Inquiry-Based Curriculum in Early Childhood Education
- Fikile Nxumalo, Fikile NxumaloUniversity of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
- Lisa-Marie GagliardiLisa-Marie GagliardiUniversity of Western Ontario
- and Hye Ryung WonHye Ryung WonFlorida State University
Inquiry-based curriculum is a responsive approach to education in which young children are viewed as capable protagonists of their learning. Inquiry-based curriculum has the potential to challenge the dominance of developmental psychology as the primary way of understanding young children’s learning. This approach to curriculum-making also disrupts the instrumentalist “technician” image of the early childhood educator. Practices of inquiry-based curriculum can also extend beyond the early childhood classroom as a potentially transformative teacher education tool, and as a research methodology that counters dominant deficit discourses of childhood. Inquiry-based curriculum in North American early childhood education has been greatly influenced by the Reggio Emilia approach, which is a powerful alternative to predetermined theme-based didactic curriculum. The revolutionary possibilities of inquiry-based curriculum, inspired by Reggio Emilia, are not standardized frameworks to be copied in practice; rather, they create critical entry points into contextual, creative, rigorous, meaningful, and justice-oriented curriculum. One of these entry points is the practice of pedagogical documentation, which not only makes children’s learning visible but also enables educators’ and researchers’ critical reflection. Such reflections can act to foreground the complex, political, and dialogical thinking, doing, and exchanging that happens in inquiry-based early childhood education classrooms. Reggio Emilia–inspired inquiry-based curriculum has brought attention to the important role of the arts in young children’s inquiries. Important research in this area includes work that has put new materialist perspectives to work to gain insight into new pedagogical and curricular possibilities that are made possible by attuning to children’s relations with materials, where materials are active participants in learning. While more research is needed in this area, recent research has also engaged with how attention to the arts and materials does not preclude attending to and responding to issues of race and racialization. In U.S. early learning contexts, an important area of research in inquiry-based curriculum has demonstrated that this approach, alongside a pedagogy of listening, is central to shifting deficit-based practices with historically marginalized children. This is important work as access to dynamic inquiry-based curriculum remains inaccessible to many young children of color, particularly within increasing policy pressures to prepare children for standardized testing. Finally, there is a growing body of work that is investigating possibilities for inquiry-based curriculum that is responsive to the inequitably distributed environmental precarities that young children are inheriting. This work is an important direction for research in inquiry-based curriculum as it proposes a radical shift from individualist and humanist modes of understanding childhood and childhood learning.