Emergent Curriculum

If you want young children to propel their own learning, start with what interests them and deepen their engagement. How do Lowell teachers do this? By observing children, drawing out their questions, and extending their interest with just the right provocation to learn more. In the process, teachers make sure children are acquiring the important social, emotional, and pre-academic skills they’ll need when they start Kindergarten—all this while keeping children’s curiosity peaked.
Sometimes, student questions even launch the curriculum to the stars, as in this lesson from 2023. Pioneers teacher Ana noted that her students were curious about how we get day and night and were mentioning astronauts more and more. Together with Georjean in the Wonder Lab, the class embarked on an exploration of space. What a rich topic for extending learning!


Pre-Primary students at Lowell can pursue an idea that interests them for weeks and even months at a time. When teachers follow the children’s interests and develop connected learning experiences over this amount of time, students come to understand that their teachers value their ideas. This, in turn, deepens children’s engagement and increases the opportunities for learning even further.

In their study of space, our youngest learners began by sharing what they already knew about the sun and the earth and used globes and a flashlight to demonstrate day and night. They observed and interacted with hanging models of our Solar System and added in some hands-on learning by creating their own clay rockets and planets. Students discussed gravity and tried to test its limits, but no matter how high they jumped, they came back down to Earth. The class watched a video of astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor reading the book If I Were An Astronaut all the way from the International Space Station and welcomed Commander Greg Karas from the Challenger Learning Center, who demonstrated rocket launches and shared freeze-dried ice cream. They asked questions that bolstered their critical thinking and led to new areas for investigation and discovery.


Hands-on activities were central to extending children’s learning successfully. It all led up to their own rocket launch on the front field. The Pioneers first suited up, donning astronaut vests and helmets. One by one, they selected a small foam rocket and loaded it onto the launchpad. The whole class joined in counting down—5, 4, 3, 2, 1, blast off!—before each astronaut jumped onto the launcher, propelling the rocket into the sky using air pressure. 
After the launch, Georjean helped students review their astronaut training from a list that the class created collaboratively based on what they learned from books, videos, and conversations about working in space. 
  1. Practice flying a rocket ship in space—we’ve already done that one, reminded Georjean excitedly
  2. Lift something heavy
  3. Flip over bars like in gymnastics
  4. Do push-ups
  5. Run
  6. Think about ideas
  7. Drink lots of water and rest
The young astronauts diligently moved through the training steps, using their imaginations to lift giant rocks, flip around in “zero gravity,” and read a pretend book full of science facts. The push-ups and runs were real ways to exercise and practice gross motor skills before they headed back to the classroom to drink plenty of water. After this unit, everyone agreed that being an astronaut takes a lot of hard work.

“This unit of study was truly a collaboration,” said Georjean. “One question led to the next and so forth until the students developed their own unit of study. I was there to guide them as they found answers in books, models, videos, play, and each other.”
Lowell School is a private PK-8th grade school located in NW Washington, DC. Our mission is to create an inclusive community of lifelong learners in which each individual is valued and respected.