Fostering Content Knowledge: Meaningful Integration in the Primary Grades
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I still remember the first NAEYC book I read. I was given a copy of Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children, by Louise Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force (this was a while ago!), and it changed my thinking about teaching and learning in early childhood. NAEYC has been my trusted guidepost ever since, throughout my work as an early childhood teacher educator, researcher, and program coordinator. And I am honored and immensely grateful to serve as the new editor in chief of Young Children, following in the outstanding footsteps of my predecessors and working alongside a stellar team.
I started at NAEYC in March, while the world was being turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. As I write this column now, demonstrations are occurring across the country in response to systemic racism in our institutions and communities. These events have directly impacted early childhood education and, as early childhood educators, you have had to find ways to advocate as you continue to teach and care for your students, families, and communities. I am in continual awe of, and incredibly grateful for, you and your unwavering dedication.
This issue aims to balance both timely and foundational topics. You will find a Focus on Ethics column about using the Code of Ethical Conduct to address emerging issues related to COVID-19, a special feature with advice for teachers about supporting children and families during this period of rapid change, and a teacher’s inquiry into countering negative perceptions of the color black in the Voices of Practitioners feature.
The cluster articles showcase the power of integrating science, math, technology, literacy, and social studies to make learning meaningful and content-rich across the primary grades. Primary teachers feel the pressure to teach to certain content areas (especially literacy), and this cluster highlights approaches where teachers address multiple content areas through engaging and active experiences and drawing on children’s deep interest in the world. By doing so, we can recognize children’s amazing capacity to learn and ensure that they develop discipline-specific and cross-disciplinary knowledge and skills to thrive in and outside of school.
We begin with “Our Trip Down to the Bay: A Model of Experiential Learning,” where children’s firsthand investigations outdoors connect to learning goals and experiences back in the classroom. Karyn W. Tunks and Elizabeth Allison outline a three-part cycle for planning and carrying out purposeful field trips, in this case a second-grade class’s field trip to a local bay and science lab.
Complementing the science and literacy involved in the trip down to the bay, Jill M. Pentimonti, Hope K. Gerde, and Arianna E. Pikus make the case for “Finding Time for Science: Using Informational Texts to Increase Children’s Engagement, Knowledge, and Literacy.” You’ll read about how one teacher built on his class’s interest in ants and used informational texts to promote science and literacy learning.
Expanding to other areas of STEM, Shannon Larsen and Kelly K. McCormick describe an innovative approach to using technology to promote mathematics in “Screencasts Support Early Learning in Math.” Through a screencasting app, children record their voices, their writings and drawings, and their photographs as they learn and reflect on math content. Their teacher witnesses the benefits (and challenges) of infusing technology into a primary grades classroom.
The final two cluster articles exemplify how to nurture aspects of social studies in the classroom environment and curriculum. Anna Falkner and Katherina A. Payne describe their experiences and research-supported recommendations for fostering children’s agency, independence, and responsive care through co-creating the classroom environment in “‘But All Your Walls Are Blank!’ Using the Classroom Environment to Promote Civics in the Primary Grades.”
Finally, in “Approaching Interdisciplinary Teaching: Using Informational Texts During Social Studies,” Stephanie L. Strachan and Meghan K. Block present three guiding principles for integrating social studies with literacy, with priority placed on inquiry, selecting texts to encourage comparing perspectives and sources, and offering ample opportunities for children to write for authentic reasons and audiences.
As Strachan and Block write, “Teachers don’t have to choose between including social studies and providing literacy instruction.” Nor do you have to choose between any of the content areas: there is power in integration. Whether integration is already a part of your teaching or you are just starting to make connections across the curriculum, I hope that you find inspiration and support in this issue as you begin the new (and likely very different) school year.
A 7-year-old illustrates why she wants to go back to school: to see her friends and teacher. We want to see how the children in your classrooms are representing their schools now that COVID-19 has altered so much of our daily lives. Share children’s artwork with us at email@example.com.
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Would you like to see your children’s artwork featured in these pages? For guidance on submitting print-quality photos (as well as details on permissions and licensing), see NAEYC.org/resources/pubs/authors-photographers/photos.
Annie Moses is the editor in chief of Young Children and Teaching Young Children at NAEYC.