Early childhood is a critical time for brain development, and sets the stage for long-term academic success. A new, robust digital curriculum developed for four-year-olds by the University of Maryland, in collaboration with the Maryland State Department of Education and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, is being implemented in hundreds of classrooms across Maryland. The curriculum will ultimately be made available for free to licensed child care programs and public preschool teachers in Maryland, allowing access to high quality early child education regardless of resources.
Developed by University of Maryland researchers, former teachers, and graduate students, the “Children Study Their World” curriculum is based on the principles of project-based inquiry, with lesson plans for eight project topics that are tangible to preschoolers provided as digital books and made available on iPad. Lessons are bolstered by digitized versions of the National Museum of American History’s artifacts, using items like a skeleton marionette and a nurse’s satchel straight from the renowned museum’s collection to enhance learning.
The UMD Center for Early Childhood Education and Intervention leads the curriculum project, which has been rolled out in 61 classrooms this year and will be implemented in 200 Maryland classrooms next school year.
The Children Study Their World curriculum fully aligns with Maryland’s Early Learning Assessment and Early Learning Standards, which means that children receive instruction throughout the year in all content areas outlined in the standards, such as literacy and math.
Brain research demonstrates the importance of providing young children with rich, hands-on learning experiences respectful of their capacity to learn and eagerness to explore, said Center for Early Childhood Education and Intervention Executive Director Christy Tirrell-Corbin, PhD, who is also the principal investigator and director of the curriculum project.
“We chose project topics like ‘My Body’ and ‘All Aboard: Transportation’ for the children to investigate, as 4-year-olds are very concrete in their thinking and benefit from studying the world that surrounds them every single day,” she said. “Through project-based inquiry, the children’s interests help direct the learning on these topics, which also includes small group learning, field trips and classroom visits from experts,” Tirrell-Corbin said.
Each of the interdisciplinary projects include digitized, child-friendly pieces from the Smithsonian collection that serve as the base of an “object investigation”—small group lessons written by Smithsonian staff who worked with the curriculum team.
“Collaborating with CECEI to produce ‘Children Study their World’ is an important part of our museum’s ongoing early learning initiative,” said Carrie C. Kotcho, A. James Clark Director of Education & Impact at the museum. “With this curriculum, our museum educators were able to integrate digitized objects from the National Museum of American History’s collections and share expertise on how to engage children with enjoyable learning experiences that support literacy and school readiness, play and inquiry, and the development of executive function skills.”
“Whether at Wegman’s Wonderplace, our play-based early learning space, in communities, or through digital curriculums like “Children Study their World,” we are dedicated to helping our youngest learners explore, learn and succeed,” said Kotcho.
Available on iPad, the guides enable the digital curriculum to be widely disseminated to licensed child care programs and public preschool teachers in Maryland, provide strategies for students with disabilities and English language learners.
“The most important component to a quality pre-K program is the teacher. The teacher needs to be equipped with the tools to deliver high-quality instruction,” said Karen Salmon, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools. “This new integrated curriculum and the training and coaching that accompany it helps to ensure this happens.”
In addition to the 200-classroom rollout, Tirrell-Corbin will host a podcast series focused on high-quality instructional practices for early-childhood teachers next year, and Children Study Their World staff will facilitate webinars for teachers and for coaches and program administrators.
“Children Study Their World” is a wonderful tool for teaching young children, said Patricia Aburn, a quality assurance specialist and credentialing liaison of the Maryland State Department of Education, who helps coach teachers to use the curriculum.
“Young children are like sponges their first five years,” Aburn said. “They need to be challenged, stimulated by free play and structured whole group and small group activities. They need to be socially engaged and exposed to language through rich vocabulary and stimulating literacy.”