Inside: Why schools and children love theme-based learning
As you can probably tell, we are huge fans of theme-based learning over at Happy Tot Shelf. Every month, I create a themed Learning Shelf and themed learning activities. This central theme connects our different learning activities and integrates different learning areas, subjects and skills together.
Theme-based learning is popular and widely adopted in many preschool classrooms because this method of teaching and learning benefit children in multiple ways, including:
1) Interesting Themes Encourage a Love of Learning
I remember a period of time when my son was obsessed with cars. I decided that if cars are all my son wants to think about and explore, I would harness his obsession for learning. I used cars as the vehicle (pun intended) to explore a variety of subjects in a fun and meaningful way. Here are some activities from our car themed month:
- Counted the number of wheels on a car and compared it to that of other vehicles (Math)
- Made a axle and wheel model with TP rolls and chopsticks and explored why round wheels are better (Science, Math, Design)
- Made a graph of the different colored cars we see in a carpark (Math)
- Read countless books on cars (Literacy and Language)
- Designed and created a garage from a cardboard box (Art, Design)
- Matched letters written on the top of toys cars to letters written on parking lots in his cardboard garage (Literacy)
- Painted with cars (Art & Sensory Play)
- Sang the Zoom Zoom Driving in the Car song (Music, Literacy)
- Researched where petrol comes from (Science, Geography)
Using Theme-based Learning, we can help children dive deep into topics they are passionate about. When we tap in to children’s natural curiosity, they are motivated and excited to find out more on their own. As the children get older, they can even choose the next theme and decide what they like to learn about next. They become active learners.
For parents and educators, this thematic study approach makes it efficient and organized to support children's interests and harness their interests to encourage learning.
2) Children Make Deeper Connections
Learning is an integrated process where the brain is constantly trying to make connections from one experience to another. Theme-based learning supports and mirrors this natural way of learning.
The overarching theme
- builds a bridge between different topics, subjects and skills,
- helps children see and make connections between them,
- helps them recognize the interconnectedness of the world around them which leads to more creativity and innovation in their thinking.
When you examine the list of activities from my son’s car themed month, you can see just how many different learning areas were touched on through that single theme (language, math, art, music, science, etc.). Children no longer see Math, Science, Geography, Art, etc as separate entities, but instead, appreciate the intricate relationships between these subjects.
3) Children Learn About the World
Themes can come from anything children are connected to, such as:
- items they see around them,
- favorite storybooks, or
- special events happening in their lives.
These themes become the platforms for children to learn more about the world around them, as they make one interesting and thought-provoking discovery after another.
For example, there was a month last year where it rained heavily, so we set up a weather themed shelf. The weather theme got my son thinking about what happens when there is too much rain, wind, sun or snow. This led us to reading about natural disasters and how they affect people’s lives here and in other parts of the world. His learning became fun, relevant and purposeful.
Theme-based Learning brings the world to children.
4) Learning Becomes Meaningful
A theme creates a context for children to see the meaningful applications of the academic knowledge and skills. When children can relate what they learn to the real-world, they will understand and retain the new knowledge better.
For example, during our winter themed learning month, I created two Snowflake invitations to learn (Snowflake Puzzle and Snowflake Symmetry). Through these activities, my children got to examine snowflakes closely and they learnt about symmetry with real-world examples.
Back to our car themed month, when my son made an axle and wheel set, he observed the real life application of circles in wheels. Shapes became more than just another drawing in concept books.
Theme-based learning brings learning to life for children.
5) Theme-based Learning Supports Different Learning Needs
Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner proposed in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, that people have different abilities and talents. He called them the "intelligences and he identified eight of them:
- Linguistic intelligence
- Logical-mathematical intelligence
- Visual-spatial intelligence
- Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence
- Musical intelligence
- Interpersonal intelligence
- Intrapersonal intelligence
- Naturalist intelligence
Theme-based learning integrates together different learning areas and skills. Because of this variety, this thematic learning approach is able to incorporate different intelligences and cater better to children with different learning needs. This is an important benefit for schools or families with multiple children.
For example, in my family, my son loves problem solving and logical reasoning (Logical-mathematical intelligence) while my daughter enjoys role playing, exercising, sculpting play dough (Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence) more. In a thematic unit, we get to explore a variety of learning activities that cover different learning areas and skills. So even when my children have different intelligences and learning styles, they can enjoy learning together.
During our Star Wars themed learning, I invited my children to make droids using paper plates. While my son was obsessed with coming up with the specifications for his droid, my daughter was loving the creation process where she could do lots of cutting and pasting.
More Theme-based Learning Resources for You
Theme-based learning is a teaching and learning method that is strongly supported by numerous researches on the brain and how humans learn. I hope these reasons will motivate you to give Theme-based Learning a go at home! Here are more helpful Theme-based Learning resources for you:
- A list of some of our favorite Theme-based Learning Shelves
- The Happy Learners' Club: my popular activity membership where parents get an exciting theme-based learning activity pack sent to them every month!
- Happy Tot Shelf Pinterest: there are over hundreds activities all categorized according to themes and learning areas.