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Establishing inquiry-based learning environments

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“Young children are wiser than many might think. Under the appropriate circumstances they have the capacity to express their views powerfully and often simply”[1]. Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to have a say in matters that affect them and for their views and opinions to be taken seriously[2]. Is it possible to actively work on shaping a nurturing and inquisitive environment, providing a platform for self-expression in early childhood?

Yes, it is. Inquiry-based and co-constructed learning environments are fundamentally avenues that respect and encourage children’s voices. Being mindful of appropriateness in terms of age, individuality, and culture of our children, educators can harness the principles of inquiry-based learning to set the scene for eye-to-eye conversations with children.

Inquiry-based learning is an educational approach centred on children’s investigations and problem-solving. It’s different from traditional approaches in that educators and teachers support children to learn by providing them with scenarios, questions, or problems to navigate, rather than presenting information or answers. 

Inquiry-based learning is important because it helps to foster essential skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. Studies also show that inquiry-based learning also improve children’s retention of information and help to connect the classroom to the outside world[3].  Read on to learn more about the 7 principles of inquiry-based learning below.

7 principles for inquiry-based learning

1. Each child is an individual.

Every child is an individual with their own social, emotional, intellectual, and physical abilities and interests. In an active learning environment, each child’s individuality is respected, valued, and fostered.

2. Children are involved learners.

Children intrinsically want to learn, develop an understanding of the world around them, and actively shape their own education and development. They do this by asking questions and leading their own investigations.

3. Children have prior knowledge, competencies and experiences.

From the moment they are born, children accumulate experience and knowledge. The more they experience, the more their understanding of a concept can develop. To support a child’s development, their prior knowledge needs to be identified and built upon.

4. Inquiry-based learning fosters children’s individual interests.

Each child makes sense of the world in an individual way and is intrinsically motivated and excited by various things. Children’s attention is naturally drawn to things that interest them most. Inquiry-based practices focus on individual interests to foster each individual child’s progress.

5. Children participate in decision-making processes.

In inquiry-based practices, the children’s input is evident in all aspects of their learning. Involvement in decision-making in different areas of life enables children to identify as self-efficient, responsible individuals who take ownership for their actions.

6. Concepts are temporal and are constantly refined based on new learning and questions.

Children’s experiences, impressions, and knowledge contribute to the development of concepts which, in turn, support their learning. Children’s concepts are temporal: they are constantly evolving and changing through new experiences. Inquiry-based practices recognise the temporal nature of children’s concepts and offer opportunities to extend on them.

7. Adults’ genuine curiosity, wonder and questioning are central.

Children are inquisitive and curious by nature. When curiosity, wonder, and questioning are encouraged on an everyday basis, this natural disposition is fostered. In inquiry-based practices, it is vital for early childhood educators to ignite and cultivate their own curiosity, wonder, and questioning to share the joy of discovery with the children.

[1] Research with Children: Perspectives and Practices Pia Monrad Christensen, Allison James, 2000
[2] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
[3] Does Inquiry-Learning Support Long-Term Retention of Knowledge?, Sarah Schmid & Franz X. Bogner, 2015.

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Article author: Heike Hendershot
National Training Manager

Heike manages the development of our workshop content and supports our training facilitators. A critical thinker with the ability to wonder, she believes in honouring each child’s individual skills and abilities.

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