Reflections on Quality – Play and Inquiry

Reflections on Quality is an invitation to reflect by Anna Nguyen-Sgro, Quality Speciality, Children’s Services, Halton Region

Children’s learning happens in the context of exploration, play and inquiry (Ministry of Education, 2014). While the concept of play is almost synonymous with early childhood education, for some educators, the concept of inquiry has left them wondering what this means for their programs and their role with young children.

From birth, a baby’ innate ‘instinct’ for inquiry is visible. If you have ever spent time with a newborn baby, you’ll have witnessed the way they explore their immediate surroundings with all of their senses, full of curiosity and wonder.

Humans are naturally curious beings who learn about the world and how things work around them through experience and exploration of the environment, in relationship with others. When educators capitalize on this innate curiosity, by providing environments and experiences for play and inquiry, children learn and thrive.

An inquiry-based learning approach is rooted in the theoretical view of constructivism that suggests that people are active creators of their own knowledge who learn through experiences and reflection of those experiences. This aligns with the view of children described in How Does Learning Happen? as “competent, capable of complex thinking, curious and rich in potential”. To support children’s natural sense of wonder and optimize opportunities for complex thinking, children deserve opportunities for “active play that allows children to explore with their bodies, minds, and senses, stimulating them to ask questions, test theories, solve problems, engage in creative thinking, and make meaning of the world around them. These investigations through play fuse intellect and feeling to help children make connections and develop the capacity for higher-order thinking” (Gopnik, 2009 as cited in HDLH, 2014, pg. 35).

For educators, this focus on play and inquiry might mean a shift from a more traditional role as the directors and planners of learning, to a role where educators engage with children as co-learners, learning with the child about his or her questions, theories, and curiosities. Some might be hesitant to make this shift, with concerns about school readiness or how children might learn through this pedagogical approach. While a teacher-directed classroom has been a traditional practice, educational research now suggests that through play and inquiry, children develop skills such as “ problem-solving and critical thinking, communication and collaboration, creativity and imagination, initiative and citizenship are all capacities vital for success through school and beyond” (How Does Learning Happen, pg. 9).

Just as children thrive in learning environments that support inquiry, educators also benefit from learning experiences that foster exploration and inquiry. It is through collaborative inquiry and dialogue that educators engage in critical and creative thinking with others, which honours openness and flexibility and supports quality growth (Ministry of Education, 2014). In Halton Region, The Halton Resource Connection is committed to offering opportunities for inquiry-based learning to support educators on their own learning journey. Please see the newest publication for information and to participate in THRC’s inquiry groups and other professional learning opportunities.

Invitation to reflect:

To support your understanding of inquiry reflect on these questions from
How Does Learning Happen? (pg. 40)

  • What questions and theories do the children seem to be exploring through their play? What are they wondering about in the ways they use materials (e.g., what does their non-verbal communication tell you)? How can you make these visible? What are families noticing at home?
  • What next steps might you take, based on these observations, to support more complex play and inquiry? For example, how can the children’s questions and theories be tested, revised, and communicated?
  • What questions do you have? What sparks your curiosity?
  • Since educators are researchers within their programs or communities, what would you like to investigate further in your program? How would you further complete this investigation with your colleagues or with the children in the program?

 

logo_newAnna Nguyen-Sgro, RECE, MA
Quality Specialist, Child Care System
Halton Region, Children’s Services
[email protected]