Overview of the Curriculum Framework
Because young children do not categorize learning according to various disciplines as adults do, this framework is not organized according to traditional subject areas. Instead, it draws from the constructivist theory of learning and is organized according to four domains or spheres of development: Sociomoral, Cognitive, Representational, and Physical. Although separated in this document for the purpose of organization, these domains are interrelated, and children’s development in any one domain influences and is influenced by their development in the others.
Sociomoral development, the focus of the first Project Construct domain, refers to children’s growing capacity to relate emotionally, ethically, and intellectually to the external world. This capacity is critical to development in all other domains because, according to constructivist theory, all aspects of development occur within a sociomoral environment. When children construct—through interactions with others—an understanding of self and others, of social roles, and of the values held by their society, and develop inquisitive, inventive, reflective, and confident dispositions, they establish the foundation for lifelong learning and autonomy.
The second developmental domain in this framework is the Cognitive domain. Project Construct is based on the belief that children’s cognitive development always occurs within a social and physical context. When children interact with people and objects in the environment, they form certain expectations and theories about the way things are. As they attempt to make sense of their experiences, children construct a framework of relationships (schema) by which they organize information and make judgments. A key to cognitive development is the ability to reconcile new knowledge with what the learner already knows. When expectations are not met or when new information is inconsistent with previous knowledge, children cannot simply add the new information to previous ways of thinking; instead, they must construct new, often more elaborate understandings. Cognitive development refers to the increasing ability of children to coordinate thinking processes and theoretical frameworks with the demands of their environment.
Constructivist theory includes conventional knowledge as an area of cognitive development. Recent research by cognitive scientists has affirmed the important role of conventional knowledge; after all, knowledge is the “raw material” used in cognition. In this framework, however, developmental benchmarks related to conventional knowledge are not identified as a distinct category within the Cognitive domain. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of conventional knowledge itself.
Conventional knowledge consists of a number of facts, rules, symbols, or customs agreed upon by society. Gained through interaction with external sources, such as books, television programs, and other people, conventional knowledge encompasses children’s development in all four domains. For example, a child may learn about herself and her own family at first. Later, she may discover that other individuals and families do things differently. This information—or conventional knowledge—provides the child with a way to think about and communicate with other individuals about things that are important to her and others. As she builds on her knowledge, the child expands her ability to put things into relationships as well as to consider the perspective of others. In this way, conventional knowledge supports her development in all domains.
The third domain in this framework is the Representational domain. Representational development refers to children’s growing capacity to form and communicate images or ideas of something seen, known, or imagined. As they develop, children become increasingly able to think about things that are not immediately present. These images or ideas are known as internal representations. When children attempt to convey these ideas to others or record them for their own use or pleasure, they employ some system of external representation. By one year of age, most babies understand several words, gesture to communicate, and try to say a few words. By age two, most toddlers can say about 50 words and can combine some. By three or four, most children can express themselves quite well in their native language. They can also represent their ideas and feelings through painting, drawing, and block building as well as through music, movement, and pretend play. By means of these various systems of representation (literacy and the expressive arts), children organize their experiences and expand their understanding of the world, as well as their enjoyment.
The ability to represent ideas and feelings, whether through language or some other form of shared representation, provides children with the tools for creating and communicating with others. It also enables children to reflect on imaginary and real-life situations and, as a result, to develop critical thinking and decision-making skills.
Physical Development, the last domain in this framework, refers to children’s abilities to use their bodies with increasing purpose, skill, and control. During the years from birth through seven, children develop the basic motor skills that enable them to respond to their social and physical environments as well as acquire healthy living practices. These skills represent aspects of a child’s motor development and are also closely related with the child’s construction of other kinds of knowledge.