Thoughts on Themes

Do any other nannies do themes with their charges? Such as: daily, weekly, monthly, etc? Themes like safety and character builders. If so, where do you get your ideas from? - Anonymous


OceanBlue said...

I have in the past, but only when the parents requested I do so.

I tend to think of themes as related to daycare & preschool which are
different from nanny care.

When the parents ask that I do, I will often visit the local preschool
& kindergarten websites of the public schools to get ideas, and it's
also fun for the kids because they get to learn the same thing as their
older brother or sister.

Once I have a them in mind I go all over the internet for activities
one of my fav places to visit is PBS website.

MissMannah said...

I don't believe in adult-taught themes, not even for preschool. I see them as basically an adult telling a child "This is what I think you should be interested in." I would prefer a child express interest in something and then the nanny (or teacher) explores the concept with them.

Bethany said...

Yes and no.
So much of it depends on the age of the charges and the parents wishes.

Themes can be fun rather than, viewing it as telling a child this is what he or she must learn, I look at as a chance to widen their horizons to things they may have ever been exposed to, and if we happen on something that srtikes thei interest we keep going with it.
I did that when I had a pre-k class too.

Teaching is a bit of both.

But if you are just looking for new ideas and dun things to try I would try the parenting or teaching magazines and websites they give a lot of ideas for crafts and games to try.

Lyn said...

I do themes. This week we are laerning about Johnny Appleseed. I've gotten books from the library, we've been apple picking and done apple stamping and tomorrow we are making apple butter and then having it for a snack while I read a story. Oh! And at the beginning of each month we decorate the big window in their playroom with things that remind me of the month. Cheap and kids love putting them up! I usually get ideas from the weather and add on to them. September I think of apples (hence this week), July I think of the beach, Decmeber I think of giving back selflessly to others, etc. And then I scour Pinterest until I find the things to add meat to my plans. I have found work sheets and coloring pages and science experiments that compliment our theme. I usually do one theme week a month. I just think they're fun and the kids really enjoy them. I'll post a link later to my pinterest Nanny board for any of you who want to see where I get my ideas and printables from!

MissMannah said...

Bethany, you said: "I look at as a chance to widen their horizons to things they may have ever been exposed to"

This is exactly why I disagree with theme-based learning. The same exposure can come from books. Also, who's to say young children need exposure to things outside of their immediate environment? Children are very literal-minded and abstract concepts are meaningless to them. For example: I live in Oklahoma so there is absolutely no point in introducing an ocean theme. The children don't know what the ocean even is, having never seen it. But if I am reading to the children, or if they might watch Finding Nemo, and they express interest in learning more about oceans, I will certainly oblige.

I know this post wasn't meant to be a theme vs no theme discussion, but I just wanted to introduce the concept of not doing themes at all to the OP and other readers.

Manhattan Nanny said...

I don't make a habit of themes, but some just happen spontaneously. The first snowfall brings thoughts of sledding, skating etc, so we look for books that are about winter activities at the library. We talk about the water cycle, how snow forms, and bring snowballs into the apt. to watch how they melt and turn back into water. we do snow flake and snowperson art projects, make and decorate snowperson cookies etc.
Holidays also suggest a lot of different related activities.

Bethany said...

That sounds like a lot of fun , Lyn!

Mannah, that's the beauty of ECE we can all have our opinions and follow different philosophies and all be fantastic caregivers.

I for one believe it is vital to teach children about things beyond what they might see and encourage them to learn more about what is immediately around them.

Sara said...

I think Miss Mannah is more of a "Reggio Emilia" caregiver. Sometimes I do theme-type things, but usually I wait for the child to develop an interest and then try to cultivate it. (I.e. Toddler is fascinated by airplanes so we go to a restaurant by the airport to see the planes take off, go to airplane museums, etc).

Would love to follow you on pinterest Lyn!

Bethany said...

I spent time in a Reggio Emilio classroom I liked it qite a bit. I like some of the philosphies along with Montessori. We should have a separate post for this.

OP, I wanted to share a website with you if you are looking for ideas.


I like it because you can pick and choose the activiies based on the interests of your charges and it's not a rigid curriculum. It's also easy to navigate.
I have others. When I'm not feeling lazy I'll add more.

It's not a theme, but one of my favorite things to do year round with kids is taking nature walks. A pair of sisters I cared for used to bring a treasure box with us when we went for walks and collect things to show their mom at the end of the day it was cute.

MissMannah said...

Bethany, you're so right about that. I hope I don't sound like I'm saying anyone is doing their job incorrectly just because I prefer to do it a different way.

Sara, I do not know much about Reggio Emilia...is that the one where they focus on art a lot? I used to work at a Montessori school, which I kind of enjoyed but still wasn't exactly how I believe. I also worked at a RIE school, which was much more my style.

EastBayNanny said...

I'm also an "emergent curriculum" advocate. Theme teaching is a way to plan curriculum for a group of kids and maintain a "focus" for all. It can be effective for facilitating learning, especially for new teachers or for teams of teachers who aren't necessarily on the same page but can come together around a "theme". Like pumpkins for instance. The special thing about the role of a nanny IMO is that your attention is on a single child who basically tells YOU what the theme if the day is.

Lyn said...

For those who were interested, this is my Classroom board on Pinterest. My 'Crafty' board has more ideas and I highly recommend the pre-k print outs in the classroom board. My kids LOVE doing them together! Oh, and I have 'fall' board, because fall is awesome and deserves it's own board, haha! pinterest.com/browneyes6082/young-minds-my-classroom/

Also, for anyone who didn't see me mention it in the crazy-town thread, I'd love to have you as my friend on FB. This is my link to that: facebook.com/alwayslyn

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

As far as themes, I'm sort of a mixture between Mannah and Manhattan, I would say :)

Lyn said...

Love! I just "followed all"! I am a SERIOUS craft-a-holic. It seems like every few days I'm posting a pic of my latest project on FB. I really need to start a blog!

Nanny4JC said...

I agree with you, MissMannah. I taught preschool for 5 years prior to becoming a nanny and I believe children learn through hands on play and exploration. Mannah, I was a Reggio Emilia teacher and loved it! You should read up on it becaue it sounds like you would agree with a lot of that approach! I also worked in typical ECE facilities and while everyone has their own preferences and ways of teaching, can say from my experience children do not excel with a "curriculum" that's followed by the book to a "t" and could care less about flowers and seeds in spring when they are much more interested in fighting fires at the time.

With that said, I do sometimes make crafts or do projects supporting holidays or seasons, maybe once a week. On a side note, it is my opinion that if parents prefer their child(ren) to follow a weekly theme or lesson plan perhaps they should enroll their child in preschool. Not knocking all the great nannies who dec out playrooms as classrooms and follow a theme, we each have our own style!

MissMannah said...

I just looked up some information on Reggio Emilia and it does sound very similar to what I believe...especially this part:

"Projects begin with teachers observing and questioning children about the topic of interest. Based on children's responses, teachers introduce materials, questions, and opportunities that provoke children to further explore the topic. While some of these teacher provocations are anticipated, projects often move in unanticipated directions as a result of problems children identify. Thus, curriculum planning and implementation revolve around open-ended and often long-term projects that are based on the reciprocal nature of teacher-directed and child-initiated activity. All of the topics of interest are given by the children. Within the project approach, children are given opportunities to make connections between prior and new knowledge while engaging in authentic tasks"

It also sounds very similar to Montessori, with the natural environment, but one thing I dislike about Montessori is they don't allow a lot of creative expression.

Lyn said...

I agree, following a curriculum to a "t" each week isn't exactly going to hep them "learn". But a few crafts and an outing centered on a theme, every now and then can help make some very special memories for the kids to look back on one day. :)
I also agree that if a parent wants a curriculum pushed every day then they should enroll their child in a preschool or hire an educator to be their childs Nanny.
A theme can last a day, a week or even just a lesson plan.
Personally, I love reading Bob Books with "my" 3 year old and then doing some correlating work sheets I've found online. I really do believe that as a Nanny my job is to care for and help to raise well rounded, educated, kind and giving members of society. And thankfully, I encourage and promote flexibility and creativity in our day to day life. Not just during our 1 week themes.
I think being flexible, creative and truly focused on a childs interests is SO important.

OceanBlue said...

I have a question about Reggio Classroom.

How do you handle children with multiple interests.

Like I'm certain not all 10 or 12 studenst are interested in the same thing at the same time.

Does it go by majority rules?

leftcoastmama said...

We have never required our nannies to create themes and curriculums. I know some parents do and that is their right.

I have alwyas appreciated any activities our nannies have provided for our kids. Built on on their own interests or with a little input from the nanny.

For us, having a nanny that used themes helped our daughter transition better into school once she started going.

She also never forced the issue I think many think theme and curriculum equal force and no flexibility which doesn't have to be the case.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, Lyn :) I have great memories from childhood from certain themes that were used-- making stone soup, sewing a dinosaur pillow, etc. As a nanny, I love sharing those things with my charges-- but I also like to assist them in following their own interests. And Reggio Emilia sounds interesting-- I may do some reading myself!

ex montessori parent said...

I'm a fan of themes and curriculum.

In my experience schools that use the curriculum are far less rigid than the schools that supposedly follow child lead philosophies.

The child lead schools I've been to are highly regimented, Which I suppose they must be to prevent chaos.

ex montessori parent said...

Also, I have never met a child that wasn't curious about seeds when presented with seeds.

And who are you to tell a parent what kind of care they should seek for their child or request their nanny to do?

Oh Please! said...

And people wonder why we have the lowest percentage of college graduates with advanced degrees among comparable nations.

People act confused with the current generation of young adults wants to dictate to their boss what they do all day at work.

I guess it started in preschool when they were taught the worl revolves around them and whatever they want.

I also agree with ex montessori. Montessori, Reggio the others tend to be full of elitists who think their__ don't stink totally snobby with out of control kids.

smile said...

I think it's a very privledged view of the world to state that children only need to learn and know what's around them.

What about children that grow up in poverty or in areas that a ridden with drugs and crime?

What about kids that think their only options are to join a gang, get pregnant, sell drugs, and go to prison because that's all that is around them?

Should the educators in those communities not bother to educate them of other possibilities?

Shoul we not teach children about Japan because the odds are they'll never go there?

Should we not teach them about all the seasons because they'll never see snow where they live?

Lyn said...

And we're back to the bickering again! That didn't take long, haha.

Bottom line: Every Nanny handles herself differently, every mb/db handles themselves differently. If all Nannies were the same and all mb's were the samme it'd be pretty difficult to find that magical fit we all strive for! :)

Different things work for different people and ya know what? That's okay! We can still have a discussion about our personal styles without turning into those "bad seeds". ;)

EastBayNanny said...

About project approach- it is indeed tricky to find ways for kids to have a voice during the process of democratically deciding on the direction of curriculum. Teachers are assumed to habe the skill to moderate a discussion as well as to invite those with differing ideas and interests to speak up and contribute.

I love teaching in this format, but it's not easy... Teacher skill is critical. www.projectapproach.org

Bethany said...

I dom't think anyone was saying her way was the best and only way or trying to insult those that felt differently.

We were simply discussing different approaches. That I think is a good thing when done repectfully.

Different kids require different things.
I think it is the great caregiver( teacher, parent, or nanny)
that acknowledges this and can be flexible and switch between philosophies to meet the needs of the kids.

Bethany said...


the schools I've worked at including the Reggio would present kids with opportunities and they wpuld select what interested them. Some of the opportuities came directly fron the children's ideas and others from the teacher's theme.

Bethany said...


The school I spent most of the time in wasin one of the areas you described. It's one of the reasons the staff chose to do themes, to give the kids somethink positive to think about and remember when their was very little positive happening in their lives.

EastBayNanny said...

Really appreciate points about privilege and low income opportunities. Reggio Em. Is an Italian - born philosophy from a specific European community. It is culturally contextual to their way of life (jealous!)

But these principles can be adapted to our cultural contexts , if only our low- income schools had more quality teachers (high income schools- too!).

All education research has shown that children learn new concepts by referencing what they already know. If a student in West Oakland for instance is talking about bath time with his siblings, an astute teacher might invite him to think about other animals he knows that play in water. She/ he might decide to invite him to the water table at school where plastic dolphins and whales are included. She/ he might suggest that this student think about exploring the idea during the next whole- class brainstorming session. In the process of this "project" curriculum what began as a discussion about bath time tiurns into an exploration of sea animals which could soon turn into a whole new exploration of cargo ships. All depends on what the students bring to the table.

Even though students live on the SF Bay, many have not visited te ocean all that much. The places a mind can go from what it initially knows- astounding!

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is saying to keep kids at home and never expose them to new things or things that are not in their environment--such as snow, Japan, etc. For instance, when my charges were younger, I would take them to the library. They would pick out some books and I would pick out some books-- about all different topics. Maybe they picked books about cats and I added one about giraffes. After reading the book about giraffes, they loved their spots and long, skinny necks, so on the next library trip, we would get more books about giraffes and other African animals, along with books about various other topics, and so on.

And I find myself again agreeing with Lyn and Bethany :) There is just no need for this post to turn nasty. We can discuss the merits of all different approaches and recognize that different people--both caregivers and children--have different styles.

I hope more of you will share your Pinterest boards, too :)

MissMannah said...

I also want to point out that all along, I've been talking about very young children because those are the ones I have the most experience with. Children under 3 years are literal-minded and sometimes cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. Teaching a child this age a snow theme, if they live somewhere that never gets snow, is pretty much the same as watching Frosty the Snowman. Both are abstract concepts because the child has no immediate knowledge of them. Do I suggest we never mention snow and pretend it doesn't exist just because the child won't see it for himself? Of course not! But I wouldn't spend a large amount of time talking about it when the child is young. When they are preschool or elementary aged, they are much better equipped to understand abstract concepts, and they grasp that the world is bigger than just what they see.

Sea Shells By The Seashore said...

You suggested not to mention the ocean if they don't live near it. I find that sad. Why limit what we teach, ever? Kids are smarter than given credit for.

Nanny4JC said...

Well with my experience you always have a couple kids who aren't necessarily interested in the same topic so say the children are doing an exploration on pumpkins but 2 other children aren't engaged you could ask them what they think about it/what they would be interested in and then work with them on a different exploration. This is where a co teacher or assistant can be very helpful! Personally, I'm a huge fan of Reggio but it has to be implemented in the right way and with a group of children who lean towards learning in this manner. I've also worked with children who absolutely need a lesson planned structure and enjoy the routine of that.

Nanny4JC said...

Yes, I had a very brief encounter with Montessori....I care not for it!

Nanny4JC said...

My point is that each nanny/teacher has their own teaching style. I have taught in schools that are Reggio and theme-followed. There is nothing wrong/better with either. What makes a great educator is taking a little of the best and discovering what works for you. Many parents and teachers who I've spoken with who complain about Reggio usually had a terrible experience with it because it was not implemented in the correct way. I am by no mean saying one way of teaching or learning is the only way which is why its so important to figure out what work best for each child on an individual level.

As a nanny, I do plenty of projects and crafts however, I don't do a weekly themed thing. This is a personal agreement between my mb/db and myself. I was not stating what parents should do, we all have our own preferences but for me personally, I think its odd for parents to insist a nanny creates a preschool environment where there is only one or two children. This is an opinion (heaven forbid you have one on here!).

I think the people I've always encountered who found fault with Reggio or completely wrote it off were those who made assumptions based on what they've heard or on a single experience they've had without really knowing what its really about. Granted, its not for everyone but I do not believe (real) Reggio results in elitist, snobby people who fee entitled. That's obsurd!

EastBayNanny said...

Agreed that children under three could not make much sense out of a conversation about "the ocean". But a PBS video on whales is a nice start, for such a convo for a 2 year-old.

Bethany said...

I had a stint in Montessori as well.

Overall, I did not care for it, to me there was not enough flexibility for kids to be kids.

But I did like the ideas of letting a child move at their pace, using natural materials, family style educatiom etc.

There's a philosophy for everyone.

I like bits and pieces of everything.

Bethany said...

I understand what you mean about the snow.

If I do crafts or themes ideally I like for them to be something the kids could relate to.

If they are under 3 and live where it doesn't snow, I agree a theme on snow would be pointless.

Teacher in a Combat Zone said...

I've done "theme weeks" with my kids over the summer. We've done a "Harry Potter Week" (because my kids are OBSESSED with HP) where we had different classes that each child taught, we read the books, cast spells, made British foods for lunch and had a movie marathon.

We've done "Playground Week" where we checked out a new playground (sometimes two!) everyday and then they would talk/ write about the playgrounds that we visited (we even put together a little "Guide to Local Playgrounds" and handed them out to parents in our neighborhood).

We did "Thomas the Train Week" when they were obsessed with Thomas. We did "Bug Week" where we visited the local Audubon society, went on bug walks, read books about bugs, drew bugs, sang "Bugs for Lunch", made spider donuts, etc.

There are TONS of materials and crafts on line- you just have to have the patience to weed through it all!

Bethany said...

teacher I love that playground theme idea.

I'm going to steal it for future use.

MissMannah said...

Do any of you who dislike Montessori have any experience with RIE? I like it so much, I am planning to raise my children RIE. They are a lot alike, but RIE is a lot more easy-going than Montessori. The focus is on respecting children and providing a safe, natural environment they can explore however they want.

Bethany said...

I've read self confident baby.

In general I agree that children & babies should be respected as people and given an active role in their life , development etc.

But I found some things a little extreme or a little to hands off for my tastes.

For example I'm a baby holder. I couldn't get behind the idea of not carrying a baby.

It'll be interesting what kind of mother I make if ever I'm a mother. with all these different philosophies floating in my head.

EastBayNanny said...

I know lots about RIE. I was trained in RIE- met the guru Magda Gerber herself on a couple occasions. If anyone out there has the option and desire for an outstanding Human Development degree- check into Pacific Oakes and faculty she mentored there :))

Wednesday said...

Just don't eat your babies placenta... I was reading one day about parenting fads haha but really don't do it.

MissMannah said...

EastBay, you met Magda Gerber? So jealous! I love her books.

Bethany, RIE doesn't say not to carry babies. Just give them plenty of time to explore and when they start walking, let them use their new skill. I've seen too many people carry their very mobile children all over the place and the child starts to think he can't get around on his own. I have also wondered what kind of mother I'll be, just because I've had so many different experiences over the years. I made up my mind to practice RIE because it makes the most sense to me. But I guess I'll be doing a RIE-hybrid because I also plan on baby-wearing.

EastBayNanny said...

The RIE (www.rie.org) and not holding babies thing has been misinterpreted IMO. A long while back when my daughter was an infant, I brought her to work one day in the lab school where I was trained. I was working with active toddlers and my mommy instincts wanted to keep my little baby protected. I wore her in a backpack and plopped her down in the middle of the room, still inside. She was probably in there for a couple hours, mostly asleep. The thought of allowing her to crawl around in the midst of toddler chaos scared me.

After my shift was over, one of my professors (who has now gone on to open the mega Google childcare complex) made a comment to me that I will never forget and have always vowed to never ever be so elitist and judgmental of any parent ever. It was really out of line. After I had worked with kid in tow as a young single mom (just trying to make a few buck), this "expert" said something along the lines of" "That poor kid! She really should come out of there."

Now, I understand that her belief is that I was harming my baby. But as my mentor and essentially my supervisor at that moment, I found it to be extremely disrespectful. It really made me feel like garbage.

I continued to trek my babe around, even as I worked as a RIE teacher for many more years (usually not with babe in tow...)

My point is that I agree that some RIE folks have a holier than though belief that does not consider culture or family style. It can be interpreted as elitist. But the crux of the philosophy is really important and these attitudes can be found anywhere really.

I consider myself "RIE oriented".

Teacher in a Combat Zone said...

Bethany-- steal away! :)

curious about themes said...

Thanks MPP for posting this. And thank you for all who contributed.

H & H's Nanny said...

I am a nanny for twin 18 month old boys and Ive been doing themes with them since they were about six months old! I made a builliten board for the playroom with a calender, weather bear ect..., we do flashcards and flannel boards as well as sensory activites, arts and crafts ect... I taught preschool for ten years and have a ton of educational materials that I adapt for them as they grow. It keeps things interesting because each week we are learning about something new. My MB loves it, when I brought in the builliten board she took a pic and sent it to a bunch of extended family! We do "circle time" every morning.

My favorite site is www.perpetualprechool.com

It has hundreds of themes with links to ideas for arts and crafts, science, games, snacks, sensory ideas and more for each theme! There is even a whole section on just toddler themes.