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Our Curriculum


Emergent Curriculum

Dall'Inizio DaySchool utilizes the Emergent Curriculum in the classrooms.  The Emergent Curriculum is a project-based curriculum that focuses on being responsive to each child's needs and developmental level.  Lesson plans are developed to support the children's interests and integrate the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards.

Our educational goals for children include becoming socially and emotionally intelligent, academically prepared for the primary school setting, and successfully joining the classroom community.


The Reggio Emilia Approach:

The Reggio Emilia approach is used throughout the world, but originates in Reggio Emilia, Italy. It is an education of relationships that first began as an early childhood educational approach constructed after World War II. It is fluid rather than a packaged program, allowing us to continually refine our practices and adapt in meaningful ways to our community. The core of the approach is a collection of principles, which guides educators and families. Reggio inspired educational settings may vary in appearance, systems, leadership and approaches to meeting American standards. 

The Reggio Emilia principles that guide our work include the following: 

• The image of the child or the belief that our children are capable.
 • Relationships or the understanding that a child’s education requires connections among the environment, families, teachers, and the larger community.
• The role of parents is believed to be a critical component of educating all children within the school.
 • The environment and space supports interactions, meaningful projects and learning.
• Teachers and children partner to construct learning experiences.
• Not a pre-set curriculum but a process of inviting and sustaining learning.
• Documentation or the use of artifacts to provoke, assess and celebrate learning.
• The many languages of children or the use of materials (e.g. paint, etc.) to communicate thinking and learning.
• Projects or meaningful contexts for learning connects academic subject areas and social/emotional development opportunities. 




We discover child growth and progress through observations in the classroom and the use of assessment tools. Observations and assessments help us understand each child’s unique learning process and show us how to challenge and stimulate a child’s learning. Our teachers will record a minimum of 1 observation per child weekly.

The teachers at Dall’Inizio DaySchool will complete an age appropriate Ages and Stages Screening tool within 45 days of enrollment based on their initial observations in the classroom. These results will be recorded and shared with families and placed within the child’s file. 

The teaching staff will also utilize the Ounce Scale (Birth – 3 Years) and the Work Sampling (3-5 Years) screening tools every October, February, and May. These assessment tools look at growth and development and help to drive the curriculum in collaboration with the teacher’s observations. Results will be recorded and shared with families prior to being filed within each child’s file.

Suggested Resources

“The Emergence of Emergent Curriculum”  http://www.naeyc.org/yc/files/yc/file/201203/Heritage_v67n2_0312.pdf 

North America Reggio Emilia Alliance:

“The Reggio Emilia Approach”

The Creative Curriculum


The Creative Curriculum is designed to meet the basic needs of the children. Inside the classroom, the Creative Curriculum teacher creates an atmosphere in which children feel safe, feel emotionally secure, and have a sense of belonging. It describes activities and teaching strategies that are challenging, yet within the children’s reach. It also suggests giving choices and a role in determining how they learn. This curriculum helps children acquire social competence and the skills they need to succeed as learners. 

It discusses the characteristics and experiences that make each child unique, including temperament, life experiences, dual language learning and disabilities. It offers strategies for building positive relationships, helping children develop self-regulation, and responding to challenging behaviors. It shows teachers how to guide children’s learning during daily routines and everyday experiences. It also explains the role of assessment in learning about each child, following children’s progress and planning. 

The curriculum explores the benefits of working with families as partners in the care of their children. The curriculum touches on how partnerships are built by exchanging information on a daily basis, involving families in all aspects of our program, communicating in respectful ways, and working through differences in ways that sustain the partnership and the benefit of the children. 

The Creative Curriculum helps teachers be intentional about the experiences that they offer while still having the flexibility to respond to the changing interest and abilities of the children.


Different Types of Learning

How We Learn at Dall'Inizio DaySchool


The Importance of Play-Based Learning

By The Room 241 Team • September 27, 2018

The No Child Left Behind movement seemed to discount the importance of play-based learning in favor of more explicit instruction and testing in the lower grades. But researchers and educators agree that play is a critical part of childhood learning that should not be sidelined. Here’s a look at the latest research on the importance and impact of play-based learning.

The science of play

A great deal of research has concluded that play-based learning is genuinely and positively impactful on student learning and development. Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a well-known child development expert in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues that humans learn best when at least one of these four pillars are present.

Individuals take an active role in the learning environment

They are engaged

Information is meaningful

Learners interact in a social context

This means that children learn well when they are mentally active, engaged, social, and can make meaningful connections to their lives, which are all characteristics of play.

Another study found that “in addition to improving play skills and narrative language ability,” a play-based curriculum also had “a positive influence on the acquisition of grammar.” Neuroscientists have found that play activates the brain in meaningful ways that rote memorization, testing, worksheets, and traditional classroom techniques do not.

“When you are engaging in play, which in and of itself is a symbolic metaphor in its truest form, whole parts of your brain are engaged, developing crucial connections that lead to a positive development of the child,” says Clair Mellenthin, author of Play Therapy: Engaging & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders.

Beyond stimulating young minds to be receptive to learning, play is a necessary component of brain development for children. “Not only is it an incredible source of fun and socialization, but play is also crucial to children’s learning and development. Their intellectual, physical, and social-emotional abilities emerge and are strengthened through play,” says Katie Chiavarone, blogger and author of The Undeniable Power of Play: 101 Tips, Activities and Play-Based Learning Strategies to Engage Your Child. “It is in the context of play that children test out new knowledge and theories. They reenact experiences to solidify understanding. And it is where children first learn and express symbolic thought, a necessary precursor to literacy. Play is the earliest form of storytelling. And, it is how children learn how to negotiate with peers, problem-solve, and improvise.”

Play-based learning is real learning

The assumption that play is a frivolous use of classroom time and in opposition to rigorous instruction demeans its value and its vast potential. “Many people, including some educators, believe that we need to choose between play-based learning opportunities and rigorous academic standards when integrating the two is very possible,” says Concordia University-Portland adjunct professor, Angie Stratton, M.A.Ed. “For example, a kitchen/cooking center could contain a water table as well as measuring cups, dishes and ‘pretend’ food. Paper and pencils/crayons/markers, etc., can be used to write recipes, make lists, and create advertisements for a new restaurant. The creative possibilities are endless. Not only does this play-based learning center address language arts standards, but it also touches upon speaking and listening standards as well. Intentionally structuring a play-based learning opportunity to encourage creative play as well as include materials that emphasize a developmentally appropriate learning standard is certainly a high-leverage practice.”

Purposeful play

Play is not an obstruction to academic learning, nor is it lazy teaching. Purposeful play experiences can be constructed to create deeper learning experiences that a child will remember and internalize. “High-quality classrooms that utilize play-based, hands-on learning activities are well-thought-out, intentional spaces — not just a free-for-all where the children jump from activity to activity and a teacher is disengaged and spends his/her day managing behaviors,” says early childhood educator, Tina Gabel, who earned her MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Early Childhood Education from Concordia University-Portland. “In an exceptional play-based atmosphere, there are no worksheets to showcase understanding and learning; instead, the formal documentation is gathered through learning stories, anecdotal notes, and photo assessments.”

Lauren Harness, another Concordia alum who also earned her MEd with the ECE concentration, agrees. “When people say ‘play-based learning,’ I think what they go to is: ‘Just put them in a room with a bunch of toys and let them go at it. There you go, that’s play-based learning.’ But really purposeful play should be in classrooms, especially in a kindergarten classroom. In children’s brains, when they’re playing, they’re doing the deepest learning. We know that through Piaget, Vygotsky,

and all those good theorists who talk about the importance of play with young children. The different levels of learning that they’re able to get into during play is a lot deeper than pulling out a worksheet and having them fill in bubbles and that sort of thing.”

The classroom space as a teacher

When play-based learning is done well, the classroom becomes a teacher. “Play-based learning at its finest utilizes the environment as a third teacher, in conjunction with the students and classroom facilitator. A place where every activity and object placed in the space has a purpose, adds to the learning, and helps scaffold information across the learning domains,” says Gabel.

“Play-based learning in my classroom looks like a small group of students creating structures in the block area, while others are working in the art, science, and library areas. The conversation among students is about the new facade being put on the building across the street from our school. The students are recreating what they have seen outside of our immediate environment. Another student decides to join, where the children remind her ‘only 4 at a time in blocks.’ She then counts how many are already in the block center by matching students to the fingers she begins to hold up, and decides that she can join ‘because 3 and 1 are 4, right Mrs. Gabel?’ It is through these rich experiences and conversations that I am able to discern her concrete understanding of whole numbers.” That sure sounds a lot more engaging and authentic than a workbook quiz. Play on.


What is a project-based preschool?

by Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick

Sep 03, 2013 at 2:00 pm EST

For parents of children who always say, “Why?” and “How?” and “Show me more,” the project-based preschool approach will give their natural curiosity wings.

Project-based preschool

Problem-solvers and deep thinkers will appreciate having an unlimited amount of time to spend on their in-depth projects while also learning the beauty of collaboration with peers to see their vision come to fruition.

The origins of the project-based teaching method

The modern project-based approach to learning is attributed to early childhood educator Lillian Katz, author of Engaging Children’s Minds: The Project Approach (1989), which outlined this teaching method. According to Katz, the project method was used sporadically in the United States from 1885 until World War II as a central part of the progressive education movement. She became involved in the project approach in the 1970s and has been teaching it ever since.

Through the project approach — defined by Illinois Projects in Practice as an in-depth investigation of a topic undertaken by a class, group of children or individual child in an early childhood classroom or at home — children are nurtured in an environment that does not place limits on their creativity or enforce time restrictions. This flexible framework is believed to promote brain development by encouraging children to collaborate with each other and solve challenges as they arise throughout their project.

The goal is for children to become engaged in their own learning while educators serve as guides rather than instructors. There is no right or wrong answer in project development, which encourages children to take risks and embrace learning through creative thought.

Understanding the project-based learning style

Some project-based preschools, like Peartree Preschool in New York City, classify themselves as a progressive preschool that is project-based as well as play-based. Denise Adusei founded Peartree when she couldn’t locate the kind of program she wanted for her daughter in her neighborhood. “I found that a child-centered approach was most aligned with what my mother’s intuition was telling me, which is that young children learn best through play,” says Adusei.

“The play/project-based approach we use at our school considers children to be active learners and teachers to be facilitators of that learning. Our students work together and with their teachers to negotiate, plan and work through projects,” explains Adusei. “Their lessons are enhanced with real-world connections, field trips and projects. This approach encourages skill application and positive learning habits by attempting to make learning as pleasant, fun and self-motivated as possible. Classroom toys are basic, encouraging children to exercise imagination during play.”

For example, one number-sorting project at Peartree challenged preschoolers to use fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, color recognition, number recognition and sorting skills, while also requiring them to follow directions and employ team work and social skills.

Is a project-based preschool right for your child?

If you believe that your child would thrive in a relatively unstructured and self-directed environment, a project-based preschool may be the right choice for your family. Project-based programs are designed to allow children to learn independently through exploration and experimentation, with a healthy dose of collaboration.

Problem-solvers already have a great deal of built-in self-motivation, but a project-based preschool is designed to really encourage a love of learning and discovery. The goal is also to give children the confidence to know that they can handle problems on their own.

What is a project-based preschool classroom like?

Project-based preschools set themselves apart by the execution of their work and play. St. Anne’s Children and Family Center in Spokane, Washington, explains: “The project approach involves children in asking questions that guide the investigation and in making decisions about the activities undertaken. Project topics draw children’s attention to questions such as: How do things work? What do people do? What tools do people use?”

Each project is typically carried out in phases. Teachers first discuss topics — from pumpkins to snow, families to buildings, and everything in between — to gauge their experiences and knowledge to learn what the children may be interested in investigating. Then “field work” commences, where investigation and construction take place and expert sources (books, videos, pictures and people) are consulted. Work that’s done in the classroom is tied to real-world experiences and enhanced with plenty of field trips. Once the requisite amount of information has been gathered, children can summarize and represent what they’ve learned through any number of methods — art, a play, music, spoken word, graphing and more.

Children are in charge of their choices — what they do, when and where. Teachers serve as guides, helping children frame their ideas and providing them with usable resources. Throughout project work, teachers look for other areas of interest a child may express that can spin off from the current project.



The much-maligned Common Core State Standards are designed to prepare students to be “college and career ready” by emphasizing inquiry-based learning and critical thinking. Most experienced educators agree that this approach engages students in powerful ways that helps them grab onto their own learning and move it to higher levels.

As a veteran teacher of preschool children with developmental delays, I quietly struggled with this concept and its relevancy to my work. After all, my typical class consists of three-year-olds who have just begun to talk and are learning to get along with other children. What can I do to help get them on a path toward post-high school goals?

Through my 20 years in the preschool classroom, I’ve made four global observations about the disconnect between approaches to teaching in preschool as compared to teaching in the primary grades. I outline those observations based on what we know about early learning, what begins to happen once children enter kindergarten, and what the result is for many children for whom school has become a place where they struggle, are discouraged, or even feel like failures.

We know that open-ended, hands-on meaningful experiences within authentic contexts provide optimal opportunities for young children to develop intellectual capacity. Yet we still fill up their days with academic drills in which they are expected to learn letter names and sounds, numeral names, and other content that is presented without any relevant context. Then we wonder why many young children, especially boys, and particularly boys of color, struggle to learn. The result is that too many children in the primary grades are identified as having special needs simply because they need a different approach to learning.

Young children rely on opportunities to build social and problem solving skills within engaging learning contexts. Yet, we still spend most of our time teaching through large group instruction with little time for children to interact with peers and practice problem-solving strategies. Then we wonder why so many children have trouble in social settings or feel unsuccessful in getting along with other children. The result is that by the time they reach third grade, many of our struggling learners don’t have significant friendships – they dislike school, the teacher and other kids because they feel so isolated and unsuccessful.

We know that young children are able to respond to divergent questions and learning opportunities that allow them to find a variety of solutions to a problem. Yet, many teachers still present many learning activities within a context of a single, correct answer, especially on tests. The result is that many children feel driven to find the “right” answer without fully understanding the scope or context of a question.

We know that young children can develop a sense of independence and can bring significant direction and meaningful questions to their own learning. Yet we limit the input of young children about what they want to learn and how they want to explore content in the scientific and social worlds. Then we wonder why children become detached from the study of science and social studies, as they grow older, seeing these fields as mostly meaningless to their experience.

Our nation has strongly embraced the idea that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects can be important for students to understand in order to be college and career ready. In recent years, middle and high schools have promoted opportunities for students to engage in STEM experiences such as robotics programs. Robotics exemplifies inquiry-based, hand-on learning that encourages different ways of thinking, problem solving, and design to achieve the goal. These skills are essential for college and career readiness.

If this approach is suitable for middle and high school, it’s time to apply the same principles to preschool and primary grades. In recent years, I’ve created STEM-based learning opportunities through the use of ramps and pathways, water pipes and tubing, building with blocks, and gardening and exploring nature. These approaches are ideal for young children and provide an experiential basic understanding of STEM subjects such as physics, biology, and engineering. A myriad of questions that elicit higher level thinking can be of asked of young children, even preschool kids, as they are engaged in STEM-related learning experiences. Examples include:

How do you plan to build this structure?

What do you think will work best when you try to build it?

What will happen if you do that?

What was the most difficult part of building this? Why do you think so?

If you want to make it stronger/lighter/taller/faster how do you think you will have to change it?

Inquiry provides a meaningful, vigorous context for children to develop a broader language base, including advanced vocabulary that will be useful to them as they learn to read. (After all, it is easier to learn to read a word that is already familiar than a word one hasn’t heard before.)

Academic learning and assessment both fit naturally within learning experiences that allow children to use inquiry skills. What is most notable is that in these learning contexts, when young children have had input into the learning topic and how it is being studied, they are especially motivated to engage with the topic and the tools they need to study it, write about it, document what they are learning, and analyze their experiences to demonstrate their success in learning. These integrated experiences benefit the whole child.

Furthermore, children develop persistence, confidence, curiosity and other attributes when engaged in inquiry-based learning. I have seen this in my own teaching. A three-year-old boy was determined to find a solution to a ramp that did not allow forward movement of a ball. A peer had overlapped two sections and the ball bounced backward instead of continuing forward. Rather than rearrange the two pieces myself, I encouraged him to continue his inquiry, asking questions about his thinking. He tried several solutions before eventually sliding the overlapped piece far enough forward so that the overlap was minimized. The ball still bounced, but momentum carried it over the smaller obstacle.

What I learned from the experience is that the child who is allowed to solve a problem without unsolicited assistance will persist, even struggle, in order to discover a solution. Such a child will carry that experience, along with the confidence gained, to the next experience, undaunted when encountering obstacles to her success. Conversely, a child who has been given too much support, or just given the answer will look to the teacher to provide the answer, stalling his development of thinking and problem-solving skills.

Just as children must understand the foundation to learning is in making meaning of the world, we as teachers must understand we can, and should, develop children’s intellectual capacity before we introduce them to academics. In my experience, this means that young children must engage in inquiry and project-based learning experiences and have the opportunity to solve problems and explore possible answers to higher level questions. This not only helps children become college and career ready, it prepares them for many other challenges in life.

Dr. Jonathan Gillentine is an Early Learning Resource Teacher for Windward District in Kaneohe, Hawai`i. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and a Hope Street Group Hawai`i State Teacher Fellow.