Often children's questions are about the things they observe. They ask questions like: What makes it snow? Why do rainbows appear? Why does the ice on the sidewalk disappear? What makes the night? Where do the stars come from? Children are filled with these wonder questions and are also filled with their own answers! One question can lead to days of delightful group-time discussions, and eventually, activities and explorations. You can think of these important discussions as the perfect January activity to get children excited about group time again. This is also a great time to involve them in creating curriculum for the rest of the year-and to beat the winter doldrums!
Start Where They Are
The beauty of using children's questions about life to inspire discussions is that it invites children to work collectively toward a common goal. Also, the process starts where children are-their interests, wonderments, and prior knowledge. These ideas build into what they want to find out.
Often the most meaningful learning experiences come from children's own inquisitive natures. The natural events of a classroom or of children's lives are the richest sources of child-initiated curriculum ideas.
Build a Curriculum
One example of how a class used questions at group time to create discussions, community, and curriculum started with a lively conversation about ice and snow. The children had just returned to school after a snow day. Some noticed that the ice on the sidewalk was melted by playtime, but had been frozen solid when they arrived. Other children wondered about what made the snow. Where did it come from? How is it different from rain? What happens if we take the snow inside the classroom? What do snowflakes look like?
Share Their Theories
These questions led children to express their own theories. Some had very practical answers: When it gets cold, rain turns to snow. Others had very creative answers: The clouds are shedding like my dog! All ideas were recorded on chart paper. Children then shared what they already knew about the topic by sharing their experiences with snow and ice. One child told what happened when he "saved" a snowball overnight in his jacket pocket! Each child's thoughts add to the group's prior knowledge base.
From this richness of wonderment, full-blown investigations are born. Children's questions generated ideas for exploring how ice melts and what snowflakes look like. For example, children suggested putting snowballs in containers all over the classroom and watching to see how long they take to melt in different locations. The results were recorded and shared at the next group meeting. Another group covered cardboard with black felt and placed it in the freezer for half an hour. They then took the pieces outside with magnifying glasses to catch and observe the snowflakes. Children's drawings of the snowflakes were shown at the next group time. These drawings helped lead the discussion of what they found out about the shapes of snowflakes!
An important part of this process is gathering information from books. In the case of the snow exploration, a local weather reporter was invited to group time to talk about ice and snow. Discussions about safety while walking and driving on ice led to another investigation. Children froze flat pans of water and brought them to group time. They then experimented with moving small toy cars and dolls across the ice. They all decided it's important to go slow!
At the end of all of these investigations, children gathered to share what they learned about snow and ice. They went back to their original questions and discussed what they discovered in their investigations. Children's findings were recorded on chart paper to be later compiled into a class book. Not surprisingly, they all just can't wait until the next snow day!