“[It] evokes the idea of a dynamic process, a journey that involves the uncertainty and chance that always arises in relationships with others. Project work grows in many directions, with no predefined progression, no outcomes decided before the journey begins.
It means being sensitive to the unpredictable results of children’s investigation and research. The course of a project can thus be short, medium or long, continuous or discontinuous, and is always open to modifications and changes of direction.”
~ Carlina Rinaldi on ‘Project work’ (progettazione) from The Hundred Languages of Children (pp. 111-112)
It’s been a little while since I’ve shared one of our inquiries, hasn’t it? And this time it’s for Sarah (4 yrs). Right now she has a zillion questions mostly relating to zoos and animals; her first focussed inquiry.
But first, a little about getting started with inquiry-based learning…
So how do you start an inquiry?
Essentially I think the child starts the inquiry; they notice something, ask about something, recreate their understandings through play…. and the adult? The adult is the careful observer; watching and listening for questions which they can use to explore the topic more deeply.
We don’t jump on a topic and plan the next four week’s activities; we listen, take notes and identify a few key questions or areas of interest to offer back to the child to investigate further. Like Rinaldi said:
“Project work grows in many directions, with no predefined progression, no outcomes decided before the journey begins.
An inquiry has twists and turns. It can be a little unnerving at first (especially if like me, you’re a trained teacher who is used to guiding the learning in different directions), to take it one day at a time.
Rather than planning our sessions a week in advance with which books our child will read and which activity will follow, inquiry-based learning (or project work), requires us to make observations of the learning which is unfolding during the session and reflect on those observations in order provide provocations for the next session.
And provocations are quite often very simple, like:
- a reminder of a question which was asked yesterday and offering a book to read together
- showing your child photos of their work from the previous session and providing new materials to expand on that work – maybe a different kind of block, or some chalk pastels, or maybe some clay to represent a sketch they did
- following up on a question with a YouTube video – I’m going to write more on how we are using YouTube in another post
- Rephrasing back to your child a thought which your child expressed last session and offering materials to explore more deeply – “Yesterday you were wondering why….., maybe these materials could help us find out.”
“The teachers [and parents] need only to observe and listen to the children, as they continuously suggest to us what interests them, and what they would like to explore in a deeper way”
~ Malaguzzi talking about choosing projects
Sarah’s inquiry so far:
We know that she loves animals and so decided to take a family trip to the zoo for her birthday. Since then,
- We talked about our experiences at the zoo – memories, thoughts and questions
- Sarah recreated the zoo using DUPLO – she created enclosures for the animals. She was wondering why some animals had small enclosures and others had very big
- Based on this, I offered her some books on animals and habitats along with some playsilks, animal figurines and blocks – she used them to create grasslands, polar regions and the ocean
- I noticed she kept going back to enclosures – particularly for African animals so I put a large piece of paper out with some pencils, fine-tipped markers and a copy of the National Zoo map.
- Sarah drew a map of the zoo with enclosures for the animals. I noticed that she also gave some animals bigger enclosures, along with grass and water. (Here’s a short Instragram video of her drawing). She worked on this drawing on and off for about three days.
- Next session I added a few more animal figurines to the basket along with this book, My First Animal Alphabet. Sarah chose to match the figurines to the pictures.
- Jack (6yrs old) mentioned that Sarah had to move her zebra away from the tiger because the tiger would eat it; this inspired some conversation about predators. The following day, I offered her a book on predators.
And so this is about where we are at now; looking at predators – particularly hyenas. Yesterday we watched a YouTube video on how hyenas laugh which inspired a lot of imaginary play.
I have a book of African folk tales which has a story about a hyena and a tortoise. Tomorrow I think I might retell the story using animal figurines, playsilks and a few loose parts.
And then I guess we will see where we go from there.
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