How to Guide Your Child Towards Finding their own Answers

‘Mummy, why do the clouds move?’

‘What does food do in my stomach?’

‘What bird is making that sound?’

Don’t these types of questions just make you smile? Little minds full of curiosity, wanting to learn, wanting to understand; noticing things around them, wondering why.

When I first started teaching, at the ripe-old-age of 23, I was given a Year 9 (13-14yr olds) class of Religious Studies. I had taken one subject of Asian religion at university and while I found it very interesting I was far from an expert. Now in my Religious Studies class, the students had so many questions and I didn’t know the answers.

At the time, my view of a teacher was one who held all the knowledge, one who would then impart that knowledge onto her students. I didn’t want them to discover that in fact I didn’t have all the knowledge, that I couldn’t answer their questions, so I started saying,

What a great question. How do you think we could find the answer?

Where do you think we should look?’

And as you can imagine, really wonderful things started to happen. The students responded beautifully to being trusted with their own learning. They found their own books, they took notes, they asked other people, and I realised that this was learning. Not a single person who decided which knowledge to pass out and when, but rather that all knowledge can be accessed, and that children were capable  of (and enthusiastically driven to) pursuing knowledge. This is what can happen when we trust children to find their own answers.

‘…what children learn does now follow as an automatic result from what is taught. Rather, it is in large part due to the children’s own doing, as a consequence of their activities and own resources’ ~ Loris Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children

art activities for preschoolers - An Everyday StoryNow with Jack (4yrs) I try to create an environment which nurtures his curiosity and allows him to answer his own questions through exploring and inquiry. We visit the library, have reference and non-fiction books, we use YouTube, a range of authentic art materials and other tools for inquiry including:

Whenever Jack has a question, we work through it together, me offering him resources and him searching (or problem-solving through trial and error) for the answer.

In her book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners, Lori Pickert outlines some really practical steps for helping children work towards gathering information, testing ideas and developing new knowledge.

‘ The more real world materials your child can hold and examine, the better. But let the artefacts accumulate slowly over time, in an organic and meaningful way. Don’t simply fill up a table with materials you have chosen – let her build and curate the collection’ ~ Lori Pickert

drawing activities - An Everyday StoryShe suggests we:

  • build a project library – a collection of books on the topic, making sure your child has either collected the books themselves or helped you to choose appropriate books from the library. She advises against simply presenting your child with a basket of books, arguing that a valuable learning experience is lost for the child 
  • select pages in the books to read (or read aloud) with sticky notes – sit together and flip through the books, marking any pages which attract their attention
  • take a lot of notes – pre-readers like Jack can draw pictures which can then be labelled or you could scribe for them
  • make observational sketches – in your work area, always have a clipboard and pencils ready
  • collect project-related materials – pictures from magazines, maps, pamphlets, photos, figurines, real materials that can be explored
  • make 3-dimensional models – use clean recyclables, clay, paper mache, wire… to make models. If you have your child’s sketches on hand they can refer to them whilst they are modelling. If their model isn’t working, they can try sketching out their ideas again to try and solve the problem
  • make a vocabulary list together – you child can use these words when they label their sketches (working on writing) and start to recognise them on sight (working on word recognition)

Project based homeschooling - model making - An Everyday StorySomeone asked me the other day how our homeschooling was going; It’s going amazingly. Everyday Jack’s busy asking questions, drawing pictures, creating models, looking at pictures in books, playing, hypothesising; learning.

Something for you to try at home

What questions have your little ones asked lately? 

What’s one thing you could do to guide your child towards finding their own answers?

29 comments on “How to Guide Your Child Towards Finding their own Answers”

  1. faigekobre

    So are you basically saying that The Reggio approach is really a project based approac? I never taught Reggio so correct me if i’m wrong but, I thought the emphasis in Reggio is translating all their experiences into one of the 100 languages of which most of them are art based. Draw a paint a block building, bug finding etc.

    • Kate

      Yes, Reggio really emphasises long-term child-directed projects. The teachers will observe an interest developing amongst the students and then offer experiences for the children to explore that interest further. Many of these experiences allow children to express their creativity through different art mediums – particularly drawing, sculpting, painting and modelling but also through photography, drama, music, song, dance – all these different ways children show what they know and understand are called the ‘hundred languages’.

      As the projects progress, the teachers plan for what they expect might happen but they don’t plan the project. The project unfolds as the children ask more questions, explore their understandings, make visual representations and learn new ways of working.

      In Project-based Homeschooling, what Lori has done is taken this idea of long-term deep child-led investigations and extended it beyond the early childhood years. As well as out of the school setting and into the home.

  2. Eleanor @ Two of Everything

    This is a great idea and I’d love to join in but we’re on holiday at the moment! (The children are asleep, hubby has gone fishing and I have free wi-fi – bliss!!) Hopefully I can join in next time though, if my two aren’t too little yet – they are more at the exploration than the enquiry stage just yet, I think. I’d be interested to see how you apply the approach with Sarah 🙂

    • Kate

      Yep Sarah is still exploring things rather than asking questions too. She does have interests though which can be built upon. She also loves (well Jack does too) stand alone provocations (like the glass beads one you set-up 🙂 ) which as you know are most inviting when the provocation has some element which interests the child – whether it’s sensory, or the repetitious in and out action, or something like cooking for dolls (which Sarah loves at the moment). What are Little Miss and Little Man interested in at the moment? – I love those pictures of the children from different countries…maybe there is something there you can explore further?

      • Two of Everything

        Yes they love those – so much so they’ve taken them off the wall and can often be found tucking them up under their play silks!! I have some more copies which I’m going to laminate to protect them a bit, alongside some family pictures – they are very interested in people at the moment.

        They are also fascinated by minibeasts, particularly Little Miss, and that’s something I’m going to pursue further when we get back from holiday. I’m planning on getting some caterpillars, but didn’t want them to hatch out while we were away (it’s been a cold summer, it could take a while…!) It’ll be interesting to see where they go with it. Although I’m hoping Little Man’s experience today hasn’t put him off – he was stung when he picked up a bee which had flown into the paddling pool 🙁 He’s always so eager to touch things!

        • Kate

          Oh ouch! being stung by a bee hurts for big people let allow little kids. I hope he isn’t too deterred 🙂 My kids love insects too. Did you see the link I put to Red Ted Art’s simple bug hotel? I’m planning on making one with Jack and Sarah. They will love it. I’d love to get some caterpillars too 🙂 So many things on our Spring bucket list 🙂

          For the bugs, Sarah really likes taking her magnifying glass one walks as well as a little bag for collecting treasures. And bug viewers are pretty wonderful too. She doesn’t draw pictures yet but she likes to make things out of play dough or include insect figurines in her play.

          Looking forward to seeing what you do 🙂

  3. Cathy

    What a wonderful inspiration you are Kate. I am an EC teacher with 4 boys at school. I think that implementing Reggio inspired learning at home is a great idea. My 7 year old asked me “how high can insects fly?” He wanted to know if they would die if they went to high. I had no idea! I showed him how to search for information on the Internet using the iPad. This in itself allowed us to discuss how to recognise an appropriate website and how to get the best results. We learnt that insects fly where the temperature is right for them. We need to find out more. Thinking of a trip to the library and maybe a search for a documentary. Maybe we could start a journal and take some observations of bugs flying in the garden. Can’t wait to see where this takes us 🙂

    • Kate

      What a great question! I wouldn’t have known the answer either. This is a wonderful example of children finding their own answers. A trip to the library would be great. You could look up on the library catalogue before you go for books which might be relevant. Your son could make a list of the books along with the numbers, then ask the librarian for some help finding the books. Just finding books and heading to the library can be such a wonderful learning experience.

      Depending on what takes his interests in the books, you might like to offer some pencils for observational sketching, or some clay for sculpting or maybe some clean recyclables for making models or dioramas.

      Have him keep a list of all the questions he has and talk about how you might go about finding answers.

      Let me know how you go 🙂 This sounds like the start of a really interesting exploration of insects 🙂

      • Cathy

        I just got very excited because our school holidays are coming up and the library has a mini beast workshop scheduled with a bug man bringing in live creatures. Love it when opportunities like these present themselves so timely! Dylan can’t wait to go and ask him his question and while we are there we can do our own research. I’ll let you know how we go.

        • Kate

          Oh me too! Jack was really interested in reptiles (well still is) last Spring. We went a long a to flower festival expecting to also go to an animal nursery. Instead though there was an interactive reptile display. Jack was THRILLED. He asked to so many wonderful questions too 🙂

          Definitely let me know how it all goes. I’d really love to hear about it. Are you thinking you might write a list of questions together before you go? Or maybe talk about and read about the different kinds of insects you might see there? Have fun 🙂

    • Kate

      Jack has an emerging interest in dragons at the moment, not enough to delve into a deep investigation with but maybe soon. At the moment I have some books on offer for him to read and as his interest grows he might start asking some questions for us to pursue together.

      What types of questions has V asked about dragons?

  4. Courtney {A Life Sustained}

    I’ve been reading here for awhile, but I don’t think that I’ve ever commented. I find a lot of inspiration in what you share here, Kate. Yours is one of the few blogs that I immediately click to as soon as a new post comes through my feed. Thank you for that.

    What a wonderful idea…to do a bit of community-building around our shared journey through Reggio-at-home. My little one is almost 2 1/2 and doesn’t verbally ask many questions beyond “what’s that?” I’ve been trying to take notice, though, of the topics that he comes back to again and again and am trying to give him plenty of learning opportunities in those areas. Our first “project” was garbage trucks (which I wrote about here: http://alifesustained.blogspot.com/2013/06/toddler-explorations-garbage-trucks.html) and our current interest is faces (which seems to be a popular project in Reggio classrooms–I’m finding many examples of face project documentation, which is so exciting!).

  5. katepickle

    This is such a great way to learn to truly follow your children’s interests and just watch them grow and learn from that intrinsic motivation that they have when they are engrossed…

    We are not homeschoolers but I’m inspired to take some of these ideas and work with them for my school kids over the holidays… my twins are history mad at the moment and would love to take the time to really follow their interests.

    • Kate

      Gosh and history is so fascinating! I think I am a little history mad too! There are so many things they could explore. What are they particularly interested in? I really love the Renaissance 🙂 Oh and medieval times…and Japanese Meiji period… 😀

  6. Penny

    I find that I don’t do this enough. I generally answer them rather than letting them discover the answer for themselves. Thanks for the lovely reminder to stretch that exploratory mind!

  7. Kylie @ Octavia and Vicky

    What a lovely post, I really enjoyed reading about your approach to home schooling. This is the same method of teaching that I use in my classroom, but I haven’t really used it much at home with my three year old. I must do it more at home.

  8. hannah sommerville

    I didn’t realise Regio involved long term self directed projects. While we won’t be home schooling, we do want our children to be able to follow their own interests and we’ll facilitate that in whatever way we can. Thanks for giving me more to read and think about.

  9. Jode

    A thought provoking post Kate and so many good ideas to take away. i am getting a lot of questions at the moment and am going to strive to do this a little more instead of getting frustrated!

  10. Kate

    What a beautiful post and full of wise words. I love when teachers (or parents) take the time to challenge children and allow them to be responsible for their own learning and trust them to take it where they want it to go. It’s vital in my eyes. Love this and thank you.

  11. Dorothy Grundmann

    Thank you so much for being an inspiration to me. I haven’t started my daycare as of yet, but am so excited to see what my children will do and accomplish in their learning. Your resources and photos/supplies are excellent dipiction of what I want for my centre and then children I will have opportunity to teach and learn from. Thank you again.

    • Kate

      Thank you so much for your kind words. Good luck with your daycare. Are you hoping to start soon? I think if we weren’t homeschooling, I would have liked to have my own home daycare.

      • Dorothy

        Hi Kate,
        My daycare started in September 2013. Its been going strong for 4 months now. In the new year, I will be licensed and will be able to take on more children. I’m totally excited, and love that you are able to show the world your adventures with your children.

        • Kate

          Hi Dorothy 🙂 I am so pleased that your daycare is going well. I would love to hear more about it. Do you present different explorations and things for the children?

  12. theimperfectchristianhousewife

    That’s great. My 3.5yr old daughter has been asking sooooo many questions lately. Tomorrow I’m going to pick one and help guide her to finding her own answer!! Thanks 🙂

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