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Spiders in the Rivers Class!   Emergent Curriculum Gets Creepy Crawly!

January 26, 2022 | Kristen Jordan

Emergent Curriculum is a phrase that you have probably heard before, but what does it really look like in the classroom?  Our current study of spiders in the Rivers Class may shed some light on what emergent curriculum might look like. 

Preschoolers are some of the best observers and most curious people on the planet!  Any time a teacher can take that energy and turn it to learning in the classroom, it’s an exciting thing, and it can become emergent curriculum: studying something that “emerges” from students’ interests.  In the Rivers class, for much of the school year, children have gleefully cried out “Spiderweb!” as they have noticed cobwebs in the plants and corners of our (very clean!) classroom.  When children notice a cobweb, we usually stop and look for spiders with great anticipation for a few minutes.  It never seems to get old!

Then, one lucky day in November, a child found a very tiny spider near the light table.  As it hung by a thread of silk, some children were able to try holding the silk thread before the spider dropped away. (Can you spot it in the photo?  I told you, great observers!)

In January, children’s interest in spiders and spiderwebs remained strong so we launched into learning about spiders.  We started discussing spiders; what the children think, know, and wonder about them.  Teachers added books about spiders to our library.  The children quickly engaged in the discussions and have been so excited to explore photos and ask questions as they look at books. 

One discussion centered around whether or not children like spiders.  Most of them do!  

“My mom doesn’t but I do!”  

“I like spiders but not too close!”  

Children also shared what they know about spiders.

Some of what they know and what we have discussed is true (or partially true), and some thoughts have led to further explorations: “How many legs do spiders have?”  “How many eyes do they have?”  “If they lose a leg, can they grow it back?”

In one discussion, a child asked, “What if we became scientists?”  Well, that is exactly what they are doing.  Observing, being curious, seeking answers. 


We have been keeping our eyes open in the school building to find more cobwebs (bits of leftover webs or silk) and spider webs. 

One day, we happened upon what we think are spider egg sacs!  

We collected them and have them in jars in the classroom and the children are actively observing and watching. We don’t know if the egg sacs are empty or full but we are hoping for a baby spider hatch! 

Mrs. Jordan also found a spider at home that she brought in for children to observe.  Spiders are everywhere in the world and are an accessible topic for anyone. 

To learn more about spider behaviors, children watched a video of a spider spinning its web, one of a spider shedding its exoskeleton, and one of a small dancing spider.  

Afterward, they even tried wiggling to “molt their exoskeleton” and dancing like a spider!

Sometimes it’s helpful to learn about something from an expert.  The Rivers class met with a second grader who is passionate about spiders (and has been since he was in the preschool at Mustard Seed).  He shared his knowledge with the children.  We are also slated to have a zoom call with a spider scientist to learn even more!  

The children are learning about spiders through a variety of resources.

Children have also been doing lots of artwork that demonstrates their knowledge of spiders.  They have painted and drawn web designs. They have done a great deal of art, in different mediums, that shows what they have learned about the anatomy of spiders: Spiders have 2 body parts, 2 fangs, 8 legs, 8 eyes, and hair on their bodies.  What they have learned is reflected in their amazing artwork. 

The children are so excited and engaged in our study of spiders!  Many people fear spiders but even if the children have some fears, they are learning how important these creatures are to our world and I hope they are gaining appreciation for these amazing creatures!

Children had an interest in something in their world.  We provided space and time and resources for them to be curious, explore, gather information, answer questions, and represent what they are learning.  So now you see how emergent curriculum can happen, simply from getting interested in and excited about cobwebs!

Kristen Jordan

Teacher, Rivers Class

Kristen Jordan began helping at Mustard Seed School in 2006, after her daughter had been a student in the preschool. She substituted for many years in all grades; in 2011, she returned to the classroom and has been a teacher in The Nest ever since.

Prior to the birth of her daughter Clara, in 2002, Ms. Jordan worked in Brooklyn as a first grade teacher with the New York City Public Schools. During this time, her school collaborated with the Brooklyn Museum, and this work helped Ms. Jordan develop a real interest in the parallels between the process of making art and the process of writing in the classroom. She thoroughly enjoys teaching both art and literacy to preschoolers.

Ms Jordan’s background includes work with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. While at Teachers College, she trained with esteemed educator and author Lucy Calkins. Early in her teaching career, Ms. Jordan did not think that she wanted to teach very young children but her view has changed! She now really enjoys and takes great interest in young children and their development.

Ms. Jordan enjoys reading, working out, hiking, cooking, and spending time with her daughter and family. Although she has lived on the East Coast for a very long time, as a native of Oregon, she really loves the mountains!

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