4 Important Ways to Build Inquiry Habits at Home

With the summer in full-swing, now is a great time to immerse in play, fun projects, and family time. For younger children, the summer provides a great opportunity for them to explore their surroundings, involve themselves in projects around the house, or learn new skills. For older children, it’s a great time to delve into their hobbies, have new experiences, and expand their horizons.

Building inquiry habits isn’t necessarily about better academic performance. Instead, it’s about empowering students to become active learners, think critically, and confidently ask questions to better understand the world around them.

The article below provides 4 ways to help build inquiry habits at home for children of any age. It also outlines ways to facilitate discussion of important topics, help children approach challenges creatively, and take ownership of their ideas, concerns, and learning.

1. Cultivate a curious environment

Modelling a curious mindset is important. Equally as important is fostering an environment where students feel empowered to ask questions and discuss topics that interest them. Building inquiry habits means creating an environment where learning is an ongoing, continuous process is a good way of doing this. Emphasize the fact that learning doesn’t have an end. Normalize and encourage making mistakes and view struggles as learning experiences. When these things are normalized, children are more likely to take risks and try new things.

Physical changes

To physically change your space, consider providing an old desk or table in a common space where children can explore provocations. For example, if your child is interested in trains, consider stocking the area with books about the parts of a train, model trains, a magnifying glass, and loose parts with which to recreate a model train. You could also include photos, diagrams, train route maps, or other materials. Check out our article on setting up learning provocations for some ideas on how to set up your space.

Links to the above items:

To make this easier, consider the space you want to create. For instance, maybe you’d like one part of the space to be filled with provocations, and another section to allow for building opportunities. Print out a rough sketch of the room and invite children to consider these different areas as they provide their input. Let them walk around the room, measure the furniture, discuss, and design a plan. Come back together and discuss the plans and decide on one that incorporates as many ideas as possible given the limitations of the room. Dealing with issues like the barriers of load-bearing walls, sticking to a budget, or working with limited space also forces them to problem-solve, be creative, and think outside the box. This in itself is a great example of an inquiry idea.

Suggested article: 8 Effective Ways to Create an Authentic Inquiry Space

Remember that you do not need to be the expert in your own home. When children ask questions, we have an amazing opportunity to model curiosity and continuous learning. When a child asks a question, instead of ignoring it or answering the best you can, simply say “I don’t know, but that’s a great question… how can we find out?” Providing this answer shows children that you are honouring their curiosities, not brushing them off, and are interested in learning with them. Imagine how great that would make them feel!

2. Investigate interests

Building inquiry habits means getting involved and interested in your children’s interests. Children tend to be more engaged and active in their learning when they feel that a trusted adult takes the time to listen to them and ask questions. They gravitate towards adults who genuinely care about their interests and want to explore with them. Providing resources and time for them to delve deeper into topics that spark their curiosity is a great way to show interest.

Delving deeper into children’s interests can involve books, websites, documentaries, or even hands-on experiments. For example, if they love dinosaurs, help them research different species and eras. Furthermore, using modelling clay or recyclable materials to design models of dinosaurs is also a fun idea to show interest in their curiosities. By showing genuine enthusiasm, we not only validate children’s interests, but also strengthen our bond with them.

Connecting with experts and the local community is another great way to investigate a child’s interests. Find opportunities for your child to connect with a local expert who could teach them a new skill, or enrol your child in a local club or class that can provide mentorship and peer interaction. These connections can not only offer a space for children to learn, but also provide them with a source of inspiration and encouragement.

Reading widely and often

While some children love and adore reading, others can find it cumbersome and boring. But reading goes beyond just books and encyclopedias – it also encompasses research, fact-finding, and just simply browsing. To assist in building inquiry habits, it’s important to make reading and researching a shared activity. Use the internet, visit a library, or watch a documentary. Encourage children to find answers to their questions and learn new facts. While there is a difference between inquiry and research, it’s important for children to be exposed to both. Inquiry is a broad process that may involve different paths or procedures. Research is a more formal process with the goal of establishing facts. Inquiry focuses more on asking questions, whereas research focuses more on finding answers. We delve into this difference in our article about the differences between inquiry and research, definitely worth a read.

Other reading materials to read with your child include magazines, pamphlets, maps, blueprints, and historical documents. Remember to not limit sources of information – even a small information card can provide the spark for a child to uncover a new idea, curiosity, or project.

Another great way to investigate interests with children is to create inquiry questions to guide their curiosities. We’ve written about co-creating high-quality inquiry questions, and also compiled a free PDF of 400 inquiry questions about language, history, science, and more.

3. Engage in hands-on projects

Building inquiry habits through projects happens year-round. However, the summer provides a great opportunity for even more hands-on learning and real-world experiences. Planning outings or activities that relate to children’s interests are important. Here are some quick ideas:

Here are some other ideas that are popular and easy to do in the summer:

Starting a backyard garden: Children investigate the weather in their area as well as their growing zone to determine which seeds have the best chance of growing successfully in their backyard (or indoors). Commit to caring for plants during the summer months and record their progress. Complementary inquiry questions include:

  • What type of soil do different plants prefer, and why?
  • How do different types of plants grow?
  • How do roots, stems, and leaves work together to help a plant thrive?
  • How can our garden support pollinators?
  • In what ways does temperature and moisture affect plant growth?

Engineering challenge: Children design and build a specific structure or simple machine using recycled or household materials. Once the structure is built (for example, a bridge), children test its strength by gradually adding weight until it breaks and record the results. Explore different types of machines and structures to understand the forces behind them. Good questions to investigate include:

  • How do different types of bridges function?
  • What design features might make our structure stronger?
  • What happens when we change a specific element of our design?
  • How does our structure compare to real-life structures in terms of functionality?
  • How can the knowledge gained from this project be applied to other projects?
Related article: How to Build Amazing Models Using Project-Based Learning

Bread making experiment: Children choose a bread recipe of their choice and gather the required ingredients and equipment. Once the basic recipe is created, experiment with different variables – for instance, adding extra ingredients (herbs, cheese, etc.) and observing how the dough changes depending on temperature, moisture, and other observable factors. Some good guiding questions include:

  • What role does each ingredient play in the recipe?
  • How does the dough change as we knead it?
  • How does the environment affect the rising process of the dough?
  • What might explain the differences in texture between the interior and crust?
  • What kind of science did we learn in the process of making this bread?

Other great hands-on activity ideas to help with building inquiry habits:

4. Talk about issues and concerns

A lot of times, we underestimate the power and breadth of children’s curiosity. When a random question appears to come from left-field, it’s usually a safe assumption that the child asking it has been prompted by something they saw, heard about, or read somewhere, and are eager to know more. Sometimes they seek to understand, and sometimes they just want to know what your thoughts are. The ensuing conversations are not merely chit-chat – in fact, they provide invaluable opportunities for children to learn, grow, and develop critical thinking skills.

Through dialogue, children are able to articulate their thoughts and feelings, thereby improving their communication and social skills. As adults, we can use these moments to explain things in age-appropriate terms, ask questions, and validate their emotions.

Example – Politics

By upper-elementary school, students will have some idea about politics and the systems in which they operate. A potential question that may arise might be “why do we have different political parties?”. In response, adults can explain the basic principles of democracy and the reasons behind diverse political ideologies. They can also explain that people have different beliefs and priorities, and political parties represent those viewpoints.

The discussion can lead to a deeper understanding of things like civic responsibility, promoting conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence. Furthermore, discussions like these help children develop a deeper understanding of complex topics and learn how to analyse information critically while remaining empathetic.

Discussing controversial subjects

More often than not, children hear about the things that go on in the world; things like protests, activism, catastrophes, and things that might confuse them. More recently, I’ve noticed that students are paying more attention than ever to world events, politics, and controversial issues. However, this shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Instead, discussing controversial issues means paying attention to how children recognize and respond to the topic, and anticipating questions, inquiries, or disagreements. Discussing controversial issues also offers children the chance to practise important skills like critical thinking, communication, and compromise. Some helpful vocabulary to assist with these discussions can be downloaded here.

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