Top 5: Inquiry

This post is authored by preschool educator, Katie Heimsath. Katie has been at SEEC since 2015, teaching both toddlers and three-year-olds. Katie has used an emergent style of teaching and learning with young infants through kindergarten in Texas, Chicago, and Washington D.C. While at SEEC, Katie has found a passion for using the community, including the natural world, to foster curiosity, agency, and a respect for ourselves and others.  

At SEEC we think of inquiry not just as asking questions, but seeking an answer through exploration, experimentation, books, images, trusted experts, and more. Fostering wonder in young children doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming – it can be integrated throughout the day in many ways. Here are some ideas and techniques we use at SEEC to encourage an inquisitive environment:



1. Inquiry Tree or a Question Wall


Writing down a child’s question or curiosity and displaying it somewhere in the classroom is an easy way to honor their ideas and curiosities. Using post-it notes makes it easy to reorganize questions or bring along an individual question to another space. If you’re working at a center or table to answer a specific question, it’s simple to pull the post-it out and reference it directly. (1)

2. “What do you see?” “What makes you say that?”

Two simple questions can illicit deep thinking and rich conversation. When we visit an object or art piece, we always start with, “What do you see?” This question encourages children to look carefully at what is in front of them, while identifying what they see and imagine. “What makes you say that?” as a follow-up question encourages children to communicate their thinking process.



3. Thumbs Up


For younger age groups, using “thumbs up” or “likes” can help less verbal children communicate what they’re interested in learning more about. Several of our two-year-old teachers posted illustrations of familiar topics to choose from, which allowed their class to express their interests and direct the learning experience.


4. What I know, What I want to know

When exploring a specific topic, it can help to categorize thoughts and questions. Question asking is a learned skill, and a chart like this can help distinguish between a statement and question. It also allows both the educators and class to learn what knowledge the class may already have on a topic, allowing for a deeper and more specific exploration. (37)

5. Loose parts and real life materials

At SEEC we believe strongly in the power of play as a tool to enrich understanding. Providing many different kinds of materials and loose parts allows children to experiment with concepts in their own way. In the photo on the left, two three-year-olds built a rocket out of chairs and other objects on the playground after studying parts of a rocket. The photo on the right shows one of our four-year-old classes using lots of recycled materials to create a fanciful structure in the style of Antoni Gaudi. Both situations occurred during unstructured play time, which allowed freedom and flexibility to investigate big concepts like space travel or architecture in ways that is meaningful for them.