Many of my friends, and fans know all too well that I prefer "out of the box" themes. There are a lot of pre-packaged curriculum resources on the market and the price can vary depending upon the components, age level, etc. I have reviewed many of the curriculum programs and found that none of them are complete. Many are designed to be supplements for existing curriculum, or to be used in conjunction with something else.
I began writing blurbs for various print publications about developing curriculum. One of the most common responses I receive from teachers or child care providers was that they didn't feel that they were creative enough to develop their own curriculum. I believe that developing age appropriate, creative curriculum is a skill. With all skills, it takes practice and an interest in the subject to perfect it. Developing curriculum is something that will evolve from the initial concept, to a product that can be put to work in a classroom or child care setting.
Now with marketplaces like Teachers Pay Teachers, you will begin to see a wider variety of teacher authors coming out of their shells to develop and market resources they have created for their own classrooms. It's very exciting to see the flow of creativity. I truly believe that the more people explore their own creativity, the better the classroom learning experience will be for the students. If a teacher is inspired, the children will be encouraged and more engaged in learning!
I have found during my years working with children that if I wasn't really interested in a subject, I had a harder time presenting the topic/subject/theme. I also noted that the children would not pay attention, or their attention spans would be much shorter if they were not interested in the topic/subject/theme. To remedy that, I would spend time asking the children what their interests were. A learning environment is endless, but you have to be able to present the information in a way that can be adapted to meet the needs, moods, temperaments of the children. Observing what the children's interests are, and acknowledge when a project or theme is a hit or a flop is a big deal. Always have a back up plan/theme/project so that you can redirect the attention and peak the curiosity of the children in your classroom/program. Keeping the program interesting will help eliminate discipline issues.
Becoming Inspired: What inspires you? Do you like the change of seasons, or are there specific themes that peak your curiosity or inspire you to expand on them? If so, what are they? A lot of teachers that I know personally will draft out what themes they will cover prior to the school year. Seasons, and holidays are generally times when the themes are pretty well lined out. Those that teach in environments where secular holidays are not celebrated, or emphasized, you may have a little more planning to fill in the weeks that other teachers may involve themselves in holiday planning.
Thinking Outside of the Box: Not everyone understands the concept of thinking outside of the box. These people aren't to be teased, or talked about at social gatherings. :) Not everyone thinks or learns in the same way. There are people who have to see examples in a book and try to follow along, and then there are those who prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. Identifying your own particular style is a prerequisite to creating your own curriculum and classroom resources.
The whole concept of thinking outside of the box is to come up with activities/themes that do not follow the same path year after year. Do you teach the same lesson plan every year? Even with core standards being implemented, it is possible to refresh or tweak curriculum so that it isn't the same every year.
How do you do it? Trial and error. You won't know how something will work if you don't try. One of my favorite things to do is prepare a shoe box with different activities in it. I don't stick with one particular task if the mood of the children isn't right for it. (I do realize that not everyone has this flexibility to do this.) It does take practice and pretty good observation skills to understand the needs of the individual kids. If you're a first year teacher, you're probably still feeling a little bit uneasy about what is expected of you to try new things. My advice there is to relax, and go with what your most comfortable with. If a project doesn't go over like you think it's supposed to, it isn't the end of the world.
Not every classroom/or group of children is going to be the same. One year you may find that you have a relaxed group of children that are engaged in all activities that you present. The next year, you might have children that you would swear were abducted by aliens, as the only explanation for their behavior.