Not Just for the Birds: Finding the Curriculum in Children’s Interests

by Petra Eperjesi, Manager of Forest School Canada


Trust is central to how we at CNAC understand the Forest and Nature School approach. Trusting that the land will offer us rich learning opportunities; trusting children to lead their learning; trusting (and equipping!) ourselves to support that learning – all of this takes time, and space, and gentleness. In that spirit, we wanted to share some of the ways in which the birdhouse inquiry – spurred entirely by the sudden interest of a 4 year old child on a neighbourhood walk he DID NOT want to go on – uncovered many of the Ontario Kindergarten curriculum expectations.


This process of starting with the interests of the child and tracing them back to an externally mandated curriculum might be an inversion of the planning process you use or were taught: we sometimes call it “backwards planning” (though I have actually heard backwards planning used to describe precisely the inverse of how I’m using it here!), or “uncovering” (as opposed to “covering”) curriculum. Instead of going in with predetermined learning outcomes and an agenda for exactly how we’ll get there, we prepare ourselves to be ready to respond to children’s interests, to be ready to end up in a potentially unforeseen place, and to make time afterward to reflect and make meaning of what happened. This is part of that process! So let’s dive in.

Reflecting in terms of this table, J’s interest in building a birdhouse came (I think) from noticing the birdhouses of our neighbours and all the bird activity on our daily walks (initial engagement/exploration). He observed the shapes comprising birdhouses, demonstrating them with his hands (communication).


And here’s our first specific expectation in the Kindergarten curriculum uncovered without planning (G3.2). J spoke about the lines and points of triangles and rectangles as he made the shapes with his hands.

Seeing this, I wondered out loud if he might want to build a birdhouse, beginning with a blueprint, because that’s what “real” architects and builders do. That did the trick! So, his interest extended, once home we got out the paper, pencils, markers, tape, scissors, glue, and he began to plan (investigation, communication) (G3.1; G3.3).


Here I’d highlight that while the above table might suggest that a child’s inquiry process might follow this engagement → exploration → investigation → communication progression in a linear way, I’ve never experienced inquiry in this way! I’d say it’s more of a cycling through these elements again and again, with multiple elements coming to the fore, often in concert with each other.

J’s process continued as I suggested we might build a “prototype” birdhouse with cardboard. We tried to make the cardboard pieces the exact same size as his drawing. More unplanned curriculum connections, this time in measurement! We took measurements of his drawings and also cut out and compared his blueprint to the size of the cardboard.

As we began to shape the cardboard birdhouse, the need to use the language of 3 dimensional shapes authentically arose (G3.5) and we needed to call an expert (my sister, a highschool math teacher) to confirm the names of our shapes. We learned our “triangle” roof is actually a rectangular pyramid, and our “square” house actually turned out to be rectangular prism. (Will J remember that? Probably not! But he was introduced to that language for what was probably the first time!)

The building process continued with J’s dad, a saw, a hammer and some nails, and we are currently wondering where the best place to hang the birdhouse might be and why, and which types of birdies might make their home in it.

I’ve focused mainly on the specific math expectations uncovered throughout this child-led inquiry process, but J. was also tapping into J. was also tapping into one of the “big ideas” and all of the overall expectations in the Kindergarten science curriculum (see below). Not to mention the social/emotional learning!


We hope this was a helpful exploration of the way curriculum might be uncovered in a child-led, playful, inquiry-driven way. There’s so much more to unpack here – how we can prepare ourselves as caregivers and educators to respond to children’s interests and deepen their learning? How does this process change in a group setting?