Inquiry Science

inquiry: (in·qui·ry)


1. a: the act of inquiry (learn by inquiry) b: a request for information
2. a search for knowledge
3. a careful examination, INVESTIGATION
                                            Merriam-Webster Dictionary


Thinking Like a Scientist: Inquiry Learning

If you already work with young children, you know that they have an insatiable sense of wonder and innate curiosity for the world around them. Scientists, too, are engaged in the world around them in the pursuit of knowledge. With inquiry learning, children can begin to "think like scientists" by being encouraged to ask questions, explore, and reflect upon what they discover in the world around them.

By "inquiry" we mean the process of gaining knowledge through questioning and exploring. Science in Pre-K applies inquiry science as an age-appropriate approach to learning science that allows young children to make discoveries and ask questions with the guidance of a teacher. Children learn by doing, observing and reflecting. Inquiry science learning happens throughout the school year, not in just one lesson plan. Science inquiry encourages young children to explore the world around them, in their own way, deeply over time.

Elements of Inquiry

The inquiry approach includes various elements that enhance the learning process for young children. They include:

Getting Ready: Developing an Inquiry-Rich Environment
Open Exploration
Focused Exploration 
Science Talks and Reflection


These Elements of Inquiry are broken down into five parts in the inquiry cycle chart below:


This chart is a visual to illustrate the way in which the inquiry approach is cyclical and iterative over time. For the start of a new inquiry topic, teachers will move through these phases at an appropriate pace for your students. Once students have an opportunity to reach the end of the cycle and reflect on their learning, this is the time to introduce new inquiry challenges in your inquiry topic. You can also introduce an entirely new topic at this time. As students explore new materials and observe scientific phenomena around them, they will ask more questions and thus deepen their inquiry.

Remember, even when your class has moved on with a new topic, students may still be interested in exploring previous topics at the same time — this is strongly encouraged in inquiry! 


A Teacher's Role

Teacher Demonstrates Water Pump

Teachers have an important role in facilitating the learning process and to see the "big picture" in how their students grow. While the Science in Pre-K approach promotes that children explore on their own with appropriate materials, the feedback, engagement, and responses that the teacher offers his or her students is equally important to the learning process. By validating children's theories, even if they are not scientifically "correct," children will continue to grow and ask more questions to reach more accurate conclusions about the world around them. By giving your students the tools to "think like a scientist," they will continue to be filled with a sense of wonder for discovery. 

For more information, see our Teacher Response Guidesheet