Getting it Organized
Are you spending too much time hunting down your items for your Thematic Curriculum?
An important part of a Thematic Curriculum is rotating Theme related materials in and out of your space. If you have just started creating Theme Units (or even if you have been doing them for a while), you may notice your Theme Materials are starting to get out of hand.
As a previous Childcare Provider, I know what a precious commodity your time is, so in this post I wanted to share some tips on how to organize your Thematic materials to save you time and energy.
Finding a home for everything ...
The key to keeping your items organized is having a home for them. The amount of storage space you have will be dictate how you organize your materials.
Spend a few moments figuring out the best place to store your items. Do you have a small room that can be converted to a Storage/Resource room? Some space in your Garage? A spare closet? Look for under utilized space around your home-even under the bed storage boxes make a great option for storing your materials.
If you have a large storage space you will be able to create a storage box for each of your Themes. If you are short on storage spaces you may want to consider a monthly theme box, or even Seasonal Box. Keep in mind a monthly storage box will not be able to hold as many items as an individual themed box.
Choosing a box and deciding how many..
I decided to create 52- individual theme boxes. Because I had so many Themes I knew I wanted something reasonably priced and something I could stacked easily in my storage room. I decided to go with Bankers boxes . One of the other benefits of using Bankers Boxes was that I could also include a hanging file in each one to store my theme related patterns, File Folder Games, and Printables.
You will want to make sure you clearly write the name of each Theme on the outside of your box. If you are using plastic boxes you can add Masking/Washi Tape labels for easy removal.
Stack your boxes by Season or Alphabetically (whichever way is easier for you).
If you are going with Shelving, consider purchasing shelves and bins that are made for each other which will minimize the amount of wasted space on your shelf.
It doesn't have to all fit in the box...
Once you've you've decided on how much storage you have, you'll need to decide what types of materials you are going to store. I knew that I wanted to store Puppets, Puzzles, Toys, Educational Games, felt stories, Printable Games, and Craft Materials related to each of my Themes.
I had many toys, dramatic play items, and books that I used for multiple themes-and daily use. Rather than trying to fit all of these things in a box, I created separate storage options for these items.
I preferred to keep my books on bookcases (Billy Bookcases from IKEA)- Why re-invent the wheel right? These were kept away from the children in my storage room, Each week I would rotate new books into the children's bookshelf in the Childcare Space-I'd rotate both Theme and Non Theme related books.
Sort your books in a way that makes it easiest for you to find them. I chose to sort my books by Season, and then by Theme. General books were sorted by Topic (Colors, Shapes, Letters, etc.).
If you are storing them on shelves, you will want to keep them divided so you can easily find them. To keep them divided you can place your books in Magazine holders, laminate a paper divider or use labeled paint sticks as a low cost option to divide them.
Some providers choose to store their Theme Books in a Box with the rest of their materials. Unfortunately I found that many of my books were awkward sizes and that they didn't all fit in my boxes very well. In addition to pulling out Theme books I also used the same books for multiple themes and having to hunt through boxes wasn't effective for me.
Using the same bankers boxes above, I also created Dramatic Play Prop Boxes. I also had separate storage for Construction/Small World Play Items, Literacy, Math, and Science games and Materials.
Creating a system to keep track of these rotational items that are not in your Theme Boxes is an important part to you staying organized as well.
Keeping track of what you have
Remembering all of the books, toys, and resources you own can be a challenge. You'll want a system to keep track of what you have. Grab a copy of my Free lesson planning pages so that you can keep track of all of your Thematic materials. If you are looking for a pre-printed planner-this Daily Plan Book for Preschool is excellent!
I recommend putting your lesson planning pages in a binder so that you can take them with you. I found that it was helpful for me to take my theme planning binder with me when I went shopping (to Garage Sales, Thrift Stores, etc.) so that I could see which themes I still needed items for, and what I already had. I also used my planner as a guide to remember which items I needed to "pull out" each week.
Don't be afraid to use technology to help keep you organized. Consider creating "Themed Photo" Albums that you can access via your mobile device- that contain photos of all of your themed items.
Putting in the effort in the beginning to keep your materials organized will pay off end.
Items I used to help me organize
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Why a Thematic Curriculum?
You are probably here because you are looking to create your own Theme Based Curriculum. You might be intimidated, but I'm here to give you a high five and let you know-you can do it! I don't want you to be intimidated by the word Curriculum.
At it's core, it is just a term for:
A "lesson plan that helps children meet a variety of developmental goals".
There are many advantages to creating your own Curriculum some include: being able to re-use the same toys, and activities year after year (saving you time and money), and also having the flexibility to meet the changing needs/ages of the children in your care.
A Thematic Curriculum is a Lesson Plan divided into Thematic Units.
Thematic Curriculum allows young children to make deep connections. Learning is an integrated process and thematic units support how the brain works. Theme based units allow children to benefit from connections made across the lesson plans. Check out Early Childhood news for a great article on this topic.
Thematic units also serve as a jumping off point to expose children to a variety of topics, through a variety of activities. Themes also allow you to design varied activities based on the ages of the children you are caring for.
One of the key components of creating your own curriculum is understanding the early developmental goals of the children in your care. Some of these goals include: Social, Cognitive, Language, and Physical Goals.
Before you start planning your Lessons (choosing activities), It's helpful to obtain a copy of a Developmental Skills checklist. You will want a Checklist that is appropriate for the ages you care for. There are many free ones On-line, but I recommend checking with your local Childcare resource department for the most up to date resources. Here is a great free resource from MN:
These are the goals that you will be building your lessons around. The activities you select for the children in your care, will form your lessons.
How do Thematic units work?
In a thematic unit, the activities you design are centered around a theme. The theme can be broad like "Fall", or narrow such as "Apples"
The activities you select within the Theme are designed to help the children in your care meet developmental goals. These activities can be play based, child led or adult led. They can be based on different approaches such Montessori Inspired, Reggio Emilia Inspired , or an eclectic blend of a variety of approaches.
Using the Theme of Apples as an example:
You may want to help the children with their Patterning Skills so-you can have children make patterns with different colored apples (real or paper).
You can invite them to work on counting the apples by placing activity mats in your math area.
Where do you find these activity ideas?
I have tried to help you save time by sharing some of my very favorite activities on my FREE Lesson Planning Pages. In addition to my own Ideas I've also linked up to many wonderful childcare resources. I also have a Lesson Planning Community, where you can connect with other educators who are using my lesson plans, and collaborate together.
You can also find tons of fun ideas in our communities, and on the web. Pinterest is also a must have search engine for educational ideas! I have tons of fun activities sorted by Theme Boards on my Pinterest Profile- I'd love for you to follow me!
Take it Slow!
Start Slow. Creating your own curriculum does take time. Don't plan for something this week, or this month. I recommend you start planning your lessons that will happen in the next 2-3 months.
Start by incorporating one activity 2-3 times a week. For example: you can introduce an Art /Craft Activity on Monday, a Science Activity on Wednesday, and a Math/Literacy Activity on Thursday.
Let your space do some of the work. You can simply "invite" the children to learn by placing "Theme" related items around your space to encourage learning. An example: Place Apples & Pie Fixing materials in the Dramatic Play Place, An apple puzzle in the fine motor area, wooden apples in the Construction Space, etc.
Incorporate a "Circle time" into your daily schedule. You'd be amazed at how many Educational Components fit into a 10-15 minute Circle Time. You can teach letters, numbers, and colors through singing, and fun group activities during this time. Consider my Circle Time Binder if you are looking for a portable option.
I assure you, the hard work pays off. After you have completed your annual curriculum, you can re-use it year after year with few modifications.
Choose your Rotation
To start your planning, it's helpful if you get a calendar and cross out the weeks you will be on Vacation, and circle the Holidays. After that, determine how often you plan on rotating your Themes (Monthly, Every other Week, Weekly. etc.).
Decide which option works for you and your program.
When I first started, I noticed many programs were using a "Monthly" Theme unit. It made sense to me! I would only have to "rotate" items every 30-days-what a breeze! Unfortunately, 2 weeks into my second month I realized that a Month Long Theme was far too long and boring for me (and my kiddos). I felt like I was having to scrounge for weeks of related crafts, and activities-So I decided a weekly theme was a better fit.
Customize your Themes
I preferred to have my Themes relate to subjects my Daycare Kiddos were interested in, or that they were familiar with, as much as possible. I also chose themes that I felt were important to expose them to.
I tried to stay away from abstract themes since developmentally the children are not in the concrete stage. For example, The concept of snow in Los Angeles may not be as effective as in Minneapolis. It doesn't mean it can't be done-it just may be more of a challenge to make it concrete.
If you celebrate Holidays in your Daycare, they are a great jumping off point! They will provide you with an instant "Theme" week.
For the remaining weeks, please keep in mind I've done a lot of the work for you and have shared all of my Weekly Themes with you on this Website. You can drop by anytime and check out my Theme Pages, under the "Lesson Plans" tab at the top of my site, or you can follow along with my 2017 Weekly Theme calendar.
If you choose to join my Printables-you will also be able to access my printable activities that relate to my weekly themes.
Organize your Ideas
A good planner will be your best friend. I've created a free printable lesson planning organizer for you to record your Activities, as well as a page for you to list all of the items you want to pull out for your Learning Spaces.
You can also use a blank Calendar, or even create your own free website to document and preserve your ideas for your future years. A quick search for Free preschool planning forms On-line will yield several other free options.
I also recommend that you come up with a way to organize your materials-so as you come across great deals (Garage Sales, Thrift Stores) you have a home for your items. You can read about my Tips for Organizing your Theme Materials here.
Integrate activities into Learning Spaces
Learning Spaces offer a wonderful opportunity for young children to learn.
In the Art Space they gain Fine Motor Skills, in the Dramatic Play area they work on Literacy and Socializing. The lists go on and on.
Incorporate your activities in your learning spaces, and find homes for your educational toys that will enhance their learning.
If you need ideas on setting up Learning Spaces check out my Learning Spaces Tab at the top of my page. Let the Children make choices where they play throughout the day knowing you have enriched it with educational activities for their growth.
Invest in your Business
Often times a pre-made monthly curriculum will supply you with monthly Lesson Plans, and paper worksheets. You still need to purchase Arts & Crafts supplies, related books, and create activities.
Instead of spending money on a pre-made lesson plan (that may not be developmentally appropriate/or of interest to the children in you care), you can put your Money back into your Business.
You can put it towards Theme related activities, books, Puzzles, Felt Stories, and games that can be used to teach skills for years to come.
You may even find you already have many items on hand that you can use to create learning activities! You can teach math skills with blocks, manipulatives and a variety of educational games. You can teach Literacy Skills with Alphabet Magnets, Letter Games, Songs and Books. You can grow Fine Motor Skills through Art, Lacing Cards, and Tweezer Activities.
Make it work for you
My Monday's and Friday's were busy, so I only planned Themed "Teacher" directed activities 3 times a week . The other 2 days were reserved for "child directed", open ended, process Art, and activities .
Planning open ended Art on Monday allowed me an extra day to shop for needed supplies for my "Teacher Directed" crafts , and I didn't feel rushed at the start of my week. All I had to do was provide the children with the medium: paints, paper & glue, stamps, markers, crayons etc. and let them create.
You got this!
I hope you have found some helpful tips for getting started creating your own Theme based curriculum. If you need more support creating your lessons, please join the Lesson Planning with Daycare Spaces and Ideas FB Group. We have a welcoming supportive group of educators ready to cheer you on!
Do you have some Tips on planning your owned Themed Curriculum?
Thanks for stopping by! I'm Melissa. On this site you will find a variety of Pre-K Printable games and activities. Learn more!
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