Kids ask an inordinate number of questions every day.

  • What’s for dinner?
  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Can a grasshopper jump up to our deck?
  • Why do people like non-stick stkillets?
  • Is it better to use parsnips or carrots with pork?
  • Can you make cookies puffier if you use different ingredients?
  • How long does it take to charge an electric toothbrush?
  • Will the geese come back next year?
  • Would it be smarter for me to eat potato chips or peanuts?
  • Why do apples brown?
  • Does shape matter for radar visibility?
  • How does a linear accelerator work?
  • How can we keep our local park cleaner?
  • Who is the best athlete in the world?
  • Why were certain countries on each side of WWII?

As the mom, I try to answer many of the questions they ask but let’s be honest I don’t know all the answers and even when I do know the answer, I intentionally do not answer all of them. Why? Because I truly feel it is important that the boys sit with some question that they must dig into and explore themselves. Kids can find answers to many of their own questions and who are we to minimize their learning and stifle their ability to work through and think about something.

While the boys could take a look at their questions right away, we usually write them down and then once every four to six weeks each child chooses their most burning question and spends the week exploring their answer through research and experimenting. This research and experimenting takes the place of all our traditional school subjects for the entire week. If the question they are working on doesn’t take the entire week, they can either dig deeper into the subject they started with or they can pick out another burning question and start again.

If you would like to start inquiry weeks, I would recommend doing the first week as a family. Most children, though they are very capable of doing their own research and experimenting, are not used to being given that type of freedom and they require a bit of guidance. Here are the steps I would recommend working through.

  1. Choose a burning question.
  2. Consider the schema – aka prior knowledge, background knowledge – you have.
  3. Make a hypothesis of what you think could be the answer to your question.
  4. Spend some time researching the concept without directly researching the answer to your question, if possible.
  5. Revise your hypothesis.
  6. Set up a way to test your hypothesis. This may be a science experiment, an interview with an expert, a survey or questionnaire, a social experiment or it may mean further research with a more direct focus. Occasionally, this means brainstorming several answers to a problem – i.e. How can we keep our local park cleaner? – before choosing one and trying it something like an experiment without perfectly controlled variables.
  7. Consider what you learn from your test and draw a conclusion.
  8. Share what you learned with others. In our house sharing can be a presentation, a pamphlet, a website, a research paper or any other way of distributing information.

Inquiry sounds hard but truly it is one of the smartest and simplest ways to allow children the space to think and to learn to find their own answers – a skill that is invaluable. Keep your weeks smart. Keep them simple.