It is critical that children have opportunities to play as it is through play that young children construct knowledge and understanding of the world around them. Learning occurs most organically when the environment becomes the third teacher, and at Pine Crest we carefully design our school environments and daily experiences to be stimulus-rich and adaptive enough to address all children’s developmental needs.

We know that young children learn through hands-on experiences alongside peers and have an innate desire to be curious. Research substantiates the idea that the period of most rapid growth in foundational learning occurs in the period between infancy and kindergarten. This is the time when children are growing the most in their development as a direct result of the evolution of their play with peers.

Play, for children, is spontaneous and highly generative research, which uses complex inquiry and experimentation dictated entirely by the child. When children are encouraged to follow their inherent curiosities through an emergent path of discovery, it is proven to develop a significantly more dynamic neurological network in the brain. Simply put, through self-initiated play, children grow stronger and more adaptive social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills.


Play provides a strong base for language and literacy. It fosters creativity, and furthers their interest and concentration. It helps build interpersonal relationships, self-confidence, individuality and autonomy. Play offers a child the freedom of action, allowing them to be the decision maker—to assume any role and see how it resonates with their own idea of who they are or want to be.

Play is the way children investigate the world. It provides an imaginary safe-space that they can experiment with and master. By bringing the "real world" down to a manageable size, children feel at ease with trial and error. In this imaginary space, their actions are accepted and incorporated into the games they play. The child’s ideas are integrated, without judgment from their peers, and they feel free of “real” consequence. In these spaces, children feel insulated from the fear of not meeting adult expectations.  They are more inclined to test their limits, and to measure social and emotional interactions/reactions. It is in these imaginative games that children generously explore their surroundings—all the while, and often will self-initiate the very tasks that best develop their particular skill-sets. 

For young children, nothing is real until it is experienced. Rather than telling a child how something works, we provide them with the opportunity for meaningful hands-on experiences, so they can effectively commit them to memory.

It is through their senses that children experience the world. Their curiosity compels them to question everything in their surrounding environment. They wonder: How do things feel? What does it look like? How does it taste? What does it smell like? How do things work? What does it do? How does it all fit together? What category does it belong to? What things are completely unique? 

Your child’s first experiences are geared towards developing a solid foundation for emotional and social health. By freely playing, trying and failing, children learn how to truly respect themselves, to respect others, and to receive respect in return.

Our educators are dedicated to the principals of the play-based Emergent Curriculum, and because of this approach they are highly valued for their warmth, creativity, and ability to respond while adapting to the needs of all children. Our educators understand that every child is a unique individual, and our approach must respect and honor that.



The Emergent Curriculum is everything that happens during our time with the children. Each moment holds a range of feelings and interests to explore, unpack, deconstruct, interrelate, and expand upon.

The Emergent Curriculum is happening in every routine, action, interaction, and rearrangement of the environment. As educators within the Emergent Curriculum model, we challenge ourselves to actively and thoughtfully observe the children at play. By respecting children in this way, by understanding that at every moment they are communicating to us, and their peers, something very meaningful, we understand that they are broadcasting deeply personal and substantive information about their internal landscape—information about “who they are”, and what they need. By trusting that children inherently know best what they need to investigate—by standing back, pausing, reflecting on what we see, and interjecting thoughtfully, with great restraint, and only when needed, we thereby allow children to grow in the most dynamic ways possible.

By letting children learn primarily through self-discovery, peer-to-peer engagement, and experimentation with their environment, we gain invaluable insight about where they actually are in their developmental progress. By simply observing the child’s singular and pattern choices, we come to know them intimately and authentically. This real connection/relationship we establish with our students then gives us access to the individual child’s world by helping us further our understanding of how that interplays with the group, what skills and knowledge they are currently working on, and what obstacles they may need some gentle guidance with.

The Emergent Curriculum practices depend heavily on listening to children's ideas and interests, asking open-ended, inquiry-driven questions, and then challenging ourselves to move them with their pre-existing interests towards skills acquisition, greater self-reliance, autonomy, and ultimately kindergarten readiness. This child-centered approach, which lets the child signal and dictate the topic, shifts the stress of “work” off the child—the burden now placed onto the educator to provide further complexity, challenges, and opportunities for inquiry. This play-driven approach requires us as caregivers to be acutely sensitive in every way while remaining responsive, flexible, and creative in all the ways we teach. As a result, years are not planned out in their entirety, but rather the developmental arc of a year is always kept in mind. The topics we investigate will vary greatly:  day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year. Plans emerge, naturally, in tune with the children's interests, relationships, family, and daily life in our program.

Because of this emergent approach, children feel connected to the curriculum, and deeply bonded to the educators that facilitate using it. They feel respected, validated, and less afraid of failure. They are more skilled, and more self-motivated to pursue knowledge. They are more autonomous, self-assured, and able to implement emotionally regulating/self-soothing practices.

The children within this curriculum feel free to engage with the world—eager to ask questions, assess risk, and to creatively solve problems. This freedom allows them to learn to truly think, to self-teach, and ultimately liberates them by instilling the understanding that they CAN overcome obstacles, whatever they may be, and achieve their goals.

This is our Emergent Curriculum.