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Inquiry-Based Classrooms for Early Childhood Education

Instructional practices, curricular design and leadership are some of the courses in an online doctorate in education in curriculum and instruction. Program graduates who focus on elementary administration often later find opportunities to shape schools and districts to develop inquiry-based classrooms. When administrators encourage teachers to use guided inquiry in the classroom, students reap lasting benefits.

What Is Inquiry-Based Learning?

The role of the teacher in an inquiry-based classroom dramatically differs from the role in a teacher-focused setting. Inquiry-based learning requires the teacher to lead students into a topic through guided inquiry. In the traditional early childhood educational setting, the teacher imparts knowledge directly to students, such as the fundamentals of numbers and letters as well as basic writing skills. The traditional setting also arranges students in rows, facing the teacher for one-sided educational exchanges.

An inquiry-based early childhood classroom, however, positions the teacher within the group. The teacher leads students into exploring topics, arriving at conclusions and learning through guided inquiry rather than direct instruction and rote memory. Teachers ask open-ended questions, and students know that there may or may not be a right answer. Students get the opportunity to interact not only with the teacher but also with each other.

Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

Early childhood education that makes use of inquiry-based learning gives children more opportunities to express themselves, to experiment with topics and methods and to try out new technologies than they would receive in a traditional classroom setting. When teachers lead young students through guided inquiry, the children feel more like they are at play than they would in a teacher-focused lesson. Further, the openness of the inquiry-based classroom gives students a sense of freedom that leads to deeper engagement with instructional material.

Challenges for the Teacher

Many teachers find that guided inquiry poses unique challenges, even if it does offer a number of rewards. Depending on the school or district, teachers may need to ensure that their students reach a predetermined level of academic performance on standardized assessments. Teachers may also find it difficult to develop lessons that both help students master concrete subject matter and encourage their engagement.

Sometimes, students may want to take a lesson in a direction that does not match the overall teaching objectives, which requires teachers to rein in the discussion in a way that seems counterproductive. Administrators can help faculty prepare for these contingencies with professional development and mentoring to improve their classroom management skills.

When children have the opportunity at a young age for positive classroom experiences, they develop beneficial self-images and learn to invest in their own academic fates. As they progress through their academic careers, these students are more likely to seek out opportunities for creative personal expression, and they commonly struggle less with concentration and curiosity. These students are open to studying topics that might otherwise seem uninteresting, and in greater depth.

Despite the challenges associated with inquiry-based learning in early education, administrators do their students a great service by encouraging student-focused and student-directed learning.

Learn about the University of South Carolina's online Ed.D. in Curriculum & Instruction program.


ASCD: Guided Inquiry in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning

Teachers Network: Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

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