When it comes to learning I really don’t like to think in terms of specific subjects and just singling out different things according to its subject. I am a firm believer in what is known as thematic learning, or cross-curricular (whatever you want to call it). When you teach in a thematic way I find it tends to be more child centered in its approach and thus fruitful.
I don’t like to separate subjects, esp in younger grades. Why do we need to teach history and geography separately? Don’t forget science. So many of the same skills are used in these subjects – these skills are not limited to just English Language Arts (ELA). I love showing how subjects intertwine and interlink.
If you want to constrain me, then put me in a situation where I am to only teach one subject at a time that is devoid of any other “subjects”.
For me, spelling lists and vocabulary should be coming from the books you are reading and the subject at hand. Vocabulary lists make more sense when you draw them from what you are learning, rather than being in isolation. Same with spelling. The skills you use in English are the same as the ones you use in History, in Social Studies, in Science. Don’t isolate them.
I remember this in primary school. We learned all about Japan and we looked at the technology, the culture, the history, art, food, etc. We read “Sodaku and the Thousand Paper Cranes” and made paper cranes. Japanese art was attempted (as best as Year 4 students can). There was never really any “this is science and this is social studies”. It all rolled into one and it was so much fun. For something to stick with me after all these years, then you know that it was impacting, and this should be how we teach today.
EXAMPLES OF THEMATIC LEARNING
This is how I love to teach. I find it easy to put together a curriculum in this way. I am doing this weekly with my girls based on what they are interested in.
Right now in kindergarten we weekly pick a theme. Here is an example of one week.
- Chosen subject: China
- Books we read: Tikki Tikki Tembo and 7 Chinese Brothers
- Made dumplings and watched Mulan
- Learned interesting facts about China
- Made Chinese dragons
When I lived on a ship, teaching the crew and staff families, we had fun with the students putting on a show as a class. We instructed the children in the parameters but it was seriously all about them and their ideas. They kept asking “when are we doing math? When are we doing science?” It wasn’t until the end that we showed them all the different subjects that they used to put on this show. It blew their little minds to see how cross curricular their show was.
- Math: planning time
- Science and tech: music, lighting, programming
- Art: creating the posters
- English: Writing scripts and Public Speaking
- Drama: practicing with crew members
- Social Studies: researching cultural dances
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT IT
Honestly, I think that what is so great about thematic learning is that you are truly tapping into your child’s interests and you are not fragmenting learning. You can focus on skills and draw everything together. If you are going to study Rome you can look at its history, at what made it a great empire. In literature, if you are working with older students and are daring, you can read selections of Julius Caesar. Have a Roman banquet. Do a mock gladiator battle after making cardboard weapons.
MOVING BEYOND THE PAGE
This is a curriculum that I really like. I have taught it and liked that I could use it for a variety of ages within one class setting. It is most likely a curriculum that I will later use for my girls. Here is the information from their website that best sums it up: “Your children will grow in their love of learning through our literature-based curriculum that
- encourages critical and creative thinking,
- provides challenging and engaging projects, and
- supports different learning styles.
With Moving Beyond the Page, each day is different. Every activity is designed to instill a love of learning and creative expression. Our curriculum is written with gifted learners in mind, but gifted strategies benefit all students. Moving Beyond the Page is how children want to learn!”
I love how the theme/subject you focus on in Language Arts is the same in Science or Social Studies. The fact that it is literature based is a huge plus in my mind. It is cross curricula and very well rounded in skills based learning.
IT IS EASY
I don’t want you to feel that thematic learning or child centered learning is hard. It really isn’t. If you have a bit of creativity, then the sky is the limit and you have fun with all that you can incorporate in a theme. This is something that I enjoy putting together and if you would like to chat about it and get some help, I would be more than happy to assist.