child differs. Individual
interests, abilities and family background must be understood
before you can meet the needs of each child. Goals and objectives
should be set for each child.
Learning is best when new information builds on old knowledge.
Planning should center on the child, the family and the child's
everyday experiences. As the child develops and grows more independent,
he or she becomes less self-centered. This leads to expanding
- Family and culture. Children should not be separated
from their family and culture. Plan activities with respect for
family differences and wishes. Involve families in program planning
as much as possible, realizing that each family has a different
way of contributing. Some families may choose to be very involved,
and some may choose not to.
- Teacher values. Consider what you as a teacher and
caregiver believe to be important. Question your own interests,
your personal philosophy and the program philosophy.
- Transitions. A variety of factors such as the length
of the day or the daily schedule affect planning. Transitions
are times that occur between activities and can disrupt the flow
of play. Avoid too many transitions, and give children enough
time to become absorbed in their play. A skillful teacher plans
carefully to ensure that transition times are smooth.
- Curriculum. After preliminary planning, it is time
to choose (or to help the children and/or parents choose) themes,
projects and activities to build the total curriculum. Themes
are selected that relate closely to the child's immediate world.
For example, activities associated with home, family, yards and
neighborhoods hold the most meaning for the youngest child. As
children develop, their knowledge base and interests expand.
In this same way, new or additional information can be added
to the curriculum.
- Themes can be used for a brief time (for example,
"St. Patrick's Day"), but usually should last at least
a week. One theme will usually lead to another; for example,
"dinosaurs" may lead the children's interests to "bones,"
"fossils" or "creatures." The teacher's role
in planning themes is to observe closely and take notes on the
children's interests. Interests are determined by observing and
listening to the children's discussions and play. Play cues can
aid the teacher in choosing new topics. Teachers help children
develop interests through planning and presenting a variety of
materials, including books, pictures, activities and explorative
- Group or individual projects may be ongoing or brief.
They can be very child directed mixed with teacher selected.
Allowing the child to set the pace and the path of exploration
will lead to new ideas and experiences. Projects can be as simple
as "mud pies," or as complex as "cameras"
- Activities are specific strategies planned to achieve
theme and developmental goals. Making volcanoes, water color
painting or scarf dancing are activities. Activities are supported
by materials available in the learning centers. Activities may
be repeated or may be one-time occasions.
- Group time. Planning individual times and group times
is important. Individual or alone times can be provided by free
choice in activities, a quiet area and rest time. Children coming
together as a group is often called "group time" or
"circle time." The whole group or a few smaller groups
may be formed. During these planned times, all areas of development
may be addressed in a social setting.
Songs, finger plays, dramatics, science, math and physical activities
can be used during group time. Begin with simple songs and finger
plays with groups of children. More complex group activities
will be planned as more familiarity with the group occurs. Group
times should fit into the whole curriculum and support themes
and projects. Plan group opportunities for inside and outside,
and for loud and quiet activities.
- Physical environment. Whatever is planned must be
flexible and changeable, depending on the needs of the children
and opportunities unseen during initial planning. The most complex
part of planning the physical environment is coordinating the
learning centers. Learning centers are often permanent areas
in the room, with materials that change according to changing
themes. An environment that encourages flexibility and spontaneity
for children's play is essential. Examples of learning centers,
suggestions for materials and role playing ideas include:
- Dramatic play Dramatic play allows children to construct
social and emotional knowledge, role play, and understand other's
- Ideas: Housekeeping; restaurant; grocery store; bakery; flower
shop; automobile repair.
- Prop boxes Prop boxes are excellent for sparking creative
play and imaginations. To make a prop box, begin with an empty
copier or computer paper box with a lid. Cover the box with contact
paper and label it with an appropriate title.
- Ideas: Office/business box; dress up box; sports shop box;
grocery store box; hair salon box; repair shop box; veterinarian
box; school box. Think of any kind of situation that might inspire
dramatic play for which a prop box could be collected.
- After selecting certain titles, notify staff members and
parents about the prop box project and ask for donations. Shop
at local rummage or garage sales or at thrift stores. You may
get some bargains - many people are willing to donate or reduce
the cost of items for projects like this! Contact local businesses
for any contributions - hair salons might have empty shampoo
bottles, old haircut capes, etc. Remember to send a note of thanks
to any business donors with pictures of the children using a
particular box. Post or publish pictures in the parent's newsletters
showing the "results" of the collection project.
- Put one prop box out at a time. When the children begin to
lose interest in a particular prop box, try some mixing and matching.
Introduce different items and take cues from the children. Their
enthusiasm will give direction for new ideas and collections.
If a prop box isn't used or seems boring after a while, store
it away for a time. A new theme or classroom project might spark
interest and different uses for the same box.
- Block area For maximum use and creativity with dramatic
play, the block area works well placed nearby. Like the dramatic
area, blocks are extremely valuable for learning about size,
quantity, space, length and shape.
- Ideas: Train station; store; caves; cities and towns; camping.
- Science Science leads to learning about the child's
physical "self" as well as environmental awareness,
plants, animals and the world.
- Ideas: Sea life; insects; machines; tool shop; measuring,
pouring, mixing; recycling.
- Writing area Pre-writing activities serve to help
children to build knowledge in all areas of language development,
including speaking, writing and pre-reading skills.
- Ideas: Post office; restaurant; books; valentines; writing
- Book area Book areas encourage children to learn all
aspects of printed language, including learning about authors,
illustrators or artists, and the value and joy of reading.
- Books should be chosen according to past and current themes
and projects. This area should be cozy, comfortable, well lit,
and may be decorated and rearranged according to themes.
- Sensitivity should be given to gender equality, culture,
personal abilities, and race or ethnic background in the story
line and pictures in books.
- Art area Art areas enable children to explore color,
form and texture through self-expression and creativity.
- Ideas: Brushes, paints, markers; molding clay, play dough,
rolling pins, child-sized scissors; collage materials; shaving
cream; yarn, fabric, tape, glue.
Be creative and imaginative in designing learning centers and
materials for each. Other centers could include music, creative
expression, manipulatives and puzzles, math and number areas,
and the outdoors. Learning experiences happen anywhere a child
is encouraged to explore.
When you are planning specific activities, remember to include
the development of the whole child. A single activity may involve
several aspects of development (thinking, feeling, moving). Teachers
must plan for learning to occur in all facets of the child's development.
A webbed guide to planning
Begin planning by brainstorming, using the radius planning
sheet provided in Figure 1. Referred to as a "webbing sheet,"
this tool will help teachers relate to and plan for all areas
of development using a central theme. A project may be a theme
in itself, or it may be contained within a theme. The planning
sheet is used to organize each day in the week and may be posted
for both the teacher's and parent's benefit.
Figure 1. A webbed guide to planning. "Concepts" refers
to concepts that children might construct.
Quality learning experiences for children are enhanced by a
well-planned curriculum. Select activities, projects and themes
that are appropriate for the age and development of the children
in the program. Appreciate and acknowledge the family differences
and cultural heritage of each child. Never discourage one gender
or age from a particular theme area or activity. Promote and plan
activities that encourage the development of the whole child,
including physical, mental, emotional and social aspects. Take
joy in observing each child's learning experiences and progress.
Curriculum planning guide.
|Develop your curriculum planning using this example
as a guide for daily activities. Remember to include activities
that involve all areas of a child's development. Schedule curriculum
areas to fit your daily routine for mornings and afternoons.
||Field trip/project plans
|Community helpers Day, date (Friday, April 30)
||Call fire department to schedule trip Thursday
||Mix paints, pull books
||Materials or actions
||Music and movement
||Cassette tape, helper hats
||911 phone game
|Social, emotional self
||Small group, mirrors, teacher interaction
||See large group activity
||Ladder - distance, up, down
||Ladder for counting, measuring
||Various-sized tubes, garden hose, funnels
||Photo/story of fire station
||Yellow paper, instant camera
||Sirens, phones, fire hats, boots, etc.
|Sensitivity to diversity
||Terms: firefighters, mail carriers, etc.
||Review books, posters
|Small group activities
||See social/emotional activity
|Large group activities
||Big box fire engine, field trip preparation
||Refrigerator box, paints
||Books on community helpers in book area
||Review for diversity
National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the
National Extension Service Children Youth and Family Educational
Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials
in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit
beyond the cost of reproduction) provided that the author and
Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child
Care - NNCC.
Thurman, L. & DeBord, K. (1995-1996). Preschool Planning Guide.
University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia.
Any additions or changes to these materials must be preapproved
by the author .
COPYRIGHT PERMISSION ACCESS
Karen DeBord, Ph.D., CFLE.
Associate Professor & State Extension Specialist, Child Development
Box 7605, 101 Ricks Hall
NC State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7605
(919) 515-9147 (VOICE)
(919) 515-2786 (FAX)
Department of Family
and Consumer Sciences
FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Print
DOCUMENT REVIEW:: Level
2 - Cooperative Extension Systems: University of Missouri-Columbia
DOCUMENT SIZE:: 18K or 5 pages
ENTRY DATE:: July 1998
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