Meeting Standards Using Themes

by Judy Mullican

More and more states are publishing standards for early childhood programs. These lists are often long and may look intimidating! But when you dig deeper, most often you will find that the standards just put into words the good practices that you have been using for years.

Depending on where you live, your state standards may cover a few basic learning domains or a long list of domains, subdomains, goals, and indicators. Using themes can make it easier for you to plan activities that will address all areas of learning. Themes also help you build connections from one learning domain to another. High-interest themes can also promote excitement about learning and inspire both care givers and children to express creativity and joy!

Whether you purchase a curriculum from FunShine Express® or another publisher, or create your own, the challenge is to link what is happening in your child care setting to the standards. FunShine curricula make this a little easier. Each activity includes a list of indicators. These indicators have been carefully developed so that they address the expectations typically spelled out in state standards. If you are creating your own curriculum, you can do the same thing.

Here are a few pointers to help you weave together standards and themes:

  1. Become familiar with your state standards. If you don’t have a copy, visit Click on your state to find out if standards have been published and where to find them. If you use FunShine Express® curricula, visit to see how our indicators align to your state’s standards.
  2. Choose a theme that interests your group.
  3. Set up a learning environment that invites the children to learn and explore. For example, if your theme is about Polar Animals, you might set out toy polar animals, display appealing books about the animals, create a snow cave for pretend play, and more.
  4. Think about ways to use theme-related activities to address the standards. Activities that address more than one standard save time. They also tend to make more sense to the children. For example, a math game about feeding fish to penguins could provide opportunities for building social skills, sorting by color or size, helping children become familiar with the letter P, and more.
  5. Carry out the activities. Observe how the children respond, and then make any needed adjustments. Are they bored? Think about ways to make the activities more challenging. Are they frustrated? Think about any skills or abilities they may need to develop first in order to be successful. Referring to a developmental continuum can help you make these adjustments by showing you the typical order in which children learn and develop. Use FunShine’s continuum for reference, which can be found here.

Whatever theme you use, if you keep your standards in mind as you plan playful, developmentally appropriate learning activities, you are sure to see your children thrive!

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