Early Childhood Curriculum: Froboel, Montessori, HighScope, Forest Schools, Te Whāriki and the Curiosity Approach Explained

This article focuses on early childhood curriculum (diverse curricula in early childhood education and care). We discuss the key contributions of the following curricula and approaches to early childhood education and care:

  1. Frobel
  2. Montessori
  3. HighScope
  4. Forest Schools
  5. Te Whāriki
  6. The Curiosity Approach

Early childhood curriculum and pedagogy refer to the principles, theories, and practices that guide the education and care of young children, typically from birth to eight years old. It encompasses the content, methods, and strategies used to support children’s learning and development during their early years.

Curriculum in early childhood education focuses on the planned experiences and activities that are designed to promote children’s holistic development. It includes various domains such as cognitive, social-emotional, physical, and language development. The curriculum provides a framework for organizing and delivering educational experiences that are developmentally appropriate and meaningful for young children.

Pedagogy, on the other hand, refers to the strategies, approaches, and techniques used by educators to facilitate children’s learning. It involves the interactions, relationships, and environments that support children’s engagement, exploration, and discovery.

Effective pedagogy in early childhood education recognizes the importance of play, hands-on experiences, and active involvement of children in their learning process. In early childhood curriculum and pedagogy, there is a strong emphasis on child-centered approaches. This means that the curriculum and pedagogical practices are tailored to meet the individual needs, interests, and abilities of each child. It recognizes that children learn best when they are actively involved, motivated, and given opportunities to explore and make sense of the world around them. Watch this video to learn more about: Observation, Documentation and Reflective Practice in Early Childhood Education: Practical Strategies

Furthermore, early childhood curriculum and pedagogy also take into account the cultural, social, and linguistic diversity of children. It promotes inclusive practices that value and respect the unique backgrounds and experiences of each child. This includes incorporating culturally relevant materials, fostering positive relationships, and creating inclusive learning environments.

Overall, early childhood curriculum and pedagogy play a crucial role in shaping the educational experiences of young children. It provides a foundation for their future learning and development, setting the stage for lifelong learning and success. If you’re looking for a childcare management app that allows you to create child observations and link to your chosen curriculum, click here to learn more!

Let’s now discuss key theories and curricula in early childhood education and care.


Friedrich Froebel was a German educator who made significant contributions to early years education and care. One of his main contributions was the development of the concept of the kindergarten. Froebel believed that young children learn best through play and hands-on experiences. He established the first kindergarten in 1837, which was a revolutionary idea at the time. The kindergarten provided a nurturing environment where children could engage in purposeful play, explore their interests, and develop social and cognitive skills. Froebel’s emphasis on play and the importance of the early years had a profound impact on early childhood education worldwide.

Another important contribution of Froebel was the development of educational materials known as Froebel Gifts. These were a series of play materials designed to stimulate children’s creativity and imagination. The gifts included simple objects such as wooden blocks, balls, and geometric shapes. Froebel believed that these materials would help children develop their cognitive and motor skills, as well as their understanding of mathematical and spatial concepts. The Froebel Gifts became widely used in early years settings and are still influential in early childhood education today.

Froebel also introduced the concept of the Mother Play and Occupation songs, which were designed to support children’s learning and development. The Mother Play songs were rhymes and songs that celebrated the natural world and everyday activities, while the Occupation songs were related to specific activities or tasks. These songs were intended to engage children’s imagination, promote language development, and enhance their understanding of the world around them. Froebel believed that music and movement were integral parts of early childhood education and should be incorporated into daily routines.

In addition to his practical contributions, Froebel also had a profound influence on the philosophy of early years education. He believed that each child is unique and has the potential to develop into a well-rounded individual. Froebel emphasized the importance of nurturing children’s physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development holistically. He advocated for a child-centered approach to education, where teachers act as facilitators and guides rather than authoritarian figures. Froebel’s ideas laid the foundation for modern early childhood education and continue to shape the field to this day.


Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who developed a unique approach to early years education and care. Her key principles and approaches are based on the belief that children are naturally curious and capable of learning independently. Montessori education emphasizes the importance of creating a prepared environment that is carefully designed to meet the developmental needs of children. This environment includes specially designed materials and activities that encourage exploration, problem-solving, and self-directed learning.

One of the key principles of Montessori education is the concept of ‘freedom within limits.’ This means that children are given the freedom to choose their own activities and work at their own pace, but within a structured and orderly environment. Montessori classrooms are carefully organized and equipped with a wide range of materials that are designed to promote specific skills and concepts. Children are encouraged to select their own activities and work on them for as long as they need, promoting a sense of independence and self-discipline.

Another important principle of Montessori education is the role of the teacher as a guide and facilitator. Montessori teachers are trained to observe and understand each child’s individual needs and interests. They provide guidance and support, but also allow children to take responsibility for their own learning. The teacher’s role is to create a nurturing and stimulating environment, offer appropriate materials and activities, and encourage children to explore and discover on their own.

Montessori education also emphasizes the importance of hands-on learning and sensory experiences. The materials used in Montessori classrooms are designed to engage children’s senses and promote active learning. For example, there are materials for sorting, matching, and sequencing, as well as materials for practical life skills such as pouring, buttoning, and tying shoelaces. These materials help children develop fine motor skills, concentration, and problem-solving abilities.

In addition, Montessori education values the holistic development of the child. It recognizes that children learn best when their physical, emotional, social, and cognitive needs are met. Montessori classrooms provide opportunities for children to engage in activities that promote physical development, social interaction, emotional well-being, and intellectual growth. The curriculum is designed to be flexible and adaptable, allowing each child to progress at their own pace and follow their own interests.

Overall, Maria Montessori’s approach to early years education and care is based on the belief that children are active learners who thrive in an environment that supports their natural curiosity and independence. Her principles and approaches have had a significant impact on early childhood education, and continue to be influential around the world.

Steiner Waldorf Method

Steiner Waldorf education is considered a revolutionary approach in early years education and care due to its holistic and child-centered philosophy. Unlike traditional educational methods, Steiner Waldorf education focuses on nurturing the whole child, including their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development. This approach recognizes that children learn best through hands-on experiences and encourages creativity, imagination, and play as essential components of learning. By integrating arts, crafts, music, and movement into the curriculum, Steiner Waldorf education fosters a well-rounded education that addresses the needs of the child as a unique individual.

Another aspect that sets Steiner Waldorf education apart is its emphasis on the importance of rhythm and routine in a child’s daily life. The curriculum is structured around a predictable rhythm, which provides a sense of security and stability for young children. This rhythm includes a balance between active and quiet activities, indoor and outdoor play, and individual and group work. By establishing a consistent routine, Steiner Waldorf education supports children in developing a sense of order, discipline, and self-regulation, which are essential skills for their future learning and personal growth.

Furthermore, Steiner Waldorf education recognizes the significance of the natural world in a child’s development. Outdoor play and nature exploration are integral parts of the curriculum, allowing children to connect with and appreciate the environment. Forest Schools, for example, are often associated with the Steiner Waldorf approach, providing opportunities for children to engage in hands-on learning experiences in natural settings. This emphasis on nature not only promotes physical health and well-being but also encourages a sense of wonder, curiosity, and ecological awareness in young learners.

In addition to its holistic and nature-based approach, Steiner Waldorf education also places great importance on the role of the teacher. Teachers in this approach are seen as guides and facilitators rather than authoritative figures. They observe and understand the unique needs and interests of each child, adapting their teaching methods accordingly. This individualized approach allows children to learn at their own pace and supports their natural curiosity and love for learning. By fostering a strong teacher-child relationship, Steiner Waldorf education creates a nurturing and supportive environment where children feel valued, respected, and empowered in their own learning journey.

In summary, Steiner Waldorf education revolutionizes early years education and care by prioritizing the holistic development of the child, fostering a love for learning, creating a nurturing and harmonious environment, promoting artistic expression, and connecting children with nature. This approach recognizes the unique needs and abilities of each child and aims to provide a well-rounded and enriching educational experience that prepares them for a lifelong love of learning and personal growth. Watch this video (with a certificate for childcare professionals) to learn more about: Observation, Documentation and Reflective Practice in Early Childhood Education: Practical Strategies


The High/Scope approach in early years education and care is a comprehensive and child-centered approach that focuses on active learning and the development of key skills. One of the main features of the High/Scope approach is the emphasis on the child’s active involvement in their own learning. This approach believes that children learn best through hands-on experiences and active exploration of their environment. By providing children with opportunities to make choices and engage in purposeful play, the High/Scope approach promotes their independence and problem-solving skills.

Another important feature of the High/Scope approach is the use of a daily routine called the ‘Plan-Do-Review’ process. This process involves children planning their activities, carrying them out, and then reflecting on their experiences. By engaging in this process, children develop important skills such as decision-making, self-regulation, and critical thinking. The ‘Plan-Do-Review’ process also helps children to set goals, make choices, and take responsibility for their own learning.

The High/Scope approach also places a strong emphasis on the development of social and emotional skills. It recognizes the importance of building positive relationships and creating a supportive learning environment. Through group activities and cooperative play, children learn to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and work collaboratively with their peers. This approach also encourages the development of empathy, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

One of the key benefits of the High/Scope approach is its focus on long-term outcomes. It aims to prepare children not only for their current stage of development but also for future success in school and life. By promoting active learning, problem-solving skills, and social-emotional development, the High/Scope approach equips children with the necessary tools to become confident, independent, and lifelong learners. Research has shown that children who have experienced the High/Scope approach tend to have higher academic achievement, better social skills, and greater motivation to learn.

Furthermore, the High/Scope approach values the role of the adult in supporting children’s learning and development. Teachers in the High/Scope approach act as facilitators, guiding and supporting children’s exploration and learning experiences. They observe and document children’s progress, provide feedback, and engage in meaningful interactions. This approach recognizes the importance of responsive and nurturing relationships between adults and children, which contribute to a positive and enriching learning environment.

In summary, the High/Scope approach in early years education and care offers a child-centered and holistic approach to learning. Its main features include the Plan-Do-Review process, active learning through hands-on experiences, emphasis on social and emotional development, individualized learning, and a positive and inclusive learning environment. The approach benefits children by promoting active engagement, critical thinking, social skills, individual progress, and a sense of belonging within a community.

Forest Schools

Forest Schools have transformed early years education and care by providing a unique and holistic approach to learning and development. Unlike traditional classroom settings, Forest Schools take place in natural outdoor environments, such as woodlands or parks. This allows children to engage with nature, explore their surroundings, and develop a deep connection with the natural world. The emphasis is on hands-on, experiential learning, where children are encouraged to take risks, problem-solve, and develop their own interests and passions. This approach promotes independence, resilience, and creativity, as children learn to navigate and adapt to the ever-changing outdoor environment.

Forest Schools also prioritize child-led learning, where children have the freedom to choose their activities and direct their own learning experiences. This promotes a sense of ownership and autonomy, as children are encouraged to follow their own interests and curiosity. By allowing children to take the lead in their learning, Forest Schools foster a love for learning and a sense of empowerment. This approach also recognizes that every child is unique and has different learning styles and preferences, and therefore, tailors the learning experiences to meet individual needs and interests.

In addition to the academic and cognitive benefits, Forest Schools also focus on the social and emotional development of children. The outdoor environment provides ample opportunities for children to develop their social skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, as they engage in collaborative activities and interact with their peers. The natural setting also promotes a sense of calmness and well-being, reducing stress and anxiety levels. Research has shown that spending time in nature can improve mental health and overall well-being, and Forest Schools capitalize on this by incorporating nature-based activities and mindfulness practices into their curriculum.

Furthermore, Forest Schools promote a sustainable and environmentally conscious mindset. By immersing children in nature and teaching them about the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship, Forest Schools instill a deep respect and appreciation for the natural world. Children learn about the interconnectedness of all living things and develop a sense of responsibility towards the environment. This not only fosters a sense of environmental awareness but also equips children with the knowledge and skills to become future advocates for sustainability.

Overall, Forest Schools have revolutionized early years education and care by providing a rich and immersive learning experience that goes beyond the confines of traditional classrooms. Through their focus on nature, child-led learning, social-emotional development, and environmental consciousness, Forest Schools nurture well-rounded individuals who are curious, resilient, and connected to the world around them. By embracing the transformative power of the great outdoors, Forest Schools have paved the way for a more holistic and nature-centered approach to early years education and care.

Te Whāriki

Te Whāriki is a curriculum framework for early childhood education in New Zealand. It was developed in the 1990s and has since become a key document guiding early years education and care in the country. The name ‘Te Whāriki’ translates to ‘the woven mat’ in English, symbolizing the interconnectedness and holistic nature of learning and development in early childhood.

The framework is based on the principles of empowerment, holistic development, family and community, relationships, and responsive and reciprocal interactions. It recognizes the importance of cultural diversity and the unique identity of each child, aiming to provide a culturally responsive and inclusive learning environment.

Te Whāriki consists of four broad principles: belonging, well-being, contribution, and communication. These principles are interwoven and interconnected, reflecting the holistic nature of children’s learning and development. The framework also includes five strands: well-being, belonging, contribution, communication, and exploration. These strands provide a focus for curriculum planning and implementation.

Te Whāriki emphasizes the importance of play-based learning, recognizing that play is a central means through which children explore, make sense of the world, and develop key skills and dispositions. It encourages educators to create rich and stimulating learning environments that support children’s interests, curiosity, and creativity.

The framework also highlights the significance of partnerships between educators, parents, whānau (extended family), and the wider community. It encourages collaboration and shared decision-making, recognizing that a strong partnership between home and early childhood settings enhances children’s learning and well-being.

Te Whāriki is a comprehensive and flexible framework that allows for a range of approaches and practices, reflecting the diverse needs and contexts of children and families in New Zealand. It promotes a holistic and inclusive approach to early years education and care, aiming to support children’s holistic development and lay a strong foundation for lifelong learning. Watch this video to learn more about: Observation, Documentation and Reflective Practice in Early Childhood Education: Practical Strategies

The Curiosity Approach

The curiosity approach is an innovative and child-centered approach to early years education and care. It emphasizes the importance of curiosity and exploration in children’s learning and development. This approach encourages educators to create an environment that sparks children’s curiosity and allows them to explore and investigate their interests. It values open-ended play, hands-on experiences, and child-led learning, providing children with the freedom to follow their own interests and ideas. The curiosity approach recognizes that children learn best when they are actively engaged and motivated by their own curiosity and interests.

In the curiosity approach, educators act as facilitators, observing and listening to children to understand their interests and providing them with the resources and opportunities to explore those interests further. This approach values the process of learning rather than focusing solely on the end product. It encourages children to ask questions, make discoveries, and engage in problem-solving, fostering their critical thinking and creativity. By nurturing children’s natural curiosity, the curiosity approach aims to develop their love for learning and their ability to independently explore and discover the world around them.

The curiosity approach also emphasizes the importance of the environment in supporting children’s curiosity and learning. Educators create inviting and stimulating environments that are filled with natural materials, open-ended resources, and opportunities for sensory exploration. These environments encourage children to engage in hands-on experiences, such as messy play, outdoor exploration, and imaginative play. The curiosity approach recognizes the value of connecting children with nature and the outdoors, as it provides rich opportunities for curiosity, discovery, and learning.

Furthermore, the curiosity approach promotes respectful and responsive relationships between educators and children. Educators value children’s voices and ideas, actively listening to them and involving them in decision-making processes. They provide a supportive and nurturing environment where children feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from their experiences. This approach recognizes that children’s curiosity and learning are enhanced when they feel valued, respected, and supported by their educators.

If you’d like to learn more about using a curriculum that empowers children and the role of documentation, you will love this video: Observation, Documentation and Reflective Practice in Early Childhood Education: Practical Strategies or looking for a childcare management app that allows you to create child observations and link to your chosen curriculum, click here to learn more!

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