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How to Create your own Early Childhood Thematic Units

Last updated on 12/08/2019


Hey Everyone, I’ve been blogging for a few months now, and have been having trouble keeping up with my crazy life, and getting my themes in here for you to use. This got me to thinking, that I could maybe help you to create your own themes the way I did, by showing you how I did it. This post is not going to be just about a theme that I did, but how you can use your own students imaginations and curiosity, creativity, and a few online resources to become your own thematic guru. Let’s get creative and help you to be your own best lesson planner. Don’t worry, I will get a whole lot more themes up to help you keep the ideas flowing, but this is a great way to get your own intuitive juices going.

What is a Thematic Unit approach to teaching or Curriculum?

A Thematic Unit approach to teaching or Curriculum is to use a theme or general idea, across multiple subjects and areas in the classroom. In laymen’s terms, it means you take a theme or idea like “cookies” and make it go across all your subject areas. For example, C for Cookies, for fine motor, you might make c shaped cookies, trace c, and write an Language experience story about baking cookies, while teaching list form when writing your ingredient list. To make cookies work in Social Studies, you might take the kids to a bakery or a grocery store; and then for math, you might have them counting chocolate chips on a paper cookie, or counting out chocolate chips onto a paper cookie. You might also put measuring cups in the sand box, and bakers tools in the dramatic play area. For math you could even expand into money and even graphing. As you can probably tell I carried the cookie idea “theme” across to each of the core subjects I wanted to teach.

What is thematic planning?

Thematic planning is using the interests of your students to help guide your lesson planning. This helps by kick starting their curiosity and expanding their horizons. Using their interests and experiences, helps keep them involved and keeps their motivation to learn strong.

What is a thematic unit lesson plan?

A thematic unit lesson plan is like any other lesson plan, but incorporates one unifying element to all of the core subjects. A thematic unit lesson plan utilizes the objectives that you have laid out for the year, month, week, or day and then applies a singular idea through out all the core subjects.

Why is theme based learning important?

  • Builds off of your students experiences:
    • Which creates connections
    • Which encourages active involvement and inclusion
  • Incorporates your own previous experiences
  • Encourages play based learning
  • Encourages student curiosity
  • Can incorporate student family and background
  • Can become a cultural experience
  • Allows you to become a facilitator of learning instead

Where do Themes come from for a Thematic Unit?

My Themes came from a variety of different areas, but the basic concept is they came from my students. My first year teaching I got my themes from books, and online. I found that after a while, the themes weren’t holding my students interests, and with threes and fours you have to hold their interests or you just lost your classroom. That is when I started to look deeper at my classroom resources, my students.

  1. Home Visits and Parent Surveys– I had one student that was really into dinosaurs, so I made a dinosaur unit.
  2. Parents: a highly untapped resource of information for kids. A stay at home mom, could come in and share her favorite cookie recipe. A firefighter dad could come in and share about their job, during a fire fighter theme.
  3. Holidays: Which kid doesn’t like to do all things Christmas during the month of December.
  4. Seasonal– Doing all things snow and ice in January.
  5. Your Personal Interests– Share something that you might be a side expert in, like gardening, or pets.
  6. Alphabet: Maybe there is a letter that you need to get in like U, which is usually a very hard one for me to do. Right now Unicorns are all the rage, so you could explore that. However, at my time I was making my U week for umbrella and I always did it in April, for April showers bring May flowers.
  7. Community: maybe you have a church member or a local farm that has a unique animals like yaks or llamas. You could do a whole week on that after a field trip to the farm to perk their curiosity.
  8. Unmet Objectives: After that if I have a specific objective I want to teach to, then I try to find a theme that lends itself well to that objective. This is one of my last resorts though. I don’t want to just teach information, I want to make it meaningful to the students so that it sticks. I want it to make those connections, that create long lasting knowledge.

How to lay out a Thematic Year?

I was a teacher who had a combined classroom. This means I had both threes and fours in my classroom. Also due to birthdays, and cut off dates for Kindergarten, sometimes I would even have some five year olds. This means that I could have kids up to three years. That is why I had to come up with a three year rotation of themes. Following this process, I was able to come up with three general themes that included Community, Imagination Station, and Preschool Gone Wild (All about habitats). With those three themes, I was able to incorporate many of my students interests because it was broad enough to cover A LOT, of interests. It just varied based on my students.

  • Survey your class for interests. Home visits, or parent surveys,
  • Decide on a common theme that includes as many of those interests as you can. An example would be if you have a lot of students interested in animals, you could do habitats for the year, which then discusses many different animals that live in all the varying habitats; or if you have job oriented kids, community, or if you have really creative kids, a whole year on imagination.
  • Think about what objectives you have for each of the core subjects at varying times during the year, do any lend themselves to one of the interests. Example would be having a student really interested in bugs, well that lends itself to the spring and you are working on counting to 20, you could put up to 20 dots on the lady bugs. You could do a whole month on bugs, You could do A for ants, B for bees, C for Caterpillars, P for pillow bugs, etc. As for the objectives, if you have not already looked at your states standards for early learning now is the chance to check them out.  The wisconsin early learning standards or WMELS, are found at the wisconsin department of public instruction website. They are laid out in a way that allows you to see objectives  for as early as infant toddler up to going into Kindergarten.  They are also divided up by category such as speaking and communicating.  If you want to see the Wisconsin state Standards for early childhood, click here
  • List every aspect that you can think of with that theme and find out if it is enough for a week, or maybe a month long theme. For instance with the example of bugs from the previous bullet, I could make bugs a week long theme, but if I want to really delve into bugs and discuss different kinds of bugs and their life cycles, homes, bodies, and eating habits, I will want to spread this unit out over a month.
  • Apply as many objectives as you can using those interests. An example of this would be if my objective is to teach list writing, I might consider doing a unit on grocery stores or bakeries. Then I could have the students write a grocery list, or a recipe list for the bakery unit. Pinterest is great for helping to match your objectives with a theme.  By doing this, you are accomplishing your goals for the year, but also meeting your students needs and interests. You can find me at kickstartpreschooltheme, I have a bunch of themes that I researched and laid out for myself during my nine years of teaching.  My boards are organized by theme and then by subject.
  • Schedule out those activities throughout the year, month and week to accomplish your objectives and to meet the time requirements.  Like making sure to bake cookies at the beginning of the bakery week, making sure you have plenty of time to expand on that experience throughout the week. To see a lay out of activities and how I apply objectives to the themes, please visit my I is for interesting Ice Theme

Summary/ Conclusion:

Thematic lesson planning uses the students needs, interests and experiences, to accomplish the educational goals and objectives you have and yet still motivate hands on learning and stimulates curiosity. This can be done on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even a yearly basis.

Published inClassroom IdeasH ThemeUncategorized


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