Very young children have a natural curiosity and wonderment about their world, which makes Kindergarten a fun place to be. It is also why inquiry-based learning in kindergarten works so well. The ways in which children play, explore and question are delightful, but more importantly, they are also fundamental to their early cognitive development.
Long before they arrive at school, early learners have already mastered a range of competencies, theories, and activities.
They have most likely already developed a particular interest or passion, be it drawing or dinosaurs, and quite often, in at least one area of their development, they have already achieved competency beyond their years.
How then, do we nurture and further develop the inquiring mind of the young child to foster life-long skills that will support their learning journey through school and beyond? As we said before, inquiry-based learning is a natural fit. Moreover, it fits just as perfectly in Kindergarten as it does in any other grade level. Let us explore why.
The Unschooled Mind
In his book, The Unschooled Mind, Howard Gardner suggests the following:
“... education should try to preserve the most remarkable features of the young mind - its adventurousness … its resourcefulness, its generativity and its flashes of flexibility and creativity.”
Along with Gardner, theorists dating right back to Piaget, from a variety of disciplines including education, psychology, sociology, and science recognise those young children readily, naturally and universally master the symbols of complex systems such as language, art, and music in the first few years of life.
The ways in which children play, explore and question are delightful, but more importantly, they are also fundamental to their early cognitive development.
Consider the diverse range of skills including singing songs, making music, riding bikes, playing games, building block constructions, drawing and painting pictures to name just a few. All of this happens without formal schooling, but rather as a result of natural curiosity in social and physical interaction with their world.
Why Inquiry-Based Learning?
Since the characteristics of early learners are a natural response to their holistic experience of the world around them, they highlight the importance of continuing a holistic approach to learning in the schoolroom. The nature of using inquiry-based learning in kindergarten is such that it engages social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, physical, spiritual and creative dimensions.
These elements are also the foundation of Australia’s Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), that lists five essential outcomes, all of which are achieved through an inquiry-based approach.
Children Have a Strong Sense of Identity
Children’s development occurs in a range of socio-cultural environments. Young children bring with them the identity of home and family, and they already have a range of theories and ideas about their world.
Inquiry-based learning provides an opportunity for early learners to develop student voice and agency, as their ideas and interests spark and extend learning possibilities.
Providing opportunities for early learners to be agentic and self-determining lays the foundations for active citizenship in later years.
Children Are Connected With And Contribute to Their World
Children are shaped by their world, but they also contribute to and shape their environments through their personalities, their thoughts and ideas, and of course their actions. Inspiring genuine curiosity, wondering and questioning about the world is where authentic inquiry begins. At its core, inquiry-based learning in kindergarten is about asking essential questions.
It is both a natural and essential way of learning for young children.
Children Are Effective Communicators
Children explore relationships through play and group experiences. Inquiry-based learning takes place in a social context and is rich in language and dialogue. Oral language development is an essential outcome as teachers model rich language and employs questioning strategies to explore concepts and inspire meaningful conversations.
Children are encouraged to collaborate, sharing their ideas, and listening to the ideas of others, as they build meaning and understanding together.
Children Have a Strong Sense of Wellbeing
Young children begin to identify their likes, dislikes, abilities, and feelings as learners. Inquiry-based learning is learner-centered and focused, recognising that children learn in different ways. The Global Concepts and Essential Questions that guide inquiry-based learning are designed to be inclusive of all cultural backgrounds, world views, experiences, and abilities.
Children are encouraged to respond from their perspectives and to celebrate the diversity of their ideas.
This sense of wellbeing gives rise to the development of a growth mindset that will support them for years to come.
Children Are Confident and Involved Learners
Early learners thrive in environments where they are surrounded by rich and engaging materials, ideas, and questions to explore.
By creating these conditions, the inquiry-based classroom provides opportunities for children to explore concepts and questions of interest to them. Through imaginative play, hands-on investigation, or social interaction and conversation, children are guided to become deeply engaged in the process of learning.
How Do We Create Inquiry-Based Learning in Kindergarten?
Kindergarten is the best place to create a unit of inquiry since it is full of highly curious learners. Also, beginning with this curiosity, the Wabisabi Inquiry Process is the perfect guide to creating a line of inquiry in Kindergarten.
For this unit, the Global Concept is "Belonging and Inclusion." It’s a natural place for Kindergarten learners to begin, as young children come together in a new social context.
Young children bring with them the identity of home and family, and they already have a range of theories and ideas about their world.
In the kindergarten classroom, exploring this Global Concept will happen in a variety of ways. Group discussions about family, community, the various groups we belong to and the things that are similar and different between us are a starting point. Imaginative play, creative arts, storytelling, sharing unique things from home or role play in the home corner—there are countless ways to explore a global concept and spark curiosity and engagement.
Wabisabi Inquiry Process
As we uncover all the things we are curious about together, we also make connections to the world of our young learners. When we bring the curriculum to children with a personal connection, they are intrinsically motivated to learn. Imagine the possibilities for Kindergarten here:
- How does it feel to belong?
- What groups do we belong to?
- How do we show others that we care?
- What is the same or different about us?
Of course, we have some essential understandings that we need our learners to take from this inquiry, and this is where we guide the learning to create a line of inquiry that communicates these essential understandings through the children’s creations. Here is the line of inquiry we chose for this unit:
Learners are inspired to be curious about belonging to a community and connect that everyone has a particular story to tell, in order to communicate that our school is a place where everyone belongs by creating a classroom story that celebrates the richness of our community.
Even More Pathways to Inquiry
This is just one of the many reasons inquiry-based learning in kindergarten works so incredibly well.