University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Children's Center > About The Center > Philosophy & Curriculum

Philosophy & Curriculum


We are born with an infinite natural capacity to learn. This learning occurs through a delicate combination of observation, imitation, experimentation, conversation, adaptation and directions, questions and suggestions from others more knowledgeable than us. There is more depth to our knowledge and skills than just what we demonstrate. Like an iceberg much of our capacity is below the surface until we are presented with the right opportunity or assistance of a trusted, more knowledgeable person at which time the full measure or our capacity shows itself and we move farther toward our potential. When we spend our time in a safe, loving environment surrounded by others who care about us and we are challenged, encouraged and supported in our “beingness”, which includes our full capacity and true potential we are naturally ready for whatever the future holds.

We can best understand each other and ourselves within the context of home, family and culture, which are always with us. The close relationships within our family, the core beliefs and practices of our home culture and the loving relationships outside our families are major determinants of how we view the world.

The physical, social and emotional environment in which we spend our time has an enormous effect on how we act, what we learn and how we feel about the world around us, ourselves and each other. A home-like environment positively enhances these areas.

Caring relationships thrive where adults and children intersect in relaxed, safe and comfortable surroundings. When the spaces we inhabit are specifically designed to maximize our connections and meet our needs we can seamlessly flow from one interesting and challenging activity, routine, conversation and inquiry to another furthering the possibility of maximizing our full capacity and potential.

Childhood should be a journey shared with loving caring adults, full of authentic encounters with the “real world”, genuine care-taking connections with the natural environment, hard-core play, immersion in language, literacy, literature, science, art, drama, music, movement, caring and sharing in a grand celebration of life.


Young children are learning all the time and from all of their experiences. The question that teachers at the Center address is:

How, when, and in what ways should and can teachers facilitate this natural process?

Teachers use their knowledge of child development, pedagogy and curriculum, as well as skills in observation and assessment to thoughtfully plan curriculum and design the program. The Children’s Center focuses on the whole child and provides a variety of experiences.

Building upon children’s interests and motivation, as well as their own passions, teachers plan a wide range of experiences. Teachers nurture curiosity, help children understand the world, and develop positive feelings towards learning. The better young children know, appreciate, and understand their physical and social environment and themselves, the better they will be able to respect and care for themselves and others.

At an age appropriate level, every child experiences curriculum designed to develop:

  • Independence in caring for him/herself
  • Physical skills and coordination
  • Social skills and relationships with other children
  • Positive self-concept and confidence
  • Oral and written language and communication skills,
  • Thinking and problem-solving skills; and,
  • Creative means to express ideas.

The Ongoing and Spontaneous Curriculum

The Children’s Center features two approaches to curriculum planning. The ongoing and spontaneous curriculum is what happens on a day-to-day basis. Teachers arrange the learning environment based on their observations of children in relationship to the developmental domains stated above. Learning centers will very often have similar kinds of equipment regardless of the age group. However, based upon their observations of the children, teachers create new challenges and opportunities by adding to and changing the materials in the classroom and on the playground. Toddler teachers might notice an interest in collecting bugs and start a terrarium. Sometimes, teachers will observe children reaching a developmental milestone. Teachers of 4-year-olds might observe that children are experimenting with letters in the writing center and will provide “special words” or include children in generating a shopping list for a cooking activity. The spontaneous and on-going curriculum emerges along with children’s interests and budding abilities. This is very important in all programs, but forms the core of the Children’s Center program for 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds.

Thematic Curriculum

In our 3- through 5-year-old programs, teachers also organize learning activities around themes and long-term inquiry. Older preschoolers are able to sustain interest in a topic over several weeks and are hungry for more in-depth information and exploration. When teachers observe that children are interested and ready for more long term explorations, thematic curriculum is added to the on-going and spontaneous curriculum.

Thematic planning involves selecting a topic and organizing appropriate learning activities around the concepts or skills to be developed. Teachers may choose to study something the children are interested in. They might also decide that a theme such as “family” is important and will be able to generate interest in the children.

Depending on the topic, a theme can be integrated into learning centers or small and large group activities. For instance, if “family” is the theme, books about families might be added to the library, a family member matching game to the manipulative center, or various kitchen and home props to the pretend play area. Group time activities might include songs about the members in different families or the jobs family members have at home, putting together a book of pictures from home featuring each child’s family, or inviting a parent to share a favorite dinner recipe.

Very often, teachers in the older children’s classrooms will plan and organize experiences around both the thematic curriculum and the ongoing and spontaneous discoveries of the children. Regardless of whether teachers are focusing on the ongoing and spontaneous curriculum or adding thematic curriculum to the way they organize learning, curriculum is always planned with the goal of fostering children’s development in all areas.

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