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Exploring Various Themes in Early Childhood Interdisciplinary Units

By: Laura Ma

Published March 21, 2024

Children in the Early Childhood setting are exposed to a huge variety of topics, resources, teaching strategies, and educational experiences. The goals of all administrators and teachers should be provide the most wholesome and positive educational experience for young learners. Children need to be taught foundational knowledge and skills that will make them 21st century citizens. Two major themes that can be incorporated into interdisciplinary learning that will support these goals are Local vs. Global and inquiry learning

Before delving into how these two themes could be effectively incorporated into the Early Childhood setting, let’s example what interdisciplinary learning means and looks like. Interdisciplinary learning refers to a form of student learning where subjects are combined. Students learn skills and utilize concepts from across different disciplines to solve problems. For example, students who are keeping a plant diary will use writing, drawing, and math skills when measuring, labeling, and drawing their plant. Students must rely on critical thinking skills and use a teamwork approach. Some schools are shifting their curriculum to include more interdisciplinary learning but this takes time. For the purposes of this blog post, we will discuss classrooms and lessons that have interdisciplinary characteristics but may not be purely interdisciplinary.

Interdisciplinary Learning is not tied to only one subject at a time.

Inquiry based education lends itself well to an interdisciplinary classroom. Inquiry not only lends itself to making real work connections but also focuses on teaching transferable concepts. 

For example, my students learned about the concept of responsibility in our unit about living a healthy lifestyle. We presented it first by giving each a small toy to take care of for the week. If they could bring it back to school in good shape (clean, no missing parts) then they got a reward and could keep it. Then, we taught a lesson about how the diet and exercise choices we make affect our bodies in the short and long term. Children added to the wonder wall. Some examples of questions they asked were “What happens if someone only eats pizza for their whole life?” and “Why is ice-cream unhealthy?”. Children started to link responsibility with choices related to living a healthy lifestyle. Now, in our science unit about plants, we discussed how people are responsible for caring for plants because we need each other to survive. We connected this to our own lives by planting beans. Children will take them home and plant them. 

The Inquiry Cycle

Inquiry based-learning encourages young learners to see, think, and wonder about the world around them. As put by Wolpert-Gawron, “It’s about triggering curiosity”. Teachers use a variety of strategies to incorporate the theme of inquiry in their lessons. Lesson topics surrounding inquiry could include but aren’t limited to question words (literacy focus), science’s unanswered questions, and how to be a better friend (SEL). I chose these lesson topics because of my student’s interests and gaps in learning. Several of my ESL first graders cannot read question words. While some can read them, then cannot use the properly in their own sentences. Furthermore, my class is very interested in studying animals and nature. In our first wonder wall activity about the senses, several of them asked about senses related to different plants and animals. Lastly, several of my students struggle with speaking nicely to each other when they are upset and are not proactive in making friendships. By taking an inquiry stance and exploring how they could improve as individuals and as a class.

Global vs Local

The theme of inquiry can give students important transferable skills like critical thinking, research skills, and problem solving. It allows them to go into the word with curiosity and the ability to find the answers to their questions. Local vs global also helps provide these skills to young learners. Teachers could choose to have single lessons with the theme or even sprinkle it throughout other interdisciplinary lessons. For example, I could present the topic of plants and the concept of responsibility with the theme of local vs global. Children could research local sustainable practices in Shanghai but also learn about how different countries have committed to protecting the environment and safeguarding plants. We could ask the school’s head gardener to give a talk about the plants on our campus or even tour the students to see specific plants. Then, we could do a virtual tour of a forest or garden somewhere in the world. 

The global vs. local theme pairs perfectly with inquiry because both focus on creating change on a larger scale. Furthermore, they provide transferable skills. I chose these two themes because my school is an inquiry based learning school. Also, as someone who teaching young students, I think it’s essential that my students see themselves in the context of the world, not just their immediate community. Expanding their worldview is so important to their future success. 

In conclusion, themes help students make connection to their world. Utilizing inquiry and local vs. global helps empower young learners to build 21st century skills that are transferable between different contexts.


Interdisciplinary education: An overview. School of Education Online. (2023, October 6).

Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2016b, August 11). What the Heck Is Inquiry-Based Learning?. Edutopia. What the Heck Is Inquiry-Based Learning?

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