Bringing Inquiry To the Next Level

This is the part that’s not always easy.

My students find something that they’re into. Because they’re 4, 5 and 6 years old, they get really into it. I get into the fact that they’re into it, and (admittedly) go a little overboard – everything that we do touches on that interest. As soon as I get super enthusiastic about something, they must sense it – my desperation to hold onto this inquiry, my longing that it turns into something great must be palpable – and they move on to something else. I feel a sense of sadness, because after all, I worked so hard on making this inquiry “the inquiry“, and poured so much of myself into it, and now it’s all over. But every time, I decide that, as Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it,” and make up my mind to go for it again, with that new thing that they’re into. And so the cycle continues. But I’ve learned that pushing inquiry is not my job. As I stood back, and watched inquiries grow with very minimal involvement on my part, I began to realize something: my job is not to push inquiry … it’s to facilitate it.

Facilitating inquiry can mean many, many different things.

It might mean that you just have to sit back and watch kids try things over and over again, until they finally feel like they’ve gotten all the learning out of it that they can, then you add a little something that might spark something new; for example, this has happened to me when my student’s from last year, at A.B. Ellis P.S., were really into space, and would learn everything that they can about one planet, then it would seem that interest would peter a little bit, until the Early Childhood Educator would expertly throw in a new bit to deepen their learning (like a space sensory table) that would get them going again.

In some cases, it means helping them go find the answers that they’re searching for, in the case of when the students do “expert” work. We ask an “I Wonder” question, we begin looking for books and videos that would help answer the questions, so that they could do so independently. I’ve made entire playlists based on interest they have so that they can cruise through educational videos.

It might mean that you have to let them explore it and discover things on their own, and really listen carefully to the question that they’re asking, which is currently where we’re at in our knitting inquiry.

Yes, we’re still knitting. We’ve been knitting for a long time now. Every time I think the students have lost interest in it, one asks a question. Those questions have involved over time. At first, it was, “How do I knit?” In my post, I discussed what the process of that was at length. Then, it became, “How can I knit alone?” (because with the toilet paper loom, and in the beginning stages, my involvement was still pretty crucial), which lead us to finger knitting. Finger knitting was a thing for about two months: they explored measurement by comparing the lengths of their creations; they showed incredible patience as they each taught each other how to create necklaces, bracelets and leashes for dogs; they taught children of other classes that were interested. When finger knitting got “boring” in March, I said to myself, This is it. This is the end of knitting. It’s been a good run. March Break came, and Easter break came almost immediately after. If anything can kill an inquiry, it’s that. I was telling my mother about it over dinner one night, and she said, “Take my wool!” from when she knitting scarves. The wool was beautiful, thick and multicoloured. I brought it in, and posited to the kids that they could only use it for they were experts in knitting. Low and behold, they all become pros at knitting with the loom and their fingers, and they were all using the thick, beautiful wool to make new creations. When that lasted about a month, PW said, “I wonder how I could make stuff with two different kinds of wool?”, and that began a whole new trend, where students would use several different kinds of wool to make one creation. “What does my knitting look like if I only stitch with one finger?” and “What will happen if I knit with two fingers instead of four? Three fingers instead of one?” were the kind of questions they began asking themselves, and then experimented with it and compared all of their projects to one another to examine the variations between them.

Thicker wool was used to help us make scarves. We discovered that while we were pros with finger knitting, this wool was not very easy to finger knit with, and we had to go back to using the loom.
Thicker wool was used to help us make scarves. We discovered that while we were pros with finger knitting, this wool was not very easy to finger knit with, and we had to go back to using the loom.

“I wonder how I could knit with the sticks?” was another one, asked by SP. I spent the weekend, pouring over YouTube video after YouTube video, learning how to cast-on, knit-stitch, purl-stitch and cast-off (seriously). A few students showed interest in that, and we did that for several days, but that wasn’t as wildly successful as I thought it might be – there are only a few students that tried it, and then (probably because they are still so dependent on my help to accomplish it), they seemed to have not picked it up again. That’s okay. Because now, I bought proper looms – one that’s a rectangle, and one that is a circle. With those looms, they are creating amazing things, and because the concept is the same as the toilet paper roll looms, they are cruising through it.

We might knit until June. We might not. Some are expert knitters, and some are starting. Some knit every day, and some knit sporadically, while some students don’t knit at all. Some are better with the looms, some prefer knitting with their fingers, and I have two students that couldn’t be less interested, so we do completely different things together. Every time I think they’re done, they ask another question. And now, of this I’m sure – it’s my job to pounce on that question.

That is what kindergarten is now. It’s differentiated learning in the best way. You like superheroes? Awesome! What do you want to do with that? Cool, let’s do it. Oh, you like Star Wars and want to pretend you’re Darth Vader? Sure, let me know what you need for materials and I will make it happen for you. You want to explore what habitats are? Absolutely – just give me some time to get together some wood pieces and pinecones, and plastic animals so that you can discover and feel and touch what that actually is for yourself. You’re wonder to yourself how to mail a letter? Let’s go for a walk and actually do it.

This is inquiry. It’s not a surprise that students learn better when they move, touch and do. It’s not just kindergartners that benefit from this movement, but this is where inquiry learning needs to start. Inquiry learning is allowing students to become more involved in their learning. It’s allowing them to become passionate about learning. It’s allowing them to be accountable to their learning. It’s allowing them to become the masters of their own learning.

So tomorrow, they may decide that they’re not into knitting anymore, and that’s okay. I don’t stress about that anymore. Because my role? My role is to facilitate their learning.

And that’s a wonderful job to have.

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