by Wendy Warren

As many parents are now faced with helping their children learn at home,I want to share some information about something that could make your lives a whole lot easier: help your children (and yourselves!) rekindle the spark of your natural curiosity.

Each Thursday, the Facebook Post for the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center will be called “Thinking Thursday.” I’ll past an inquiry-based prompt and ask readers to go out and notice something about the natural world that makes them curious. They can record their questions—and then set to work trying to find answers to their questions. This is where parents can play an important role. You can model asking questions, too—questions you don’t know the answers to. This is the nature of inquiry. It happens best in community. If there is someone in your learning community or family who is tempted to rush to answers, they’re often not going deep enough. This may cause the community to miss the possibly of finding the ways everything in the world is connected to everything else.

If someone in your learning community is tempted to act is if they “know-it-all,” it’s a good time for a gentle reminder that nobody knows it all, and if we rush to what we think is an answer to a question, we miss the opportunity to ask more questions—which will take us even deeper into learning.

“Dueling Squirrels” by ICK9S [M. H. Stephens]  is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
            This week, my Thinking Thursday post invited people to go into their backyards and simply watch what’s happening there. The best thing that could happen is if they begin to notice something new. Yes, maybe they’ve seen a thousand squirrels, but have they ever watched what they’re doing—where they are going as they hop from tree to tree—and what they are eating? The best thing that could happen is for you also raise your own genuine questions. Today, for example, I saw a squirrel carrying and then eating a catkin. If you don’t know what a catkin is, I’ll let you be curious about that, too.

I didn’t know squirrels ate catkins, though, and that made me curious. Once you have a question, or two, or five, you and your child can talk about ways you could possibly discover answers. Eventually, this will lead to conversations about reliable and unreliable sources—and designing your own experiments.

Great! For me, I asked my naturalist friend if he knew squirrels eat catkins, and he said yes. He added that they’re filled with pollen and pollen is almost pure protein. That’s something else I didn’t know. This information leads me to a whole series of new questions—and now you see how inquiry works. It’s so simple. And it can lead to some of the best and most complex learning people can ever do.

So, during this time of pandemic, we can rejoice that we’re not isolated from the natural world. This might just be the perfect opportunity to reconnect—and get curious. I hope you’ll join me every Thursday to think together on the Berea College Forestry Outreach Facebook page.

If you’re like to learn more about inquiry-based learning, the book Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Children’s Environmental Inquiry is a great place to start. It’s written by Doug Anderson, Julie Comay, and Lorraine Chiarotto.

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