Written by Elizabeth Clarkson, Ed.D

First Year Teacher, First Steps in Curriculum Mapping

At the start of my early childhood career in 2000, I was thrilled to begin work as a public school PreK teacher in North Carolina.  Finally, my own classroom! I envisioned my children working together to explore all the materials I had carefully arranged for them and laughing and learning together in cooperative and imaginary play. 

I specifically remember the morning my teaching partner and I were finally able to convince them to all sit on the rug at the same time for group time. I was so proud of them and us for managing to achieve this task. As 18 little sets of eyes looked expectantly at me, I thought to myself, “Oh no. Now what?!”  

Over the next few weeks, we built strong relationships with each other but I’ll admit I was in “survival mode” and the reality of my job hit me hard.  If you asked me about my written curriculum, I would have been at a total loss. Looking back, my first step should have been to think about arranging and organizing information into units and it would have been helpful to have a unit template that supported our school’s philosophy and program structure.

Curriculum Mapping for Early Childhood Educators

Another takeaway I realize now (hindsight is 20/20!): Before you begin mapping your written curriculum, create the right unit template for your school. As early childhood educators, we all know that all programs are different and designed to reflect our beliefs and student populations, but when it comes to developing curriculum the following questions are universal to ECE programs and are essential in focusing your curricular goals in order to create a template that works for you. This step is critical and well worth the time you invest in it.

As you move forward, consider the following two questions:

What is your school’s philosophical approach to learning? What core values or strongly held beliefs does your school need to highlight within their written maps? Some ECE schools have a philosophical approach or set of core values which will automatically focus their curriculum.  Most programs will incorporate a mixture of elements and a combination of academic and social-emotional goals that drive their decisions. 

Time and resources are allocated to ensure an accurate focus, but what makes sense to document in a written curriculum? This question will lead schools to different possibilities and by taking the time to discuss and prioritize, a school can create a customized template that allows them to turn their philosophy approaches and values into manageable, actionable elements and categories.

What elements do you want to include in your written curriculum map?  St. Mark’s Episcopal School in Houston, Texas chose to brainstorm all the elements within their ECE program as a first step.  They wanted a complete picture before they started making decisions and organizing their information. All the educators at St. Mark’s agreed these collections of topics and skills are “must haves” for their quality program, so their future unit template and mapping conversations will be less about “is this important?” but more focused on “where and how can this information be mapped so it’s useful to teachers?”

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By considering these questions as you create your unit template, a school will be able to articulate, draw attention to, organize, and share all the different pieces of their ECE curriculum in sensible and manageable ways, including academic content, social-emotional skills, and non-thematic elements. Once a school has a useful and practical unit template, the conversations around organizing and sharing information, focusing on the most essential elements of a unit or standard, and thinking through assessment options becomes more focused and productive. For more on that topic, check out our blog: “Writing Developmentally Appropriate Early Childhood Curriculum with UbD.” 

Curriculum development is an iterative and on-going journey.  A school’s curriculum work is constantly changing, growing and evolving in much the same ways as our students. Every year, educators learn more about their profession and their community’s populations and needs as they shift over time. It makes sense to view the curriculum mapping conversation as the vehicle to respond and record a school’s written journey of what it means to offer a high quality early childhood experience.  

I still think of those children from my first few years of teaching. I am grateful for all their patience and for all the lessons they so willingly shared with me. I received this picture a few weeks ago. The bright-eyed smiling girl in the middle just graduated from college and is getting married. Her mother was putting together a memory board for her and wanted to share “this little treasure” with my teaching partner and me (the smiling girl on the left). I guess we were able to create some wonderful memories together after all. #reasoniteach

Elizabeth Clarkson ECE

Elizabeth Clarkson 1

Dr. Elizabeth Clarkson began her career in North Carolina public schools. After living in several other countries, she now considers North Carolina her home again. She has worked as a teacher, literacy coach, and principal in public and private schools in the United States, Ecuador, and Brazil. She combines her experiences in schools and nonprofit education to view all education conversations within the larger context of community, its values, and influences. She continues to draw from her experiences in academic coaching and international living to support schools in developing strong curriculum processes that support their unique values and identities.

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