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Summertime Inquiry Projects for Toddlers

Summertime is upon us! And if you’re anything like me, you’re already wondering how you are going to keep your kid busy without losing your mind. Well, don’t lose hope. I’m here to tell you that summer offers the perfect opportunity to let your child’s curiosity run wild as they dig deep into their interests.

Inquiry-based learning is a beautiful thing because it starts with a question. Your child might wonder why a marble doesn’t move when placed on the couch opposed to a ramp. Or your child might be super interested in different types of butterflies, birds, or trees. You might hear questions like:

  • Why is that butterfly blue and yellow?
  • Why is my dog big?
  • What do lizards eat?
  • Why does the paint look like that? (when mixing colors)

If your child is non-verbal, observe your child closely & make an educated guess about what they are really into at the moment. Are they enjoying sensory exploration? Water play? What about watching cars go down a ramp? Swings? Dogs? Helping with household chores?

Right now, H is really really loving snails. It all started when she found a snail under a pot in our yard. The next day she found another snail. And another. Every day, she wants to go outside and see if she can find a snail. So I really wanted to take advantage of her interest and run with it!

It’s important to remember that children lose interest in topics all the time! So don’t feel bad if your child is super into snails one day, and moves on to butterflies the next. This is very normal & one of the best parts of inquiry-based learning. You may end up finding a theme emerge through these connected inquiries (baby animals, animals that lay eggs, bugs in the yard, growing up, etc.)

Here are four steps you can take to start an inquiry project with your little this summer:

Let Them Lead

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Picture of Harper putting a leaf under the snail to see if the snail will eat the leaf

This is the most important step. Before you can start an inquiry project, there has to be interest. The goal is for your child to be really curious about something. The best way to figure out if your child is really interested in something is to listen & observe. What are they drawn to? How are they expressing their interests through play? What do they keep talking about? I could have easily missed out on the opportunity to develop a project around snails, but I was fully present with H when she found that tiny snail. And I called it a slug. So Justin corrected me. And so the journey began…

Encourage & Expand Knowledge

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Picture of Harper coloring the snail eggs as she refers to the book about snails to the right
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Picture of Harper showing me how snails move
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Picture of “Are You a Snail” by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries and “Snail-Snaily-Snails” by Bonnie Bader

I woke up this morning & H was already reading one of her snail books. She immediately said, “Mom draw me snail eggs.” Although I was eager to brew my pot of coffee, I got out some paper and helped her get started. When children see us engage with their interests, whether it’s playing on the ground with shiny CDs, parallel play with dolls, or organizing items into categories, they know we value them and their ways of communicating with the world.

So engage with your child’s interests and help them expand their knowledge through showing videos, reading books, and talking to them about what they are figuring out.

Create a Book of Wonder

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The cover of Harper’s Book of Wonder
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Picture of Harper’s thoughts about snails, documented in her Book of Wonder

The Book of Wonder is a modified version of Claire Warden’s Floorbook Approach. Floorbooks are blank books where teachers & parents record children’s voices, actions, and their ideas. This child centred approach records the evidence of the process of play and the learning that comes from it.

To create this floorbook, I used large brown packing paper we found in a huge roll at Home Depot. I cut it into large squares & duct-taped the top. It’s a super simple way to record what H says, draws, and how she expands her knowledge about snails.

If your child is nonverbal, a wonderful way to document learning is through pictures. You can take pictures of your child, print them out, & record why the picture is significant. Of course you can document their learning online, too, but what I love about the tangible floorbook is that kids seem to really engage with them.

Starting an inquiry project with your child this summer will help you connect with your child, fill up those long summer days, and expand your knowledge! What are your plans for the summer?

With much heart,

April

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