Emergent curriculum describes the kind of curriculum that develops when exploring what is "socially relevant, intellectually engaging, and personally meaningful to children." The basic idea is that organic, whole learning evolves from the interaction of the classroom participants, both children and adults. "As caring adults, we make choices for children that reflect our values; at the same time we need to keep our plans open-ended and responsive to children" (Jones and Nimmo, 1994, p. 3). In emergent curriculum, both adults and children have initiative and make decisions. This power to impact curriculum decisions and directions means that sometimes curriculum is also negotiated between what interests children and what adults know is necessary for children’s education and development. Ideas for curriculum emerge from responding to the interests, questions, and concerns generated within a particular environment, by a particular group of people, at a particular time (Cassady, 1993). Emergent curriculum is never built on children’s interests alone; teachers and parents also have interests worth bringing into the curriculum. The values and concerns of all the adults involved help the classroom culture evolve. The curriculum is called emergent because it evolves, diverging along new paths as choices and connections are made, and it is always open to new possibilities that were not thought of during the initial planning process (Jones and Reynolds, 1992).
Emergent curriculum arises naturally from adult-child interactions and situations that allow for "teachable moments." It connects learning with experience and prior learning. It includes all interests of children and responds to their interests rather than focusing on a narrow, individual, or calendar-driven topic. It is process rather than product-driven. The curriculum is typically implemented after an idea or interest area emerges from the group of children.