‘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
Now 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:
- magnifying glass
- bug viewer
- light panel
- blank notebooks and pencils
- real-life materials
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
- 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)
Someone 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?