Thursday, February 17, 2011

Using your Children's Questions to Guide Their Learning

Time and time again, Big Bro and Little Bro actually end up guiding their own learning by the questions they pose in their day-to-day...

This week, Big Bro has been full of questions, largely about history.
Here are some that he has posed to me this week:
If we made pages of life, what would the order be as far as pioneers, pirates, and cowboys?
Were pirates around at the time of George Washington?
How about the time of Abraham Lincoln?
Where exactly would you say a pioneer started before they headed West?
Were there pioneers who were also cowboys?
Were there cowboys who were pioneers?
Were there cowboys who were just always cowboys but not pioneers?
Did any of the wars impact the cowboys?
Did any of the wars change things for pioneers?
Which oceans had the first pirates?
Which states had the first cowboys?
Where else are cowboys besides the USA?
Okay, guess he is trying to fill me in that he wants me to add some work on time lines and American History to his days...

Little Bro has been more focused on mechanics...
He has been very curious as to how to open and close certain sorts of very tiny clasps on my jewelry, as well as really tiny safety pins. I watched as he tried to figure out how to do some of these for himself before asking me to show him how they work...I let him go for a while and then, at some point, he asked
How do these work?

Guess he would like me to put out some mini clasps and teeny safety pins for his work...

His other questions that also fall into the category of mechanics, namely How does this work? keep coming up too.
This week, Little Bro has been very curious about the Snap Circuits Set, way more curious over the last two days than when he and Big Bro got this great kit at Christmas time.
He is really intrigued by how to make the configurations they show in the guide.

He also has asked questions this week:
How do electric things get to be electric?
Why did they even decide to make electric things in the first place?
Why are the things in Snap Circuits called electric when you don't plug them into the wall?

He has also been far more curious than before about constructing various marble runs and wanting to know why certain pieces in the set work the way they do...asking questions such as:
Why do some marbles work better than others?
Why do some pieces work better at holding the whole marble run together?

From time to time, I ask the boys what they want to learn about and then, when we go into our homeschool materials storage in our garage, or go to the library or bookstore,  I use their questions to help guide their learning. I really try to encourage them to think aloud by sharing their questions, thoughts, and ideas. Then, I work at trying to get them to reflect on their thinking and what they have learned through the questions and ideas that they have...
The whole notion of metacognition and higher order thinking can be fostered when an adult encourages a child to really spend some time thinking and then, exploring, and then, going back and thinking about their thinking.
This is the key that unfortunately, many traditional schools leave out...they get a child to hash out the answers without having the child reflect on how they got to those answers.

When parents and educators really encourage their children to share their questions, comments, thoughts, and ideas, sometimes, it is through a child's sharing that you really get a window into where they are as far as sensitive periods of learning and development.
Now, some interests are fleeting while others are far more long lasting, so the key is to try to provide them with some resources for them to do some discovery and reflection and then, if it is something that they want to pursue further at that time, to kind of go with that concept or those lines of questions or those types of particular works for a while.
Then, when they have had their fill and new questions start to pop up, if they are related, you can either integrate them or else, you can start to lay out resources and give them the opportunity to take these new materials and ideas for a test drive...
What is neat is that so many times, too, things that don't seem to be connected really are connected...
The impact of electricity on early American History seems like the direction we might be exploring over the next few days or weeks...

To me, getting to be here at home with Big Bro and Little Bro is the ultimate gift from get to be there as my sons ask either just me or both my hubby and me these questions and then, to help them to plod ahead to find the answers for themselves, with some support from both of us. When they ask questions that lets me know that they are trying to make sense of the world and its people, it is a wonderful day!

What kinds of questions do your children pose to you?

What makes your day  with respect to being with your children?

How do you handle it when your child asks you loads of questions?

What do you do to foster your child's sense of curiosity and self discovery?

Well, hope that you enjoy listening to your children and having them share their questions and ideas with you as much as I enjoy having mine share with me.


Stephanie said...

Wow! What a great reminder to really follow the child! I know that as we go forward I in our homeschooling, I realize that I sometimes get caught up in trying to make sure that my kids are where they are "supposed" to be. Then I realize that the sooner I let go and let them show me what they want, the more they learn and the happier the house is! Such a blessing to have the knowledge that our kids are smart and can learn on their own if given the right chance to do it! :)

Pip said...

The Early years curriculum that i follow in my childminding work is totally based on observation and following childrens developmental stages and interests. It make planning so much easier and the children are always so interested becasue its something they want to do and are interested in.
lets be honest... as adults we would only chose to study something thats sparks our imaginations and interests!
Great post! Thanks xx

The Education Of Ours said...

What a great post, another reminder to the world of parents to follow your child :)

Sometimes the kids have the best ideas. They are most interested in what they like, and they'll stick with it in the long run. Yay, Mom!

Mommy Moment said...

Well written!
I could not agree more. We often change the "plan" of our day to follow the lead of the child.
For example, our 2 yr old fell outside on some ice. She did not cry, but she wanted to keep walking on it. We spent about 10 minutes walking, falling and touching the ice then later she watched while I put some water in a container and froze it. She was so amazed and now uses the word ice A LOT.


CatWay said...

Really interesting post! My eldest son has lots of questions about how things work and especially about pressure lately.
Do you have a system where you record their questions or wonderings?

cara said...

Questions ignite learning. In the moment it is sometimes difficult to ask great questions. Take this list and try to remember the prompts, and you will get great responses.

My Child's Diary said...

Thank you for this post!

Would you mind taking one of your boy's questions (Little Bro's interest in electricity, for instance) and describe how you handled it? Something like a case study... How did you encourage the learning and self looking for the answers in practice? I would appreciate very much learning from your experience...

The Sunshine Crew said...

Thank you for the nice comments.
@My Child's Diary & others who have emailed me about a case study of how I handle it when the boys have questions to foster their self discovery and learning:
Usually, I jot down their questions. Just write them and then, would try to think of what I could put out on the shelves to give them an opportunity to explore their lines of questioning.I also look for connections: the 3 connections I look for is to self(meaning themselves, not me), other people (starting with the inter-connectedness of the boys and working to the broader others) and other ideas (the essential questions)...
So, for Little Bro and his questions specific questions about electricity, I tie them into his other questions and ideas, then, tie them in with some of the lines of questions that Big Bro has that connect or cross over in some way, and then, questions that maybe my hubby or I have considered about the same sort of topic, and then, to what others have shared about their ideas on the topic...
then, with respect to work for the shelves or mini explorations:
For instance, with Little Bro
and electricity, items to have in prominent places on the shelves for now:
a small balloon, a mirror, and a carpet square, to explore static electricity, the Snap Circuits Set( that actually is sitting on our kitchen table this morning, waiting to be used by the boys together, as they both want to do projects from this kit as their first morning work), elements from a Science Wiz kit we have about electricity, as well as books on thunderstorms, electric inventions, inventors & inventions, child friendly biographies on Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison, etc.
Since Big Bro is currently interested in exploring questions related to pirates, pioneers, and cowboys, will be sharing stories about the hardships in the lives of the pioneers who traveled West before electricity was invented, as well as how things have changed for cowboys - comparing and contrasting life for them before and after electricity and other modern conveniences came to be...
have not tied in pirates yet, but might do so insofar as tying in the concept of how security has changed to prevent piracy on the waters with the age of better safety and monitoring equipment...but the key is to have the materials out and ready for the mornings for our Montessori inspired work period, but then, to take the time to share books, take field trips, and do hands on projects together that tie in with the essential questions in the afternoons.While we explore in the afternoon, will encourage the boys to share their thoughts about how their questions connect with each other.
As they get a little older, I will start to take more and more notes on Post-It Notes, as it works as a wonderful visual, concrete model for the boys to start to write down their questions and then, their connections, and then, to get them to do the same using Post-It Notes. If you have the chance to read the following books, they are awesome:
Strategies that Work and nonfiction Matters by Stephanie Harvey and Mosaic of Thought by Keene & Zimmerman. These are geared for a little older child, but it gives you a great framework for trying to help a child make discoveries for themselves. You just then need to tweak it for a younger child and to make it a a little more along the lines of Montessori...sometimes, the connections are far easier to make, but once you get in the habit of trying to look for connections and get your children to get in the habit of looking for connections, they start to do it on their own and many times, will pull concepts and ideas together that maybe you had not even considered.Hope that this is helpful. I will do some more posts walking through this process in the future.

mom2girls said...

Wow what a great post, one of my daughters pretty much wants to find all her own answers, she is highly gifted and knows more than me by a long shot LOL (she is ten and alot of what she is doing in history and LA is at a high school level now) my six year old is a momma's girl and we plunder threw lifes questions together, trying to find answers in books on very occationaly on the internet. In rare situations we will watch a DVD if it goes with a huge intrest but for the most part that box stay off in my home ;)
My six year old is currently asking alot of questions about Moomins and Snork Maidens (a series of boos from Finland in the 1940's-1970's) we are reading them, loving them and talking about them, non-stop. I think we will do a Finland project from it soon :)

Kerryanne Cummins said...

Funny you should post this now...we just had a funny and very unexpected conversation about where babies come from, because of one of these "questions"..
my 6yr old says "how long does it take my food to travel thru my body?" at dinner, so after he went to bed, I pulled out a book called "why my body needs sleep and other answers to questions about your body". I left open the page with the answer, so he could read THE PAGE, he did and he found his answer (1-2 days) but I didnt realize he read thru the WHOLE book which I have NOT and shortly after he says "Mama, I didnt know humans start as eggs? Me-"ah-oh!
yep all the answers he needs, he can find on his own! I think I am in the clear as no other question came up...until a WEEK later in the car he pipes up "Mama, the doctor took me out of your tummy right?" (both were C-sections), I explained what that ment...a few minuets go by and he says.."I read in that book that some babies come out of a hole between your legs"- Me- yes that is right. He says" I cant remember what that is call thou? Whats that called again?" Me -deep breath..."a v....."(not sure how appropriate it would be to right that on your blog) anyway it was accually a nice relaxed way to start a conversaion I thought would not be for a while still.
I LOVE being able to be the one he has these conversations with instead of his peers!

My Child's Diary said...

Thank you very much for the thorough respond!

Martianne said...

When I was still a classroom teacher, we did some wonderful emergent curriculum and discovery type lessons using questions like these.

Now I mentor for's curriculum planning, which uses a lesson planning framework based on essential questions, which is a bit different from "from the child ones" but is a good framework between traditional planning and following the child.

Keeping inquiry at the center of learning can be so beneficial for all regarding both energy and retention.

On another note, I wanted to let you know that I wrote another Reggio-inspired post in case you do a future Reggio Wendesday. feel free to include the links:


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