Tips and ideas for using an inquiry-based approach

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By Karen Hart

Find out more about the inquiry-based learning approach

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What is inquiry-based learning?

We are all born inquirers, and this instinct to discover and learn through trial and error is most pronounced during early years development. An inquiry-based nursery is one which encourages and supports children in their investigations and interests, with those caring for children taking the role of enabler rather than teacher. Children are encouraged to explore their questions about the world, either as individuals or as part of a group, discovering as much as they can along the way, with the whole investigative journey playing as much of a part in their learning as achieving their goal of finding the answer to their initial question. Interests and questions can come from children directly or can be teacher-led, with children inspired through topics and activities devised around their interests to encourage hands-on learning.

Tips for creating an inquiry-based learning setting:

  • Encourage children to find their own solutions to problems they come up against while providing help. For example, a child trying to fix two egg boxes together can be encouraged to try alternatives to sticky tape and glue – maybe offer some alternative materials such as pipe cleaners or string which can be used to thread the boxes together.
  • Wherever possible, involve children in the planning of activities, getting them to search for their own materials for crafts etc.
  • Encourage experimentation – don’t tell a child they’re ‘doing it wrong’ if they paint a picture of a blue apple or a green sun etc. Let them feel they are free to experiment and try out new ways of doing things.
  • Too many stoppages during a session tends to interrupt the flow of children’s ideas and will often result in lower levels of engagement. Giving children plenty of time to finish crafts, construction games, jigsaw puzzles etc. is really important. Hearing ‘Tidy up time’ when a child is engrossed in an activity can be really soul destroying. Try to give as much warning as possible that tidying up is approaching. If possible, allow children to carry on with their activities in the next session.
  • Encourage teacher and child conversation throughout all activities so you can pick up on a child’s interests and build on their natural curiosity and excitement.
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