Learning Leader

Longed-for Curriculum Comes to Life

Originating in 2002, the CIRCLE Activity Collection was first published for use as a supplemental resource in prekindergarten classrooms. Over the past decade, use of the activities has expanded extensively across the state as a component of Texas School Ready, a comprehensive preschool teacher training program. Today, approximately 36,000 teachers nationwide utilize the publicly available collection. Over time, we received countless inquiries from educators about using the CIRCLE Activity Collection as a classroom curriculum. Because of the widespread use of the collection and the high interest of educators, we ultimately decided to create the much longed-for pre-K curriculum.

For over a year, a diverse team of experts at the Children’s Learning Institute met to work toward the ambitious goal of developing a high-quality, research-based curriculum in English and Spanish to be available to prekindergarten teachers at no cost through our online platform CLI Engage. The team began this process by reviewing early childhood research to determine overarching design principles for the curriculum’s development. Some of the selected principles included the below research that suggests a high-quality curriculum should:

  • Provide an instructional framework that closely aligns to learning guidelines. For Texas, these are the 10 domains of the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines and the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, 2020; Phillips et al., 2017; Yoshikawa et al., 2013). 
  • Support teachers to employ effective teaching strategies (Steiner et al., 2018).
  • Promote quality teacher-child interactions (Pianta, Downer, et al., 2016; Pianta, Whittaker, et al., 2020).
  • Balance direct instruction and child-initiated activities (Morrow et al., 2011; Pianta, Belsky, et al., 2008) with intentional use of the different learning settings of whole group, small groups, and centers.
  • Offer playful experiences that not only actively engage children, but also offer abundant language opportunities (Clements & Sarama, 2018; Weisberg et al., 2016).
  • Individualize learning experiences that are high-quality and challenging, but also achievable. It must also focus on building strong foundational skills for kindergarten readiness (Clements, Fuson, & Sarama, 2017; National Research Council, 2009).
  • Engage children’s families in learning (Lee & Bowen, 2006; Larocque et al., 2011; Park & Holloway, 2017).

With the key principles of the curriculum’s design established, the next task of comprehensively addressing the learning domains began. This included addressing the many skills within each domain and mapping their instruction over the course of a school year. By consulting calendars from a variety of independent school districts, we discovered that a typical school year consists of 35 weeks. With research remaining our driver, we used the science of learning to determine the order for introducing each skill. This required that we consider which skills build upon prerequisite skills and how they follow a developmental progression. In areas where we lacked evidence about the sequence of development, we referred to child development theories or developmentally appropriate practices. Guided by this approach, the skills within each domain were sequenced.

In addition, we considered how children progress in individual skill development. It is critical to establish a strong foundation in early lessons for children to be successful with future lessons that rely upon earlier instruction. Skill development is not something that happens in a single lesson. Ongoing learning and practice are necessary for children to gain understanding and reach mastery. Thus, in addition to targeted skill instruction, we created intentional repeated cycles to ensure additional exposure and opportunities for practice across the curriculum. With each cycle, the skill is addressed at a higher level to deepen children’s understanding of the concept.

Quality at the student skill level is largely driven by the quality of the lessons and activities used by the teacher. We looked carefully at how best to structure instruction with prekindergarten children and found that effective direct instruction with prekindergarten children is brief and explicit. To best meet this need, the research-based CIRCLE Activity Collection was leveraged for the new CIRCLE Pre-K Curriculum, to provide the high-quality lessons needed to support teachers with weekly planning and delivery of comprehensive prekindergarten instruction.

Thoughtful features set the CIRCLE Pre-K Curriculum apart from other curricula. Foremost, lessons are aligned with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, English Learners Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, and Kindergarten Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The curriculum provides comprehensive coverage of skill domains supporting cognitive and social and emotional development. Scripted lessons guide teachers through a cycle of modeling, guided practice, and independent practice. The lessons also include scaffolds and teacher tips for making important modifications that individualize instruction and help to support all children.

Additional features ensure high-quality learning experiences for prekindergarten children by balancing teacher-directed lessons and child-initiated activities. Daily playful and purposeful experiences occur across whole group, small group, and center time. Ten flexible Theme Guides build vocabulary and background knowledge through meaningful and relevant experiences. Additionally, by providing family activities that support weekly classroom instruction, the curriculum honors the family-school partnership that is so important for children’s learning and success in school.

Though curriculum is often thought of as a single product, it is really much more than that. Individual pieces work together to provide a solid foundation for instruction and student learning. The components that make up the new CIRCLE Pre-K Curriculum include:

  • Scope and Sequences
  • Theme Guides
  • Start-up Guide
  • Teacher’s Manual
  • Optional supplemental materials collection

Components of the CIRCLE Pre-K Curriculum

The digital edition of the CIRCLE Pre-K Curriculum is freely available to all educators and accessible on CLI Engage. Both English and Spanish versions of all digital materials are now available for download at no cost. A CLI Engage account is needed to access both the incorporated activity collections and the curriculum. For those that prefer the convenience of bound print editions, individual components or complete sets can be purchased directly from CLI Solutions Group

As a leader in early childhood education, the Children’s Learning Institute uses the latest research and incorporates the best teaching practices in everything we do. We are very excited to be able to support prekindergarten educators through the release of this new resource. Below are handy hyperlinks for additional information to help you:

 Logo for the CIRCLE Pre-K Curriculum


Clements, D. & Sarama, J. (2018). Myths of early math. Education Sciences. 8(2), 71-78 . doi: 10.3390/educsci8020071

Clements, D., Fuson, K., & Sarama, J. (2017). What is developmentally appropriate teaching? Teaching Children Mathematics, 24(3), 179-188

Larocque, M., Kleiman, I., & Darling, S. M. (2011). Parental involvement: The missing link in school achievement. Preventing School Failure, 55(3), 115–122. doi: 10.1080/10459880903472876

Lee, J. & Bowen, N. K. (2006). Parental involvement, cultural capital, and the achievement gap among elementary school children. American Educational Research Journal, 43(2), 193–218. doi: 10.3102/00028312043002193

Morrow, L. M., Gambrell, L. B., Tracey, D., & Del Nero, J. (2011). Best practices in early literacy. Preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. In L. M. Morrow & L. B. Gambrell (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (4th ed., pp. 67–96). New York, NY: Guilford Press

National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. (2020). High-quality curriculum implementation. Connecting what to teach with how to teach It. Santa Monica, CA. Author. Retrieved from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching website: https://www.niet.org/assets/1da4c1fbd6/high-quality-curriculum-implementation.pdf

National Research Council. (2009). Mathematics learning in early childhood: Paths toward excellence and equity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from the National Academies Press website: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/12519/mathematics-learning-in-early-childhood-paths-toward-excellence-and-equity

Park, S. & Holloway, S. D. (2017). The effects of school-based parental involvement on academic achievement at the child and elementary school level: A longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Research, 110(1), 1-16. doi: 10.1080/00220671.2015.1016600

Phillips, D. A., Lipsey, M. W., Dodge, K. A., Haskins, R., Bassok, D., Burchinal, M. R., Duncan, G. J., Dynarski, M., Magnuson, K. A., & Weiland, C. (2017). The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects. Brooking Institution and the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED574393.pdf

Pianta, R., Whittaker, J. E., Vitiello, V .E., Ruzek, E., Ansari, A., Hofkens, T. L., & DeCoster, J. (2020). Children's school readiness skills across the pre-K year: Associations with teacher-student interactions, teacher practices, and exposure to academic content. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 66, 101084.

Pianta, R., Downer, J., & Hamre, B. (2016). Quality in early education classrooms: Definitions, gaps, and systems. Future of Children. 26(2). 119-138. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1118551.pdf

Pianta, R., Belsky, J., Vandergrift, N., Houts, R., & Morrison, F. (2008). Classroom Effects on Children’s Achievement Trajectories in Elementary School. American Educational Research Journal. 45(2). 364-397. doi: 10.3102/0002831207308230.

Steiner, D., Jacqueline, M., & Jensen, B. (2018). What we teach matters: How quality curriculum improves student outcomes. Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Learning First. Retrieved from Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy website: https://edpolicy.education.jhu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/What-we-teach-matters-FINAL-for-publication-15-Nov.pdf

Weisberg, D., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R., Kittredge, A., & Klahr, D. (2016). Guided Play: Principles and Practices. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 25(3), 177-182. doi: 10.1177/0963721416645512.

Yoshikawa, H., Weiland, C., Brooks-Gunn, J., Burchinal, M., Espinosa, L. M., Gormley, Jr., W. T., Ludwig, J., & et al. (2013). Investing in our future: The evidence base on preschool education. Ann Arbor, MI: Society for Research in Child Development. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED579818.pdf


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