Themes vs. Topics

fire sheet

Using themes in early childhood education is a way to highlight a subject and provide a framework in which to organize classroom activities in all areas; including math, literacy, science, dramatic play, and more. Themes can be broad, such as Community Helpers; or narrow and focused on one type of community helper: Firefighters.   In fact, I have used the word theme as a header on this blog, because teachers are familiar with this method of subject organization.

The trouble I have with the idea of themes currently is that the focus has shifted mainly to themed worksheets or decorative elements being designed, sold, or teacher prepared.  While crafty teachers might enjoy these projects, it sets up an expectation that daycare providers or preschool teachers must include these items to have a proper “theme.”  However, firefighter coloring sheets, firefighter handwriting sheets, and firefighter counting sheets, don’t add much more to children’s understanding of the subject other than reinforcing a visual reminder of the theme.

Three years ago I switched over to using the word Topics to describe what we would be focusing on in my home-based preschool program.  I feel that using this terminology sets the stage for the books we will be reading; the displays that will be found in the science area; the songs we will sing; and most importantly, what we will be talking about and learning together.  I love when a child walks in the door on Monday and says, “What are we talking about this week?”  The children’s curiosity sets the stage for in-depth learning.

My monthly information sheet (Blog Post Coming Soon: Preschool Newsletters), lists the topics by week, yet they are often tied to a larger theme or topic.  For example, at the beginning of the month, we will talk about the topic of insects.  Each week following, we will delve into a specific insect; such as ladybugs, butterflies, and worms.  Our month-long focus will be insects, but I will not print out worksheets with cartoon insects all over them to create my theme.  Instead, there will be insects to observe with magnifying glasses: an insect bingo game to play; insect puzzles to complete; some butterfly wings in the dramatic play area; tons of books to read aloud and look through individually; and more to add layers to our topic (Coming Soon: Layering Your Lesson Plans).

Using the word topic with children introduces them to a broader concept in a concrete way.  Someday they will research topics at the library or engage in interesting topics during conversations with others. Themes, however, will help them plan a fun party with matching cake, invitations, and decorations.

Most likely, I’m not the inventor of using topics as a basis for teaching young children, but I like to thing of myself as a bit of a trailblazer by deviating from the majority and adopting a personal teaching style that works for me in my program.

I’d love to hear what you think of using topics over themes.  Please remember to be kind; we’re all here to learn from each other!




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