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Have children's interests hijacked the curriculum? Our third provocation from Jennifer Ribarovski

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This is the third in our series of four provocations from educator, academic and consultant Jennifer Ribarovski.

You can read her two previous posts here and here.

Have children’s interests hijacked the curriculum, and diminished other opportunities for learning and development?

In my last blog, I talked about intentional teaching, the ways that this might be interpreted and potential impacts on the curriculum.  In this blog I’ll be discussing children’s interests from the same perspective.

While not new to the sector, the concept of children’s interests has been elevated through the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the National Quality Standard.  The EYLF tells us that

“in order to engage children actively in learning, educators identify children’s strengths and interests, choose appropriate teaching strategies and design the learning environment” (p.9)

The EYLF expands on this by asserting that educators build on children’s strengths, skills and knowledge to ensure their motivation and engagement in learning.

When I reflect on this idea, I think about how all those components work together to influence curriculum.  What we know about children’s backgrounds, learning dispositions, culture, strengths and interests, and how we use our professional skills and judgement to provision teaching and learning.

What I notice – at times – as I visit services around the country is that children’s interests have gained pole position in curriculum. Interests are recorded, and then environments are changed or added to in response to those interests.

For example, if a child shows interest in trucks, then trucks are added to the sandpit, dramatic play area, block corner and so on.  Educators explain this to me as ‘following children’s interests”, and then observe whether children engage with the resources, and either retain or change them based on their engagement.  When I ask them about children’s learning, or their teaching role in supporting children’s learning, they explain this as ‘provisioning’ the environment.

There are some beautiful programs that are not shaped by children’s interests, but by the pedagogical skills and understanding of educators.

I’m not questioning the value of well-considered environments, but I wonder how much children’s thinking and learning is supported within this strategy.  Observing children’s play, and using our professional judgement to deepen children’s thinking and learning, either spontaneously or through future planned experiences, is more than just responding to children’s interests.

weaving skills
Children learn from adults, as well as from their own experiences

Many years ago, I worked with a wonderful educator who shared her interest in spinning wool with the children at her centre.  It was the educator’s interest, not the children’s, but it became a wonderful group interest that extended over the year, and built a real sense of community and achievement.

There are some beautiful programs that are not shaped by children’s interests, but by the pedagogical skills and understanding of educators.  One example of many are programs that see children visiting nursing homes, where their dispositions for learning are developed and go beyond their individual interests, to community interests.


So, my next provocation is this:

Have children’s interests hijacked the curriculum, and diminished other opportunities for learning and development?

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Jennifer Ribarovski

Jennifer Ribarovski has over thirty years experience in the education sector, including playing a key role in the implementation of the National Quality Framework for both the NSW Regulatory Authority and the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).

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12 thoughts on “Have children's interests hijacked the curriculum? Our third provocation from Jennifer Ribarovski

  1. I believe so. I became an ECT in 2014 and full of passion and new ideas and unfortunately the director of the service I got a job at was not excited about my ideas because it was strictly child interest based. I couldn’t introduce the children to new ideas OR even simple things like show them photos of butterflies because that inhibits their creativity to “DESIGN” their own butterfly and what they INTERPRET the butterfly to be.

    I thought it was ludicrous to be honest. I believe children to need to be introduced to new opportunities and ideas (to an extent). Their minds are limited in knowledge of their world and who better to introduce them to the wonders of the world than their teachers and parents. Us teachers spend a lot of time with these children, understanding their world and listening to them…if we introduce something new to them, we do it because we know it would be a valuable experience for them and something they would get enjoyment out of. I know for sure I wouldn’t put a lot of time and effort into something if I know the child will not enjoy it.

    Great blog and food for thought for many educators.

    1. Hi Sarah. Thanks for your feedback and comments. This has been my experience sometimes as well. I worry that new graduates, or educators working at some centres, don’t feel that their contributions are valued or welcomed, and that this might dampen their enthusiasm and commitment. Children have so much to offer us as educators, and in my view educators also have much to offer children. As you say, educators often know children very well, and use their pedagogical understandings to provide learning experiences. It’s also really important for educators professional identity!

  2. I’m certainly not dismissing the children’s interest as they provide an insight into the child and can be great conversation starters, opportunities to engage and interact but I believe that as the educator, we have lots of information to share and extend and develop children’s learning.
    Children’s interests should always be evident and compliment the Educators intention.

    1. Hi Denise. Thanks for your comments and you make some great points. In my experience, children absolutely have the capacity to be engaged in a broad range of interests, beyond their personal sphere. This is where, as you say, the knowledge and skills of teachers and educators can provide the opportunities to support children’s thinking and learning.

  3. Thanks for this question Jennifer. As a long time early childhood educator, I blame misinterpretations of ’emergent curriculum’ for this hijacking of curriculum by children’s interest. But it is rather a complex issue with multiple contributing factors. As a teacher educator it seems to me that many in the field embrace the idea of followong children’s interest because it is easier. I know this sounds a bit cynical but it is more challenging to apply developmental and educational theory to identify children’s learning and develop a responsive program. Interests are an important tool for encouraging engagement, a vehicle through which children learn skills, practice thinking processes and develop higher order thinking skills. Educators struggle with making learning visible because they are not sure what learning is or how it happens.

    1. Hi Maree. Thanks for your comments and feedback. I absolutely agree that there are multiple factors contributing to this issue. I share your thoughts on the challenges of applying developmental and educational theory to inform teaching and learning, and to developing responsive programs that deepen children’s thinking and learning. In my experience this takes time, support, encouragement, practice and confidence. I’ve found that collaboration and strong mentoring is critical to this, and a commitment to ongoing learning. I’m still learning after way too many years!!

  4. Achieving an optimal balance of “children’s interest” & “educators’ responsibly” is what we need.

    If I was to strictly follow children’s interests only, I won’t EVER teach a child to share resources, sustainable living, eat a balanced diet, dental hygiene & the list goes on! But in good faith, I’d like to think that educators across the globe engage children in those experiences and learning opportunities as we KNOW children need to learn these skills & are readily willing to embrace these concepts when introduced to them.
    So how is it different if an educator introduces an interest to children & let the children ponder over it, explore around it, play with it & educator guides that learning, taking it as far (or as little) as children want to?

    1. Hi Manik. Thanks for your comments and feedback. I agree that educator’s interests can spark great thinking, wondering and learning opportunities for children. We have so much to learn from children, and vice versa. I really like your comment about children playing around with and exploring other interests. As adults, we’re inclined to be less open to new thinking and concepts because we figure we’ve worked things out. Children are unfettered by adult knowledge, and that’s what makes their thinking so fascinating, in my view. Teachers and educators have the knowledge and skills to support this, which opens up unlimited learning opportunities!

    1. Really interesting Nicole – you’ve each come at it from different angles but your approach and Jen’s both suggest there is a confused space under ‘following children’s interests’ that might not really be play and not really be teaching. Thanks for sharing!
      Bec Lloyd

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