4 Quick, Simple Ways to Support Inquiry Learning at Home

Inquiry learning isn’t just for the classroom. While it is a popular approach to learning that has many great benefits at school, fostering an inquiry culture at home can further support critical thinking skills as well. However, this doesn’t mean parents need to totally redesign their homes to make room for inquiry learning; nor does it mean they need to completely change their schedules or approaches to parenting. The following four tips will help parents to simply support and encourage the inquiry process at home – some of them you may already be doing!

1. Keep it simple

Fostering a creative and curious spirit at home doesn’t require a drastic change in what you’re already doing. When it comes to inquiry learning, keep it simple. Here are some examples:

  • Pick up a few books from the library that your child might not have chosen on their own and leave them in obvious spots around the house. It works best if these books are non-fiction, informative, or picture books, but they can be any type you want!
  • Set up a small table in your child’s room or play area. Use chalk paint to block off a rectangle near the table and place a piece of chalk nearby; this creates an invitation and space to explore ideas
  • Create a provocation table. These can be as simple or as elaborate as you want them to be, and they don’t cost much money. Most items can be purchased at the dollar store, or collected and repurposed from around your home. We have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to provocations!

For more inspiration on room decoration, check out this post on beautiful, effective inquiry learning environments.

Avoid making drastic changes around your house or uprooting your usual schedules in order to “fit in” this kind of learning. Inquiry learning should be organic and pop up in everyday life naturally. Simple additions like the ones mentioned above open kids up to new ideas and ways to share their curiosities; and these don’t need to be extravagant.

2. Be observers

Students are natural observers. They question everything around them. In order to ask deep, thoughtful questions, students need to practice the art of observation. Spending time in nature or in new environments stimulates students’ innate desire to know more about the world around them. From these new and enriching experiences comes careful and, often, spontaneous curiosity. More ways to integrate observation and mindfulness can be found here.

Next time you are outside (or inside), simply notice what is going on around you. Is there construction going on in your neighbourhood? What sounds do you hear in different areas of your home? Are your neighbours moving? Is there a lot of garbage piling up in the nearby park? Take note of what’s going on in your neighbourhood. Make your observations known by saying them out loud. Ask your child “what do you see?” or “what do you notice?” while you’re on a family walk or taking them to school. Tell them what you see and what you wonder. (Click on the PDF to the right to download a copy; or click here)

Related reading: 4 Outdoor Inquiry Learning Experiences

Nature journaling is a great way to explore the outdoors and record what you see, hear, smell, and feel in a more structured way. Nature journals work in a variety of outdoor settings – parks, forests, streams, ponds, your backyard – anywhere. Journaling can happen during a simple 15-minute walk around the backyard or it can take the form of a two hour morning hike through a forest. It’s a popular activity for parents to do with their kids on a slow weekend afternoon or during the summer holidays when they want to give their kids more of a focused activity. (Click here to download a free PDF with more great questions about nature and the environment.)

3. Incorporate fun projects

Children are naturally curious and eager to explore the world around them. In the classroom, their curiosity can be limited depending on the resources the school has available, and the time restraints of the academic calendar. At home, there is more room to be creative and curious. Giving kids opportunities to learn through play can seem like a “waste of time”, but in reality it helps students develop countless soft skills that are crucial to their development. Some ideas for fun projects to do at home include:

Interactive “I Spy”:

Ask students questions such as “what do you notice about the weather today?”, “what do you notice about the plants around the house?”, or “can you spot anything different in the driveway/garden/backyard?”. Take the answers you get from these questions and act on them. For example, if they make an observation about it being sunny or rainy outside, ask if they’d like to use pastels, watercolours, paints, or pencil crayons to draw what they see. If they notice something different about the plants in the house, suggest grabbing a watering can and watering the plants. Better yet, grab some plain watering cans and paint them! Stop and notice what might be lurking or growing in each plant, what it feels like, what it reminds them of, etc.

Dive into Robotics:

This might sound like a dangerous path to take for those of us who know nothing about robots or technology, but they are actually so much fun to learn about and play with! There are several reasons why learning about robotics is important, not only for students, but for parents as well. Robotics (along with computer science) is a great way to teach students to make decisions and reflect on their solutions, and develop a variety of life skills. Furthermore, it also helps develop the so-called “Four C’s” of the 21st century skills: communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. You can find lots of ideas for incorporating robotics play in our article linked here!

Stop-Motion Project:

Basically, stop-motion is an animated filmmaking technique where objects are moved in tiny increments between individual photographs to give the impression that they’re moving when the set of photos are played back. The technique makes inanimate objects appear to move on their own. It’s simple – you place an object in front of a camera and take a picture. Then you move the object a little bit more, and take another picture. This process is repeated until you have all the pictures you want. Essentially, that’s it! Use this complete stop-motion guide and get started! (You can even watch some sample videos my students and I have made by visiting our Youtube channel)

Find more fun, creative inquiry project ideas in our Awesome, At-Home Inquiry Activities article!

4. Be a co-learner

In today’s classroom, the role of the educator is changing from director to facilitator. Teaching is moving away from being compartmentalized and isolated, and is shifting to a more collaborative endeavor. Educators and parents need to be comfortable with the idea that learning new information can be done symbiotically; it is less about knowing everything and more about finding out new information with students.

In my experience, students engage a lot more with an activity if the teacher acts as a co-learner. I always try to let my students lead a conversation about something new or interesting. Even if I have some knowledge about the question or topic already, I continue to behave with curiosity and surprise. When a question is asked and a students’ curiosity is piqued, there are a few different paths a teacher or parent can take: (1) Ignore the question or brush it off for “another time”, (2) Answer the question as best you can, or (3) Reply with something along the lines of “What a great question, let’s find out the answer together!” Which one do you think kids would love to hear the most?

Of course, sometimes the timing of your child’s question might be totally off (bath time, homework time, bedtime, etc.) but doing your best to engage with the question and talk about it with your child is better than brushing it off completely. Also, it’s totally fine to not know the answer! In fact, it’s actually a lot more fun for students when their parent or teacher doesn’t know the answer. It is also a great opportunity to practice modelling curiosity as well as finding out how your child or student goes about trying to find the answer; it can reveal a lot about the ways your child learns and how they seek out new information.

Think about how much more powerful and impactful their learning is when they take ownership of their curiosity; it will almost certainly lead to more engagement and excitement.

Key Takeaways:

1. To support inquiry learning at home, make small, simple changes. Borrowing a few new books from the library and placing them around the house or adding a provocation table with objects from around the house can spark curiosity instantly.

2. Allow children to observe what’s around them without an ulterior motive. Taking walks, playing at the park, and using nature journals are some fun ways to slow down, observe, and be mindful of the world around you.

3. Building in time to start a new project can spark curiosity and build important soft skills in children. Whether it’s creating a stop-motion video or refreshing the plants in your backyard, delving into a creative endeavour has plenty of fun benefits.

4. Taking on the role of a co-learner with your child not only increases their engagement, but puts them in the driver’s seat. Co-learning also provides great opportunities for kids to take ownership of their curiosity and seek out new information.

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