Life As the Curriculum

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for my teleclass, Joyful Days with Toddlers! The Sunday class is completely full, but there are still two slots in the Tuesday class if you’re interested. It starts this Tuesday, March 1st 2011, and calls are from 6:30-7:45pm Mountain Time. Please email me if you’d like one of those two spots at

People often think they have to have a “curriculum” to be teaching the children things, or they feel guilty because they don’t have a formal curriculum. Curriculum subjects I’ve seen have ranged from numbers, colors and letters, to subjects such as germs or pirates. However, it seems to me that ‘teaching’ things like colors is silly, because they’ll learn it anyhow, and subjects like germs and pirates don’t relate to their lives at all.
What I am here to suggest is that young children really learn all they “should” be learning through their own play and through watching and participating in the daily tasks that go into running a household. Gross motor skills come from putting things on a shelf or rolling dough with a rolling pin; fine motor skills come from decorating bread with raisins or folding a washcloth. Sorting skills are developed unloading the silverware from the dishwasher, or sorting laundry. Vocabulary skills, taking directions, and working cooperatively are all developed listening to you as you help them master these skills.
However, I would even go a step further and suggest that using our daily tasks as the curriculum is MORE effective for teaching skills and ideas than designing a bunch of activities and games around a theme. There are several reasons for this.
Why Daily Tasks are Fulfilling to Children
I very firmly believe that everyone in this world wants to feel connected, to feel that they are competent, that they are contributing. When I think about my own life, all of the parts that feel the best revolve around me feeling connected, or feeling competent, or feeling like I’m contributing. In fact, that’s why I love working in early childhood, because I get to do all three of those things simultaneously.
Think about your own life for a moment: what have been the highlights? What times have you felt the most alive, the most vibrant? And think about it through this lens I’ve given you. Were you feeling connected, competent, or like you were contributing, during those times? If not those things, what were you feeling that made them especially great?
Now think about the young children in your life. We all know how important it is for children to be connected: lots of research has been done on the importance of attachment. And children spend enormous amounts of time practicing being competent. As they learn to walk, they fall over and get up again and again and again. As soon as they learn to talk, the phrase “me do dat” is often the most common to come out of their mouths. We often don’t let them try things for themselves as long as they’d wish, because we’re in a hurry, or we can see that they won’t be successful, but most of us understand and value their striving for competence. But how about the desire to contribute? That is not something that most of us think about in relation to young children, even though we can see how their faces light up when they are able to do so. Read this article from the science section of the New York Times ( ). Studies are showing that children may be born with an innate desire to help.
As parents and caretakers in our culture, it’s easy for us to recognize the desire for connection, and we work very hard to develop it. In fact, we often work so hard at developing the connection piece of things that we sometimes unconsciously cut off our children’s abilities to be competent and to contribute: we love them so much that we want to do everything for them. Our own desires to be competent and to contribute to them leave no room for them to be able to contribute in a meaningful way.
By consciously setting Life as the platform for children children to learn skills and ideas, we are giving them the chance to develop true competence, as we do these tasks day after day after day. As their skills develop, they know that they are really contributing to the household. And your gratitude for their help (especially as they get better at it!) helps you connect.

My article goes on to look at how we can do this effectively, with practical tips and suggestions. During the conference call I will show video footage of children helping me with laundry, washing dishes, brushing hair, and baking bread.


  1. Yes I agree! When I am asked why I'm not teaching my toddlers their colours I say that I am – but they will remember and understand colours much more as we discuss then in our everyday life, than in a group time with no context.

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