Guiding Principles

  • Explorations K
  • Explorations 1
  • Explorations 2

Explorations K - Guiding Principles

The Young Child

Children’s natural curiosity and inquisitiveness leads them to explore their environment and materials, and to build relationships with others.

Children enter school with a wide range of previous experiences. Some attended daycare and preschool programs, where they had daily opportunities to explore, play, and learn alongside children their age. For other children, kindergarten is a first experience outside the home environment, where they may have been with or without siblings and extended family. Children arrive in the kindergarten classroom with varying levels of proficiency in and comfort with English. This range of experience may show up in children’s social interactions and familiarity with daily routines.

While the differences in background and experience may be great, all children have one thing in common: their curious and inquisitive nature leads them to spend most of their time playing and exploring. Explorations supports the establishment of different learning areas where children can spend uninterrupted time daily—learning as they explore, play, and inquire.

The Young Child as Learner

Young children develop at different rates and in different ways, and benefit more from learning experiences when they have strategies for regulating their own behaviour.

Current research points to self-regulation as critical to the way in which a child successfully engages in school life. The young child who stays calm, focused, and alert will be better able to monitor emotional responses, regulate arousal, deal with frustrations, sequence thoughts, negotiate with others, and integrate and process information.

Young children have the opportunity to practise the tools of self-regulation when they

  • choose and plan their activities, revise them, and reflect on their decisions and choices
  • investigate and solve problems and present solutions
  • exchange ideas with others and consider differing points of view
  • use their observations to form hypotheses and then test them out to form answers
  • engage in a task and see it to completion

Explorations offers many such opportunities, both child-initiated and teacher-guided.

Learning Through Inquiry and Play

Through play, children learn a wide range of concepts and skills that contribute to their emotional, social, physical, aesthetic, and cognitive development.

“Play is a child’s work.” Piaget’s statement is one that continues to resonate. To see that children are fully engaged while at play, all you have to do is watch how children delight in their play; how they immerse themselves along with others; and how they lose track of time as they explore, invent, and imagine. Engagement is recognized as a precursor for learning.

Children make sense of the world through play when it offers a challenge that is within their capacity to master. Play conjures up many images, and research describes and acknowledges many types of play.

Explorations presents you with examples of children engaged in different types of play depending on

  • the area and materials they have chosen
  • the children with whom they may be interacting
  • their current interests and passions
  • an invitation by the teacher to initiate, extend, or challenge learning

Sharing and Communicating Learning

Children learn by sharing discoveries, creations, and questions, and by listening attentively to others.

A safe and trusting environment in which children have ample opportunity to share their questions, observations, discoveries, predictions, and conclusions promotes communication, inquiry, and learning. Children who are supported in communicating in a variety of ways learn to choose the methods they feel most comfortable and confident using.

Through photographs and the following features, Explorations highlights many ways children can communicate and share their learning in each learning area.

  • Recording the Learning emphasizes how children’s understanding and learning are shared in a variety of ways, including drawing, displays of materials, dramatic play, and model making. Sometimes the teacher helps to record by transcribing, charting, photographing, and filming.
  • Sharing the Learning focuses attention on giving children the space and time to present orally and/or through demonstration. Children might choose to present to you, a classmate, a small group, or an extended audience. Such sharing may be spontaneous. A child might seek you out to show you something and then may or may not request to tell others. You support the child by helping to find an appropriate audience. Alternatively, your observations may lead you to invite a child to present new discoveries to others who you think would be interested. 

The Teacher’s Role

Teachers as researchers observe, document, assess, and confer to plan meaningful experiences and activities that emerge from and connect to children’s play.

Observing children at different learning areas helps teachers make informed decisions about the environment, materials, and the kind of activities to introduce next. Observing and listening are key to gaining insights into children’s development, interests, and ability to regulate their behaviour emotionally and socially.

In Explorations, we highlight the role of the teacher by

  • offering suggestions for Setting up the Learning Area with accessible and varied materials
  • including photographs and captions that illustrate the many different behaviours and indicators to Watch For
  • showing, through case studies, how projects may emerge in Inquiry: From Play to Project
  • expanding on how observations may prompt response, extensions, and challenges through the examples in Extending Open Exploration
  • presenting a bank of intentional activities in the Activity Menu from which to select to introduce to specific children after reflecting on your observations

Observing and Documenting

We learn about children’s interests, abilities, and knowledge through frequent observations of them at play.

Over the course of a year, ongoing observations and conversations help teachers understand children in a meaningful, relevant, and informative way in order to develop a program appropriately connected to each child. There is much to learn through listening to and observing children at play and at work in a systematic way. In the early learning world, observation is the most important aspect of assessment. Sometimes observations are planned and have a specific set purpose. Others are unplanned, such as making note of something happening with a child, an activity, or an interaction in a learning area. Both types of observation inform and direct next steps.

Helping Curriculum Emerge from Children’s Play

Responding to children’s play by asking open-ended, inquiry-based questions and offering supportive prompts can lead children to make powerful connections while promoting an emergent curriculum.

Some children are bursting to tell and show what they are exploring and what they have discovered. These children approach others with enthusiasm and are excited to share their thinking, plans, and questions. They may need little to no prompting. Other children may be reluctant to come forward, and require support and encouragement to share their ideas. As the classroom develops into a community of learners and trusting relationships grow, more children are likely to share their thinking and learning.

Attentive listening guides questioning and lets conversation evolve. Explorations offers banks of suggested questions to support you in helping children make connections to what they know, and recognizing the emerging curriculum.

Connecting to Families and the Extended Community

Strong, inclusive, and respectful partnerships with families and extended communities contribute to a rich environment and learning experiences.

Parents (and other significant adults and caregivers) are a child’s first teacher and play a lifelong role in nurturing a child’s development. As a result, they are able to provide valuable insights and information about their child to help with your planning and interactions.

Explorations values a partnership between home and school. To augment your communication with families, we offer sample Connecting Home and School letters for each learning area.. The Home Connection feature offers suggestions on ways to support, connect, or continue learning through the home environment. Ongoing contributions with the significant adults in a child’s life are valued and can be encouraged by face-to-face communication or through written notes, email, a website, and blogs.

The Environment as Teacher

An environment with varied learning areas and interesting materials invites and supports children to explore, investigate, and wonder.

The learning environment plays a significant role in supporting children’s social, emotional, artistic, physical, and cognitive development. Creating rich, inviting environments requires thought and planning. Work with children to help the settings evolve and transform into safe spaces that reflect and respect their interests, thinking, and lives, and that allow learning to arise from their play and from the relationship and interaction with materials and people. 

The learning environments in Explorations are the physical areas children visit, both indoors and outdoors. They are spaces within the school, neighbourhood, and community. In these spaces, children make choices, take risks, interact with others, solve problems, and make discoveries. These safe areas inspire learning, promote independence and self-regulation, and encourage participation and collaboration.

Explorations 1 - Guiding Principles

These principles guide the format and features of this resource.

Learning Through Inquiry

  • Children are engaged, learn deeply, and develop a wide range of concepts and skills that contribute to their emotional, social, physical, aesthetic, and cognitive development when learning through inquiry.

21st Century Learning

  • To participate fully as global citizens and workers, our children must be able to think critically and creatively, know how to work collaboratively, and be able to communicate their ideas and thinking effectively.

Sharing and Communicating Learning

  • Children learn by sharing, collaborating, and negotiating their discoveries, creations, and questions, and by listening attentively to others.

The Teacher’s Role

  • Teachers observe, document, assess, and confer to plan meaningful, culturally responsive experiences and activities that emerge from and connect to children’s interests, questions, ideas, and abilities.

Observing and Documenting

  • We learn about children’s interests, abilities, competencies, and knowledge by listening attentively to the questions they ask and the ideas they offer; observing them solve problems and explore materials and resources; attending to how and what they communicate and the representations they create; and reflecting on how their thinking, knowledge, skills, and theories change over time.

The Learning Environment

  • An environment that reflects children’s interests and offers interesting resources invites and supports children to explore, investigate, and wonder while respecting them as active architects of their own learning environment.

 

Learning Through Inquiry

  • Children are engaged, learn deeply, and develop a wide range of concepts and skills  that contribute to their emotional, social, physical, aesthetic, and cognitive development when learning through inquiry.

Young children learn a lot about their world before entering school. Their natural curiosity propels them to play and explore. In doing so they learn about how things appear, change, and work. Once their language abilities develop, they begin to ask questions. Their questions focus our attention on what they are wondering about and interested in. The idea of beginning with children’s curiosity can extend to more formal education—school—and lies at the core of learning through the lens of inquiry.
An inquiry-based learning environment is one in which children’s questions, ideas, and thinking are valued entry points to their learning. Teachers using an inquiry approach begin their planning by reflecting on children’s current interests and needs, and by reviewing their curriculum to select a topic of study. This is how most unit or lesson planning begins, but it is what happens next that sets the stage for inquiry. With a topic selected, teachers then engage children in it by offering them the opportunity to connect to prior knowledge, learning, and experiences as they

  • explore related materials and resources, and pose questions
  • participate in, and pose questions related to, a collective experience (e.g., an activity, discussion, field study, read-aloud, or video)

Teachers invite, encourage, and support children to

  • make observations and comparisons, sharing what they know and what they are interested in knowing more about
  • reflect on which questions raised are the most interesting and reasonable to pursue
  • make and carry out plans to find answers to the targeted question(s)
  • make judgments about new information and consider what is relevant to the investigation as they begin to draw conclusions
  • connect new learning to what was known, and reflect on how new knowledge may lead to further exploration, investigation, and research
  • represent, share, and communicate their new ideas, questions, and knowledge

Throughout the process, teachers are keen observers and facilitators as they connect the interests of many children to the curriculum and topics of study.

Principle in Action

An inquiry-based approach lets teachers and learners work together to create learning environments and set an agenda for learning. Explorations 1 offers a path for shifting from a set of sequenced activities in one area of the curriculum to a more dynamic process that connects curriculum and learning to what children are wondering and thinking about.
This resource offers children opportunities to wonder and question through three different features: Explore, Engage, and Invitations to Inquire. The process may begin with presenting materials and resources for children to explore openly (see Explore sections). You can observe to find out more about what interests children, what they discover, and what questions they raise. These observations inform your choices for activities suggested in the Engage and Invitations sections. Alternatively, you may begin with an activity from one of these sections and then offer resources for further exploration. This non-linear process recognizes learning as a process that moves fluidly between open and guided inquiry. The questions offered in each Engage and Invitation section support the inquiry connected to the labelled subject area(s) (see the Explorations website for more curriculum correlations). Photographs throughout each unit illustrate the different ways that children’s inquiry may be guided and connected.
Activities in this resource offer ways to engage children in inquiry through

  • wondering and posing questions, then exploring reasonable ways to find answers
  • making a plan to find information, evidence, data
  • finding, managing, assessing, and sharing information found through activities such as read-alouds; guided online searches; asking experts; interviewing community members; conducting experiments and field research; and thinking together of next steps
  • reflecting on new knowledge and revisiting questions to raise theories and speculation, and/or draw conclusions
  • connecting new learning to the targeted topic and Big Idea, in some cases making new plans or raising new questions
  • communicating, reflecting, and/or applying their new knowledge

 

21st Century Learning

  • To participate fully as global citizens and workers, our children must be able to think critically and creatively, know how to work collaboratively, and be able to communicate their ideas and thinking effectively.

An online search of “21st century learners” lasting less than half a second brought nearly 7.5 million results—one indication that there is a rich discussion underway about education and how to transform learning so that it is relevant to living and working in the 21st century.
This conversation is based on the understanding that education needs to move from a focus on knowing something to knowing how to find out about something, and then connecting the knowledge in meaningful ways. We have knowledge at our fingertips, and so do our children. We can think of the 21st century as the time when we progress from the current “information age” to a “conceptual age”; a time of a “society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers” (Pink, 2006).
Our graduates need a tool kit of developed competencies that enables them to engage in solving diverse problems, explore and create opportunities, extend their thinking and knowledge, and contribute to society with responsibility and compassion.

Principle in Action
Young children’s natural curiosity and inquisitiveness lead them to explore the world around them and build relationships with others. Explorations 1 is designed to support teachers in creating learning environments and experiences that engage and invite young children to explore and understand their world through inquiry and to develop core competencies, including

  • collaborative and respectful participation
  • critical, creative, and reflective thinking
  • personal, social, and environmental awareness and responsibility
  • communication

 

Sharing and Communicating Learning

  • Children learn by sharing, collaborating, and negotiating their discoveries, creations, and questions, and by listening attentively to others.

A safe and trusting environment in which children have opportunities to share questions, observations, discoveries, predictions, and conclusions will promote communication, inquiry, and learning. Children who are supported to express what they know and wonder in multiple ways learn to choose the methods they are the most comfortable with and confident using. They are also exposed to new methods, and viewing the work of their peers may motivate them to try something new.
The entire community of learners benefits when children share in a variety of ways (e.g., through demonstration, the arts, writing, drawing, orally):

  • Children learn to attend to and reflect on what they hear and see from others, as well as on their own learning. Listening attentively and speaking clearly develop with practice and support.
  • Children can refine and consolidate their learning as they communicate their discoveries and observations, and then reflect on and integrate the responses of their peers.
  • Children are interested in the questions, thinking, and interests of their peers. They are motivated to try different activities, pose additional questions, and offer ideas to build on the knowledge of others.
  • Children’s sense of belonging to a community of learners grows as they see how their ideas are valued and respected.
  • You can observe children’s developing literacy and numeracy skills as they communicate their learning. These observations help to guide your decisions about individual learning and classroom topics.

Principle in Action
Children communicate their learning in many ways. This resource illustrates how

  • children meet to share and reflect on their learning to build knowledge
  • work is recorded collectively, in small groups, and individually
  • learning can be conveyed through demonstration, writing, drawing, voice, model-making, and sharing artifacts and other resources

 

The Teacher’s Role

  • Teachers observe, document, assess, and confer to plan meaningful, culturally responsive experiences and activities that emerge from and connect to children’s interests, questions, ideas, and abilities.

Teachers who embrace an inquiry-based approach are open to the idea that planning is a responsive and flexible process. They observe children to learn what they know, what interests them, and what they can do. They initiate inquiry in many ways, and see that skills, thinking, learning, and understanding emerge from such situations as

  • a problem that arises naturally (How should we arrange the new books in our class library?)
  • an observation while outdoors or on a field trip (Where are the biggest puddles, and why might they be there?)
  • a question related to a current topic (Where is the best place to grow our class herb garden?)
  • a school-wide event (How do you want to contribute to celebrating our school’s 100th year?)

With an inquiry approach, a teacher’s role shifts more toward that of facilitator, one who uses core programs, curriculum documents, professional resources, and observations of children’s interests and needs to plan learning opportunities, build knowledge, and support skill development. Of course, classrooms are filled with curious children, all of whom might have different passions or interests at any one time. There is no doubt that balancing the interests and abilities of many children with the curriculum you are responsible for teaching is tricky. An inquiry approach can help children see that their interests and questions are valued, which can lead to them being more engaged in learning.
Principle in Action
Each community of learners is unique; provincial curricula and teaching practices vary, and learning environments are diverse. No one starting point suits all situations. For those new to the inquiry approach, it may be comforting to know that you are not abandoning your existing programs, curriculum, and practices. Inquiry learning is a mindset and approach that you enter into with your programs, curriculum, and best practices in your tool kit. These, along with the resources (both primary and secondary) available to you, will help you gather information; reflect on your own values, experiences, and learning; revise, confirm, or construct new practices; and explore new possibilities. Explorations 1 can support you on this journey. Note that, although this resource is linear, as a book must be, you should feel free to use the units and learning experiences in whatever order you feel best meets the interests and needs of your children, your curriculum, the environment, and the extended community.

 

Observing and Documenting

  • We learn about children’s interests, abilities, competencies, and knowledge by listening attentively to the questions they ask and the ideas they offer; observing them solve problems and explore materials and resources; attending to how and what they communicate and the representations they create; and reflecting on how their thinking, knowledge, skills, and theories change over time.

Many teachers find that ongoing observation, documentation, and conversations help them better understand children’s personalities, skills, knowledge, interests, and preferences in a meaningful and informative way. They use these understandings to make reasoned decisions about how to intertwine children’s questions, interests, and preferences with curricular requirements. Observing quietly and offering children time to reflect (make sense of a situation, process a question or information, add to their own thinking) sometimes can reveal more than jumping in with a verbal nudge or new question. With time, you will find a balance between waiting and offering well-framed, higher-order questions to help reveal a child’s thinking, opinions, and theories.
The integrated nature of inquiry learning activates more than one subject and draws on skills and content from different disciplines. Your observation will focus on the learning outcomes and expectations related to those subjects as well as the skills and processes related to the investigation.
Some observations are planned and have a specific purpose. Others are unplanned, such as noting a child’s spontaneous actions or interaction with a peer.
Principle in Action
Along with the pauses, waiting, and silences that are key to observation, you can use the reflective questions in the What to Watch For section at the beginning of each unit, as well as Watch For prompts during Explore. Each Engage and Invitation offers questions you can use or adapt to guide conversations and reflections. Each featured Extend offers questions that model how to extend a child’s interest or experience to encourage observation, promote research or experimentation, and facilitate communication. Each activity lists key curriculum links. Line Masters to support documentation of observations are available on the Explorations website.

 

The Learning Environment

  • An environment that reflects children’s interests and offers interesting resources invites and supports children to explore, investigate, and wonder while respecting them as active architects of their own learning environment.

The learning environment plays a significant role in supporting children’s social, emotional, artistic, physical, and cognitive development. Creating rich, inviting, and responsive environments requires thought, planning, and the collaboration and contribution of the children. Decisions about the social climate, physical space, and resources should embrace the principles of inquiry; inspire wonder and discovery; activate learning; and reflect and respect the ideas, opinions, and questions of the children. When children are at the centre of their learning and active participants in creating a safe, respectful environment, they feel empowered and valued as members of a community of learners.
Principle in Action
The learning environments in this resource are the spaces where children are engaged in wondering and learning. Most spaces are physical; some are visited as virtual tours. In these spaces, children observe, question, speculate, theorize, and problem-solve, often by encountering materials and primary and secondary resources that enrich these possibilities and encourage discovery, connections, research, creativity, and communication. These spaces are safe, and children can take risks and connect with others to share and negotiate ideas as they build knowledge, exchange points of view, and work toward a common understanding. These environments inspire learning, promote inquiry, facilitate independence, build self-efficacy and self-regulation, and encourage participation and collaboration.

Explorations 2 - Guiding Principles

Coming Soon