It’s true curriculum standards are not the same across the board. Before deciding on a curriculum or getting too deep into preschool curriculum ideas, explore your state’s requirements on your local Department of Education website. Whether your region requires variations of musical instruments or development of self-help skills, several studies highlight six basic areas that can foster child development in your center.

Mathematics/Cognitive

Sure, early mathematics is shown to enhance problem-solving skills by teaching numbers and shapes, counting, patterns and measurement, and a sense of space. But math can also be used to promote oral language and literacy growth.

According to the National Council of Mathematics, early child care learning can be strengthened through a curriculum in which skills from other subject areas are taught simultaneously with targeted mathematics skills.

Liliana Tolchinsky is just one of the few people recording and supporting this theory. In her book, “The Cradle of Culture and What Children Know About Writing and Numbers Before Being,” she discusses how learning to use letters to write words and numbers to express quantity go hand in hand. When children are able to equate symbols with sound, they are more likely to equate symbols with quantity.

A study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly supported this theory. Children in the experimental group were provided a “combined curriculum,” in which teachers used a mathematics curriculum to help with oral skills and letter recognition. These students outperformed those in the control group on four oral language tests: “ability to recall keywords, use of complex utterances, willingness to reproduce narratives independently, and inferential reasoning.”

Learning about math has implications beyond just math skills. Of course, we’re not talking about teaching babies equations, rather exposing them to the concepts of numbers, quantities, space, and overall written and oral expression skills.

Language/Literacy

Language curriculum includes teaching listening comprehension, verbal vocabulary, alphabetical knowledge, phonemic awareness, and visual memory (just to name a few).

A study from the American Psychology Association explored the practice of “shared book reading,” which can be used for toddlers or preschoolers. Shared book reading is defined as an interactive reading experience in which students join in or share the reading of a text with guided support of the teacher. In the study, teachers were trained in interactive book-reading techniques.They were then provided with extension activities meant to further promote language skills in children.

Programs who used this method were proven more likely to encourage children to talk about books and engage in book-related activities, like acting out stories. Aspects of storytelling like facial expressions, voicing, and pacing were also more prevalent among teachers who practiced shared book reading.

This is just one approach to an effective language curriculum. Other activities could include an alphabet sounds fishing and matching game, or acting out books or nursery rhymes.

World/Culture

Culture refers to the wide-ranging items, customs, and values groups of people use to express themselves. Language, religion, and ethnicity are the most common ideas associated with culture. But aspects like clothing and jewelry, music and dance, marriage, traditions, and art are just a few of the other details that make up one’s culture.

According to the Learning Child Team of University of Nebraska Extension, children begin taking in “socially prevailing ideas, feelings and stereotypes about people and about themselves” by two or three years old. Tonia Durden, an early childhood specialist, said teaching students about global cultural ideas can promote more inclusive classrooms, and allow kids to understand different cultures.

One way to naturally do this in a classroom, experts say? Follow cultures by seasons. In the winter, for example, there are holidays celebrated globally in addition to Christmas. Kwanzaa, an African holiday, and Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, can be explored through their similarities and differences. In both cultures, a candle holder is a central part in celebration, however each holder looks different and holds different meanings. Studies show children are more likely to develop an interest in other people’s customs and cultures if they understand them.

Click here for more ideas on activities.

Art

From coffee filter butterflies to a handcrafted puppet theater, an art curriculum is meant to develop coordination and foster creativity in all walks of life for a child. Creative arts activities — drawing, crafting, dancing, singing, acting — are just a few categories to include in your curriculum.

According to a report by Americans for the Arts, art education enhances critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. MaryAnn Kohl, an arts educator and author, notes that decision-making present in creating arts trickles into other areas of life.

“If they are exploring and thinking and experimenting and trying new ideas, then creativity has a chance to blossom,” Kohl said in this PBS article.

According to the National Institute of Health, around the age of three, children should be able to draw a circle and use safety scissors. Just a year later, they should be able to draw a square and cut straight lines. The use of scissors in art practices is encouraged in many classrooms since it helps develop the dexterity needed for writing.

Kids around these ages also tend to benefit from a permanent art center in the room. This might include materials such as paper and large crayons that are easily accessible for the kids. Other materials, like paint, glue, or scissors, should be present but stored out of children’s reach. Focus on sensory activities like finger painting (non-toxic, of course) and creating bubble wrap art.

While most arts-related projects begin in toddler rooms, child care providers often start introducing infants to art materials once they can sit up. While infants have not fully developed hand-eye coordination at this stage of life, your care center can implement tools to promote sensory development. This age group can play with edible playdough, for example, under supervision; or focus on shapes by making wooden block art.

In the older age groups, larger art centers are common with materials like markers, glue, safety scissors, chalk, and tissue paper. Frequent rotation of these materials, along with painting objects and mobile-art activities, is encouraged by experts in order to expand a child’s creative mind. Salt, glue, and watercolor art can creatively teach letter and name recognition (and it also can serve as a fun science experiment).

In addition to craft-related activities, many community organizations — like children’s and art museums or theaters — will host activities at your center. Check with arts organizations in your area, and check out a complete list of the most essential craft materials needed in your classroom.

Social/Emotional

Social aspects of a curriculum include developing social behaviors, defining and explaining emotions, encouraging effective ways to communicate, and creating a sense of social responsibility among children.

A study in the Developmental Psychology journal discusses the idea of “responsive caregiving.” This focuses on emotional support from caregivers — allowing back-and-forth communication and furthering the need for a child’s growing independence. Providing a sense of choice and allowing a child to have authority in their words encourages social tools or leadership and self-regulation.

An example of this would be building on a child’s interest with “rich language input, rather than directing.” Something as simple as looking expectantly at children as they speak makes them feel their thoughts are important, resulting in positive and forward-thinking responses in all social settings.

The study also notes environments that provide young children with a sense of organization and structure, along with chances to make individual choices, support behaviors like cooperation. A predictable space and routine can help prevent anxiety, which ultimately results in positive interactions and responses in the classroom.

Taking turns, having story-based discussion, playing charades, and even rolling a ball back and forth are just a few activities that fall under this category.

Health/Physical

One in three American children is overweight or obese. Today, the American Heart Association cites childhood obesity as the No. 1 health concern for parents. As a result, including health education in daycare curriculum has become more and more relevant.

Some centers encourage physical activity by having portable play equipment. These moveable materials — as opposed to a stationary jungle gym — have been shown to increase physical activity levels among preschoolers. This could include a mobile cart of sports balls, hula hoops, or riding toys. Portable play materials have also been shown to reduce incidents and injuries.

In addition to physical activity, basic hygiene and nutrition should be included in health curriculum. Posters that show healthy and unhealthy foods are effective tools for visual learning. According to Livestrong, “paper plate and construction paper craft projects featuring sneezing and coughing faces help teach children the importance of covering their noses and mouths when they’re sick.” This, along with a basic hand-washing lesson, can teach kids how to prevent sickness.

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For more curriculum ideas or samples, research your state’s department of education rules and explore what other centers are doing. And for those who seek accreditation accompanied with required curriculum, check out NAEYC regulations and how to apply.

Curriculum is not a one-size-fits-all glove, after all.