The Center follows an emergent curriculum affording teachers the opportunity to individualize curriculum to a high degree. It is our belief that a curriculum exists within each child, particular to their own development and culture. It also takes place in a group setting here at Hort Woods, thereby offering each of those individuals the opportunity to construct meaning informed, questioned, challenged and supported by their peers and adults.


Relationships are the foundation of our curriculum approach. They provide us with rich curriculum material. We learn how to make a new child and family feel welcome and how to say farewell to the child who is going off to Kindergarten. We learn about friendship as children move from understanding and satisfying themselves to negotiating conflict with others. We learn about the cycle of life as we celebrate the birth of a new sibling and we share the grief when a life passes. We learn that people speak many languages, have many different abilities, and eat a wondrous variety of foods and that the world is large beyond our doors but also huge within. We learn how to share and take turns, how to listen and how to express. We support the first steps of our youngest friends and cheer the first solo ride of a “big kid” on a tricycle. Relationships are curriculum.


The environment is the stage for learning and this wonderful setting provides many spaces where children learn. A child can find a place to be alone, with just a few friends or gathered as a group. The Child Care Center at Hort Woods was designed with a vision in mind. It is a place for learning where the arts and nature come together. It is a setting that provides constant connections to the outdoors with easy access to small and large outdoor classrooms as well as a shared studio space for art exploration. The wonderful Hort Woods Heritage Grove is our back yard. The building systems provide the opportunities for children and adults to learn about using nature’s resources to light and ventilate our center and to understand conservation of water as well as to recycle almost everything. The basic design of the classrooms and playgrounds is informed by our knowledge of young children and their interests and needs. This model for sustainability extends beyond the building to spaces and materials and informs all of our learning as well as our operations. The environment is the stage for curriculum.

The Mixed Age Model

Mixed age is our style of grouping the children into home classrooms. Essential to our philosophical approach is the belief that children construct knowledge in relationships with others. It is therefore very important that children be afforded an opportunity to observe and engage with children and adults of all ages. The work of Lilian Katz in this area had a strong influence on our decision to model a mixed age grouping. We were pioneers in that effort related to the care of infants and toddlers. We feel very strongly that children are both more secure as well as appropriately challenged in a place where they see a “neighborhood” community working together. Children visit each other’s classrooms, play together on the playground, go on field trips and walks in mixed age groups and we have university students and elder volunteers in our classrooms on a regular basis. We want children to experience relationships with people of all ages.

Curriculum Framework

The Child Care Center at Hort Woods is a four star program within the Pennsylvania Keystone Stars quality assurance system and complies with all standards for that highest level of quality. The PA Infant/Toddler and Preschool Early Learning Standards support our curriculum with young children. We are also accredited with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and are guided by all standards and criteria of that hard earned certification. This curricular framework is further supported by the academic, research and service missions of the university as we operate as a “laboratory school.”

Observation Informs Curriculum and Assessment

Our philosophy states that teachers and adults in our learning community are required to be observant and reflective practitioners. We watch, listen and note growth, conversations, play themes, book choices, the questions children ask. We note when our youngest children are preparing to take their first steps. When a particular idea is especially motivating to a child or group of children teachers ask questions to extend learning, provide supplementary materials, seek supporting resources, and perhaps plan excursions or invite guests to enhance our understanding of a topic. Teachers are free to develop curriculum and represent these ideas within the collegiality of their individual classrooms. Our curriculum is a reflective model in that teachers meet regularly to discuss observations of current curriculum and developmental needs of children in order to plan for emerging possibilities. Teachers make use of photographic images and film to document the progression of an idea. At times a full scale investigation into an idea may take place which forms a curriculum project. We have seen projects develop sparked by the capture of an insect, the playing of a particular piece of music or the viewing of a film as well as the intense perusal of a favorite book. Teachers must be observant and follow through. Children will be afforded the opportunity to engage all senses and to experience a topic artistically, scientifically, mathematically, cooperatively. You will see the resulting learning in their work. Teachers must then thoughtfully document this work and use this documentation to plan ongoing curriculum. It is a wondrous learning cycle.


Appropriate early childhood assessment is integral to the philosophy and curriculum of our program. During your first “intake” meeting, when you enroll your child, we will use the “developmental history” to inform planning. We consider this important meeting as the first assessment as you tell us about your child so that we can be prepared to welcome your family to the learning community of Hort Woods.

Children’s individual development is addressed informally and routinely through teacher’s daily observations and interactions with the children. We will look at all areas of a child’s development – physical, social, emotional and cognitive in the context of both the individual child as well as through the daily life of our center. We enjoy observing children as they experience this environment and not in artificial test situations. The teaching staff of Hort Woods offers a combination of highly experienced and beginning teachers. They will use a variety of tools to support their observations and recommendations for next steps and these will be shared with you as part of our parent and teacher conference procedures. As part of our requirements within the framework of the PA Keystone STARS system we use the research based assessment system Teaching Strategies GOLD. As a parent, you will be included in this process and we will require observations and feedback of your child within the context of your own family life. We will want to talk about your child’s strengths and individual goals as well as how your child negotiates the social environment of our program. Assessment is a collaborative process and begins as soon as you enroll your child with our program. At each assessment conference we will make curriculum decisions based on the material shared and discussed with you as the parent. A portfolio of your child will be prepared when they arrive and may be presented in a combination of formats incorporating photographs, text and work samples. This portfolio along with a series of narrative assessments will grow to represent a portrait of your child’s growth and experiences at Hort Woods.

The Community Network

We are also fortunate to be able to access community and university based agencies to provide the program with developmental screening services and on site consultation facilitated by specifically trained early intervention personnel. Our community network is strong and affords us the ability to supplement our authentic assessment process with supporting information provided to the program. All assessment information is strictly confidential and stored in your child’s file in our main office. Consultation with families is essential prior to any referral made for more specific diagnostic evaluations for any child in our program.

Theory into Practice

The Child Care Center at Hort Woods feels that it is essential that we continually examine our influences as part of our ongoing discussions in the evolution of our own curriculum. The full time teaching staff combine education and experience from recent graduates to seasoned veteran teachers with over thirty years of time spent in the early education profession. This combination enables us to share our influences to develop our own approach to early care and education.

Most recently we have begun exploring the work of Deb Curtis and Margie Carter for our own professional development as well as how it applies to the influential role we play as mentors for our adult student support staff.

We have studied the guiding work of Loris Malaguzzi and the educators of Reggio Emilia in Italy for their image of children and their representations of learning and for their model of a community based curriculum.

We continually participate in and provide professional development in the area of curriculum. Examples of new interest and past intensive focus for us have been:

  • Learning Through Objects , The Smithsonian Museum Early Enrichment Museum Education program
  • The Project Approach of Sylvia Chard and Lillian Katz
  • The work of John Nimmo and Elizabeth Jones on Emergent Curriculum
  • The Anti Bias Curriculum of Louise Dernam Sparks
  • Jim Greenman’s books, Prime Times and Caring Spaces Learning Places, in the area of environments and quality infant/toddler care

We would welcome your interest in learning more about our work and the work of those who inspire us. All of the above texts and supporting resources are available to our parents and influence our own work with students in the program. Inspiring future early educators and continually refining our approach is a responsibility we take very seriously as a laboratory school.

"Often when people come to us and observe our children, they ask us which magic spell we have used. We answer that their surprise equals our surprise. Creativity? It is always difficult to notice when it is dressed in everyday clothing and has the ability to appear and disappear suddenly. Out task regarding creativity is to help children climb their own mountains. No one can do more.”

(Loris Malaguzzi, 1998, pp.75-77) (2nd edition of the hundred languages of children)