How to Build a Curriculum for Daycare

Maybe you are just starting out on the road to creating your center or maybe you’ve been a director for 20 years, but there comes a time in every director’s life when they need to evaluate the curriculum they use in their school.

What is a Daycare Curriculum?

According to The Intentional Teacher by Ann S. Epstein (NAEYC), curriculum is ”the knowledge and skills teachers are expected to teach and children are expected to learn, and the plans for experiences through which learning will take place.”

A curriculum is a living entity. It should be allowed to change and grow to follow the needs of your students and teachers. It’s one of the most important decisions you will make as a director. Your curriculum can define your center. It’s one of the first things parents ask about when touring your center. It’s how you market your program, and it can potentially be how your center can stand out from the crowd.

However, making the decision can seem overwhelming. There’s an endless supply of philosophies and Pinterest boards and books that tell you what you “should” be teaching to your students. Should your four-year-olds be able to read sight words? Should you use thematic centers? Should you be totally play-based or focused primarily on academics or fall somewhere in between? 

My goal in writing this article is to help make the process a bit easier.

First, it’s time to give some thought to your specific center and to you as the director. Ask yourself:

  • What are my beliefs in education?
  • What do I value in education?
  • What do I want to steer clear of in my curriculum?
  • Do I want to follow an established methodology or do I want to completely create my own curriculum?
  • What are the needs of my students?
  • What do I want to accomplish in my center?
  • What materials do I want to use?
  • Which curriculum will fit my space?
  • What are the parental expectations in my area?
  • What will help set me apart from other centers?

What are the different types of preschool programs?

Once you have spent time thinking about the needs of your particular students and center, it’s time to do some research. There is a seemingly endless stream of preschool philosophies and it’s important for you to spend some time looking at different options. I’ve outlined a couple below to get you started.


  • Much of the class time is made up of free-choice centers (a kitchen area, a reading nook, a sensory table, a block area, etc). 
  • Teachers may incorporate academic skills through theme-based activities.
  • The main goal is to develop social and emotional skills by teacher modeling.
  • The teacher acts as a facilitator of learning rather than a lecturer of direct instruction.
  • The focus is on the process rather than the product. 
  • Teachers work hard to create an atmosphere of discovery, exploration and appropriate risk-taking.


  • The class is very structured, routine oriented and primarily teacher led.
  • Children spend the majority of the day learning letters and sounds, colors, shapes, and numbers, as well as participate in handwriting practice and other academics. Learning drills, the completion of worksheets, and a few art projects are also part of the routine, structured day.
  • Children spend a fair amount of their day sitting and “working”, but normally allow for some unstructured time. It’s just that there will be less of this than in play-based preschools.
  • Academic-based programs are more about the product and outcome than the process.
  • This design is aimed at preparing students for kindergarten.

Reggio Emilia

  • Children’s learning is based on their interests.
  • Teachers and parents are co-learners.
  • The classroom environment is a “third teacher”.
  • Children’s learning progress is documented.
  • Teachers focus on the many ways kids learn.


  • Classrooms that include children of different ages.
  • An environment that emphasizes responsibility and self-discipline.
  • A curriculum that emphasizes independence.
  • An orderly classroom with prepared workstations.
  • A teacher who guides rather than directs.


  • Emergent curriculum is defined as a process where teachers plan activities and projects based on the specific group of children they are working with, taking into account their skills, needs, and interests.
  • It requires observation, documentation, creative brainstorming, flexibility and patience.
  • Rather than starting with a lesson plan which requires a “hook” to get the children interested, emergent curriculum starts with the observation of the children for insight into their interests.
  • Rooted in the work of noted early childhood theorists like Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky.
  • Teachers who employ emergent curriculum understand that the trajectory of learning happens as a consequence of the children’s genuine interest, response, and connection to the subject.


  • Predictable rhythms through the day, week and year.
  • Meaningful practical work such as cooking, baking, gardening, handwork and domestic activity.
  • Awareness that young children learn through imitation.
  • Opportunities for self-initiated play with simple play materials.

Other choices include religious, cooperative, Creative Curriculum, HighScope, Inquiry-Based, language immersion, STEM/STEAM, outdoor/nature-based, or a combination of different philosophies.

Building the curriculum

Now that you’ve decided which direction you want to go, it’s time to decide how you are going to build your curriculum. There are many different paths to follow to create a curriculum that works for you. Do you want to write your own curriculum? Do you want to purchase a curriculum? Do you want to combine store-bought with your own curriculum?

However you decide to craft your curriculum, there are a couple of things you might want to look out for.

  1. Is the curriculum developmentally appropriate? Is it based on research in child development? Does it take into account how preschool-aged children learn?
  2. Is the curriculum adaptable to different ages and abilities?
  3. Does it address all of the different learning styles children may have?

Should I buy a prepackaged preschool curriculum?

If you decide to buy a curriculum:

  • Probably the easiest is to purchase a boxed curriculum that comes with your lesson plans all laid out as well as most of the needed supplies. I’ve used Funshine Express and Mother Goose Time at various times with my students. However, these programs can be overwhelming with the amount of materials and activities they include.
  • There are also plenty of different sites where you can purchase pre-made lesson plans that you can follow.

How to write your own daycare curriculum?

However, if you choose to create your own  curriculum, you will need to do some more research to find the activities that work best for you.

  • An option is to purchase any of the large number of preschool curriculum books that exist in the market today. Some of them have lesson plans already laid out for you and others have different activity ideas for you to mix and match. 
  • You can also search for activities online. Sites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers have been helpful to me.

I have written my own curriculum as well as adapted some I have found. To start, I laid out my learning goals for the whole year and each month. I figured out how I wanted to format my day (When did I want circle time? How long should we be outside? How long should my activity periods be? When would nap time be?, etc.)  I chose some themes (like winter, the ocean, birds, etc.), and added activities that worked for my students and for me. It’s a matter of trial and error until you find a rhythm that works for your center.     

Below is a sample lesson plan I created for my play-based program. I worked with a mixed-age group, so I’ve included projects that would work for all of them. 

sample lesson plan

However you decide to build your curriculum, make sure it fits your needs and the needs of your students. Remember, a curriculum can, and should be, something that keeps evolving and changing with your program. If something doesn’t work for a particular group of students, keep looking and trying until you find something that does.

See how the children are learning from your curriculum by recording observations the right way. Download our guide to see how!

observations guide ebook download

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Vickie Burns

Vickie Burns has worked with children for more than 30 years. Over the years she has taught children of all ages in a childcare center as well as in her home daycare. She was also an elementary teacher and principal of a large private school. Vickie lives with her wife and stepson in the San Francisco Bay Area. She enjoys reading and spending time with her family.


  • Zizi Chen says:

    Dear person in-charge,
    I have a childcare centre in Singapore, I would like to enquiry that what is the price for 5 levels prepackaged curriculum(whether it include lesson plans?)
    Toddler (18months – 29months)
    Nursery one(3years old)
    Nursery two(4years old)
    Kindergarten one(5years old)
    Kindergarten two(6years old)

    Could I preview the sample of the curriculum?

    Thank you

    • Ife says:

      I have a daycare in Canada.
      I dont mind a prepackaged curriculum and lesson plans.
      I have mixed ages.
      School age.
      Can l see a sample.
      Thank you.

  • I would say that the curriculum is what drives the child care center missions and overall experience for young learners. My favorite curriculums were always play-based because that’s how children learn.

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