Inquiry Spaces

I was asked to explain in greater detail what I mean by inquiry spaces with documentation. The photos that I have attached to this post are from different inquiry spaces within our room and they have a few things in common:

~materials specific for each inquiry are intentionally organized to provoke the students and made available to them for their exploration/investigation
~documentation binders are accessible that hold: students' working theories through dialogues with them, their graphic representations (drawings, paintings, etc.), and photos of their process to make visible our work together
~photos enlarged of key learning moments for students to revisit
~some of their graphic representations of key learning moments are displayed with transcriptions of their thoughts
~clipboards for educators to take anecdotal notes of conversations and observations
~print resources and technology (laptop, iPads) for the children to research further about the inquiry topic
~technology used for documentation (camera, laptop, audio recorder, SMARTboard, iPad, etc.)
~FDELK program document and teacher professional resources to support the directions of the inquiry

This is an example of our "Sky Inquiry" space, which included many
of our students.  It is one of our largest inquiry spaces within the room.

Our "Science and Discovery Inquiry" space had multiple inquiries
("A Home for Snails" and "Growth") and used a variety of surfaces.

Our "Tree Contest" turned into an inquiry space that
 investigated the possibility of creating a life-sized forest.

Our "Flower Inquiry" space allowed children to observe the
life-cycle of fresh bouquets of flowers and how they change.

Our "Castle Inquiry" space was sparked by a students'
visit to Slovenia and her photos of real castles.

I hope that this clarifies what I mean by inquiry spaces!  Please let me know if you have any further questions, and I would be happy to answer them! :)

Share your thoughts :

  1. Thank you for sharing. Your space is so inviting and the amount of time and care you put into every detail is extraordinary.

  2. Thanks for sharing more information and thanks also for the photos of your beautiful classroom learning environment. This is something that I am thinking a lot about implementing in the new school year. Do you find that there is any mor time invested in the planning and documenting process with this approach, rather than using a mor centralized system at a teacher desk?

    P.S. I love the description saying that rain is the clouds sweating!

  3. Your inquiry spaces are so provocative and seem to foster real investment and ownership of the investigation. It seems that most things you do are framed as inquiries, with means for representing, in some way, the experience of the investigation. It's rich! This is a very rudimentary question, but what is your daily routine like in your Kindergarten class?

  4. I am really interested to know how these inquiries start and how you come up with ways to keep extending the exploration. I am going to really need to work on getting away from my regular question and answer routine and work towards asking questions as responses to questions. This coming year will be my second year of teaching, and my first as a K teacher. I too am very interested in your daily routine. One thing I sort of find perplexing is wht to do from 9-330.

  5. Great feedback and questions everyone! Thanks so much!!

    I will post more about my "flow" of the day (daily routines) within another post.

    I invest a great deal of time during the school day working on pedagogical documentation. The documentation serves as reflective tool for further planning, as well as makes our learning visible.

  6. Hi Joanne. Love your blog and check it all the time. I've passed it on to many others already. Can you tell me where you buy mirrors to use in your class? I assume they aren't regular glass mirrors with sharp edges.

  7. Hi Ingrid...The ones that I use which appear to be similar to Joanne's were circle mirrors with bevelled edges from Ikea. Annette

  8. Thank you both for visiting the blog and passing it along to others.

    Yes I buy my mirrors from Ikea.

    The ones at the dollar store break easily, so if I use them then I glue them onto something like a wooden frame.

  9. Moitreyee ChowdhuryAugust 26, 2012 at 2:02 AM

    I love it! I would like some suggestion about how I can incorporate Reggio Emilia inspired process in the following situation.
    1. A 45 minute art class, for 18 to 3 years and 3 years to 5 years.
    2. The space is not permanent. I have it reserved for that time only.
    3. The projects can not be too messy.

  10. Hmmmm...

    That will be challenging, as part of the "process" is preserving the learning traces in the classroom to begin again the next time you're in the space. Another challenge is that the creative process is often messy before it is beautiful.

    How many children will you have for the 45 minutes? That matters too!! You don't want to force upon thirty students the same art task. It should be invitational, and for this reason you may consider having a few provocations around the room. This may mean a lot of carrying, since the space is temporary.

    Start small by bringing in a variety of materials for them to explore with:

    1) Loose parts (natural materials)
    2) Recycled materials
    3) Light and Shadow play (light table, mirrors, beads)
    4) High quality art materials (pastels, charcoal, sketch pencils, acrylic paint)

    I'm not sure if this is helpful!

    Thanks for visiting the blog,


  11. Hi Joanne! I am a new follower of your work and I am amzed by all the new techniques I am learning from you! This is very new to me! I have a question what ages do you teach?

  12. Thanks for your visit!

    I'm glad that you are learning from our blog!!

    We teacher children ages 3.5-6 years.

  13. Hi,

    it's me again, I am totally loving your insightful blog. I placed the link on this post in my article on documenting engagement.

    Keep it up, you are such an inspiration!


  14. Thanks so much Lana!!

    I am going to check out your article now!

    Thank you so much for sharing our link and for taking the time to comment.

    I'm glad that the blog is reaching out to other educators who are equally as passionate about the early years!!

  15. Hi Joanne,
    I was wondering where you purchased the taupe coloured tablecloloths for your classroom? I have blue tables and was hoping to cover them. I really like the look of your tables and it looks like pretty strong fabric.

    1. Hi Beth,

      I completely understand your motives of covering your blue tables!!

      I purchased them at Fabric Land. They are a strong plasticky fabric that can easily be cleaned. It came in a roll and we cut it according the sizes of our various tables.

      Thanks for stoping by,


  16. Thanks Joanne! I continue to be inspired by your blog and see some of your work on Pinterest. I am learning lots! Have a wonderful long weekend!

    1. Thanks Beth!

      I love Pinterest! So many fabulous ideas!

      Enjoy your weekend too,


  17. Hi Joanne
    I love your blog I am on here everday, you are so inspirational. I am wondering how you introduce an inquiry? Do you just leave things out? Have they brought up the topic earlier? Also what is inside the binders? Pictures of the children at the inquiry table, some of their work? Thanks so much I am trying to wrap my brain around this way of teaching it is new for me.

    1. Oh wow! Thank you for visiting the blog each and every day! That really makes me motivated to keep blogging and coming up with unique and useful material to share!

      I appreciate your kind feedback and comment!

      This way of teaching is new for all of us! I love your questions and have noted them in my little "blog ideas" book. I will try to post about them really soon!

      Thank you,


  18. I would love to read more about your Flower Inquiry. :)

  19. Hi Joanne
    Thank you so much for your generous postings. This fall I will be teaching FDK for the first time. Up until now I've taught grades 3 - 11! After 4 EQAO years, I am looking forward to creating a reggio - inspired environment.

  20. Hi Joanne! I had seen the new classroom set up (before and after shots) and was really impressed with the changes you had made (I actually showed some of your pictures and directed some of the Mongolian teachers that I was teaching to your blog- it was perfect for them to see how a learning environment can be set up to invite children to play and learn. But now I see these changes in action and children working in these spaces, and the transformation has come alive! It's really beautiful! I live and work in Mongolia, and part of what I do is train teachers and directors and people who work with children. Your blog posts fit right down that alley! Thank you :-)I haven't posted on my blog for a while, but if you are interested it is

  21. Hi Joanne
    I love you blog. Very beautiful pictures. Just wondering how you get the insides of the tin cans smooth so that children do not cut themselves on them.
    Thank you for the info.

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  23. I really love your ideas! I'm teaching grade one next year and have taught kindergarten for 4 years. I am really excited about transforming my room into a warm, comfortable environment. I really like the idea of using less colour and making the area warm and inviting. It's very inspirational to read ideas on the internet. I've been teaching for 14 years and I am always looking for ideas to inspire my students and me. I am so looking forward to ideas on inquiry learning and creating a warm comfortable space. Thanks so much for all your hard!

  24. Hello! I love looking at your blog for inspiration and ideas. One thing I struggle with when planning a provocation/ inquiry space is setting it up so kids are drawn to the space/ know what to do once they are there. Are these spaces only unveiled after being discussed at length during a meeting time? Also, my kids aren't able to write down their "plan" yet, as they are 4&5. Any suggestions for the younger kiddos?

  25. I struggle with the work you are doing. I think that the student learning has been lost among examples of themes concealed as inquiries. You are leading educators down a very misleading path. The inquiry has become a noun, i.e. "the castle inquiry". The castle is the student interest, or the vehicle, to get at the learning. There is no mention of castles within the kindergarten document. However, making connections is within the document. We need to focus on these bigger ideas within the curriculum.The students need to know what learning is occurring. Perhaps you did this, however what was posted on your blog was the castle as the focus. As we try to move educators from a place of teaching to a place of studying the learning, I find your blog counterproductive.

  26. Dear Anonymous,

    The work that I am sharing is a journey of learning that began four years ago in FDK. I have never claimed to be "right" or an "expert." I am sorry that you are struggling with the work that I am doing, but I think that it is important to note this post was made in 2012.

    Since then, I do not name my inquiries based on a topic (e.g., Castle Inquiry, Sky Inquiry, etc.), instead I try to capture some of the students questions on learning shared as a means to describe it. Not that I need to defend myself, but as I have been travelling on this journey I have noticed a huge shift in my understanding of inquiry learning and documentation. In my last few presentations, I shared an example of a stronger inquiry where students learned about living things v.s. a weaker example of our Snowflake Inquiry. The Snowflake Inquiry, upon reflecting on the documentation, read more as a series of creative experiences integrating the curriculum and notion of a hundred languages but similar to that of a theme. It did not have a strong question that guided the learning, and became a variety of snowflake activities over deep investigation/learning. My biggest realization thus far, has been that even though students may appear to show a strong interest in a topic that could lead us down the path of a student created theme. Therefore, this is not different than the way we used to teach, but rather than us having a pre-determined theme, the theme/topic comes from the students.

    I appreciate your comment, however, feel that it was written with a judgemental tone. If you ever want to reveal your identity and chat about this further, I am always open to learning and improving. For now, I will remain another voice to share my personal experiences with early learning and the ongoing conversation about inquiry.

    Thanks for your critique. All feedback is welcome, even if it isn't positive. Of course there are many other kindergarten blogs out there for you to explore. I am one of many!


  27. Dear Anonymous,
    I think that when we come up against something that we struggle with or disagree with that it is actually an opportunity to examine our own thinking more closely. Challenges can regarded as opportunities.
    I appreciate Joanne's generosity as she shares her practice with others. She offers a very transparent look into her practice for the children, families, colleagues, administrators and communities. She creates spaces and opportunities for children to make connections with their environment, the materials in this environment and with other people. In these spaces learning occurs. These connections or relationships are, in my opinion, recognized as the biggest of all ideas in the Ontario Ministry of Education documents.
    Also, In my opinion, pedagogical documentation has the potential to make connections and relationships visible in all activities and provides opportunities for children, educators and families to reflect on learning and become aware of their own subjective interpretations of what is being learned and what learning is.
    Thank you for your comments to challenge me to write about my thinking.
    Best wishes for a wonderful day of learning!

  28. Hi, Joanne!
    I am a new follower of your blog and I am extremely inspired by your work. I am currently a senior in college, studying to be a teacher. The work that you are doing directly reflects everything that I am learning about Reggio-inspired classrooms, and meaningful curriculum development for young children. It is clear that you devote considerable thought to how your classroom environment provides provocations and resources for children's learning. Your classroom reflects many positive aspects of aesthetic appeal (Greenman, 1987).
    I completely agree with you about the importance in documentation of learning. Not only can the documentation help you; the teacher, in reflecting on practices and guiding curriculum, but it is a great way to make learning visible to the students. You do a beautiful job of emphasizing the process of learning, rather than merely focusing on the end result. I noticed the student portfolios in another post, and love the idea of students visually representing their thoughts and keeping records of their learning to revisit and reflect on.
    Your use in inquiry spaces is outstanding. I have to disagree with the previous commenter who “struggles with the work you are doing.” These inquiry spaces are ways to stimulate curiosity, inspiration, and wonder. They are ways to stimulate sensory exploration, manipulation, and critical thinking. I am amazed, and greatly inspired by the work that you are doing, and am hopeful and excited to be entering such an important profession. I will continue to follow, and share this blog! I am interested to know more about the daily routine in your classroom and how you approach classroom management.
    Thank you for sharing and inspiring!