What is your educator doing about school readiness?
As a Little Scientists House, your early childhood education service has chosen to focus on hands-on, inquiry-based STEM education as part of their curriculum offerings. This is best practice in early childhood education. The educators have attended professional development on inquiry-based STEM incorporating Little Scientists’ three educational pillars: co-construction, inquiry-based learning and metacognition.
Please read on to find out more about these three pillars and their importance for early childhood education, with an emphasis on what you, as a parent, can do to support your child in their educational journey.
What is inquiry-based learning?
I was that child on the mat with my hand up: Pick me, listen to me, I know the answer! I sometimes think that is why I went into teaching – I wanted to be the centre of attention. So why, as a parent (or as a teacher), would I take the joy of giving an answer, being heard and being the focus of attention away from a child in my care?
Taking a step back and listening to children explain their opinions and knowledge is a wonderful thing to do. It increases self-efficacy and independence. It helps children (and parents and educators) improve listening skills. Children used to listening to someone telling them the information and feeding them the ‘right’ answers may find it more difficult to develop those critical thinking skills, the turn-taking of social interaction and communication skills. If we tell children the answer instead of giving them the opportunity to find it out themselves, we deprive them of the experience of having their ideas validated.
The good news is that we are not asking parents to do anything special. Listening and asking the occasional question is what we can do to help our children with their inquiry-based learning journey. It starts with spotting learning opportunities in everyday activities and building on them. You can practise this by letting your children take the lead and asking them questions. Knowledge sharing is important but remember, the focus is on skills, not facts. It is more beneficial that your child is given the opportunity to explain their own opinion on why something is happening, even if it’s not quite right, than to listen to you explaining it. Little Scientists encourages educators to think of themselves as learning coaches, helping children communicate what they already know about a topic and then asking questions that takes them one step further in their learning journey.
Let me give you an example. “Where does wind come from?” asks my four-year-old. I’m on my way to drop her off before going into a very important meeting with a sponsor of our program. I’m running late and I’m not really certain whether I can explain high and low pressure off the coast of Tasmania to a four-year-old who thinks we are leaving Australia whenever we leave the Blue Mountains. It would be easy to brush aside the question with, “I’ll tell you when I pick you up,” “because of the weather systems,” or “ask your father”. Or I could tap into inquiry-based learning techniques and ask, “What do you think?” “Where do you think wind comes from?” “Why do you think wind happens?” Too easy. My daughter tells me wind comes from trees talking to each other. Do I come back with, “No, you’re wrong it’s because…” Or do I make a mental note to pick up the conversation again next time we’re at the beach, where there’s wind, but no trees. This is what your educators are experts in: asking questions, assessing your child’s prior knowledge and then asking the next question.
Telling children the answer robs them of the joy of discovery. The process of discovery is where those important skills are developed. Inquiry-based learning means that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know”. But it should be quickly followed by, “Let’s find out together!” In fact, asking children what they think is a great way of flexing those self-efficacy skills and letting the child take the role of leader or teacher.
Use our book recommendations to help you spark a conversation that leads children to discover STEM in their everyday lives.
Child-led inquiry and spotting STEM in the everyday isn’t always easy in our busy everyday lives so we have created these resources for inspiration.
We showcase our favourite early STEM projects from our community of Little Scientists Houses and beyond.