Emergent Curriculum

Our curriculum encompasses all of our work with young children, their families and each other; this includes our planning, design of our environments, routines, selection of materials, and interactions. Our curriculum  emerges and is uniquely derived from the identities and interests of the children, teachers, families and our values which embody who we are. This approach is not a prescribed curriculum, but one that incorporates projects or investigations framed by our core values and philosophical beliefs on how we learn.

Projects and Investigations

In order to enhance the learning process, you will find us engaged in investigations around questions or topics that are important to us. A project is an in-depth investigation of a topic worth learning more about or a subject in the real world of the children. Teachers and staff use observations and documentation to gain a deeper understanding of the children’s interests and  theories and to develop questions that lead to the implementation of projects or investigations. These projects usually will take place in small groups. We believe small group settings allow the learners to focus in a rich manner, perhaps deepening their understanding of sound, the life cycle of an insect or how buildings are constructed.

In the context of these meaningful experiences and investigations, teachers support and deepen children’s explorations of math, language and literacy, science, social studies and the arts. Investigations take place with all the children of all ages including the youngest citizens of The Highlander School. One will find infants and toddlers eagerly engaged in studying the world around them using their senses, whether it is the discovery of cause and effect of an object falling or the exploration of paint. How does the paint feel? How does it move?

The goal of a project is to learn more about the topic rather than to seek right answers to questions posed by the teacher.

The Role of the Teacher

The role of the teacher is complex: full of wonder, delight and negotiations. The roles of the teacher include being a loving facilitator and researcher, ready to engage and support children in the process of inquiry-based learning. The teacher’s purpose is not to simply give information, but to create an unique balance of observing children’s play, interpreting observations, and coaching children’s acquisition of new skills while working side by side with the children. So as the child is fully engaged in the learning process, the teacher is also an active learner, researching in collaborations with families, colleagues and children.

Assessment of Children’s Learning

Each child at The Highlander School will have a portfolio that reflects their story, their strengths, accomplishments and interests. The portfolios will include documentation in the form of work samples, teacher and parent observations, journal entries, photographs and the analysis of these photos and learning stories of the child.


Our aspiration is to make our work with children and the whole community visible by the means of careful observations, reflection and documentation of children’s play. We believe this process strengthens our image of the child and enables teachers to plan responsively to the ideas of the children, their questions as well as our own. Documentation is more than a finished bulletin board but is an evolution of listening, observing, interpreting and planning. This may include children’s work samples, photographs, written comments by teachers and so forth. Documentation invites parents and families into conversations about their child’s experiences, supports teachers’ and children’s research, and offers opportunities for reflection.

Environments and Materials

As with all our work, our environments are designed to reflect our values and beliefs. The spaces of the Highlander School are designed to foster relationships, interactions, awe, and engage children’s natural curiosities. Environments are thoughtfully planned to incorporate the identities of the teachers, children and families. Although each classroom has its unique culture, there are commonalities throughout the center. In each classroom, there are spaces for welcoming families, sensory explorations, spaces for communication, fantasy play, construction, and a living room area.

Spaces within the Highlander School are filled with an array of materials, beautifully arranged for exploration and as tools for communication. We believe that carefully selected materials can enhance children’s play and investigations with layers of complexity. We value unconventional, recycled, natural, familiar, open and “beautiful stuff.

Environmental Education

We believe that one of the vital roles of education is to create a connection between our daily lives and the natural world. We consider ourselves to be a “nature-centered” program that uniquely tends to foster the “whole child”, both heart and mind and incorporate environmental education. In a fast paced world, our goal is to move slowly with great intention and help children connect to the rhythm of the natural world. Our meals encompass food from our gardens, which the children help to tend, grown seasonally or from local farmers. We delight in the change of seasons. We use natural and found materials, guiding children to care for their world through conservation and recycling. The Highlander School is also committed to using materials and products that are environmentally friendly and sound.