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Curating Play Spaces that Ignite Curiosity

The classroom provides endless opportunities for resources that encourage children's natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge and understanding. In this article, Jo discusses how to combine resources into playspaces that inspire and delight.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  


Curiosity may be one of the few traits in that it cannot be directly taught, but has incredible value in children’s learning. It is something we are each born with, and can be nurtured from birth through attachment and interaction.

For children, curiosity is a natural response to the many and varied stimuli around them and can provide an insatiable thirst for exploration. Along with this, comes the often frequent and repetitive questions in their quest for knowledge, through first-hand experience.

Albert Einstein once said ‘The mind that opens us to a new idea never returns to its original size’ which is pertinent not only to children but to adults too - especially if encouraged in early learning environments.

The exploration of new ideas and questioning ways to do things can potentially generate fear in the eyes of adults, who are caring for children’s safety and wellbeing.  

However, the potential that curiosity can bring to stimulating learning outweighs any negative associations, so long as there are a few important boundaries put in place between educators and children. 

Benefits of encouraging a curious mindset into your curriculum include:-

  • Higher levels of participation and engagement for children make learning more meaningful and memorable  
  • Retention of information is easier and encourages the desire to learn more, especially if the materials and resources offered allow for the imagination to be stimulated 
  • Greater sense of confidence and self-esteem in children and their ability to see themselves as learners that build on their competency 
  • Developing an awareness of how the world around them works and deeper interactions with peers
  • Regular opportunities to recognise their own interests and discover their  personal learning styles 


Resources designed to ignite Curiosity

The world is full of places to discover, especially for young children who are full of curiosity about how it works. Maintaining a balance between planned and spontaneous experiences allows children the opportunity to ask questions of educators and other adults, to make their own discoveries, as well as devise their own theories and hypotheses all through play.

Offering resources such as a set of musical instruments within the program can extend the length of time a child may be dedicated to play and learn on the part of the child because of their nature and purpose. Experimenting with sounds from the vibrations made from striking wooden pat bells, testing out the timing in music by striking a triangle, to wearing a pair of wrist bells and connecting the sound can enhance an understanding of cause and effect are simple ways to nurture curiosity and wonder in children.

Filling and emptying scales with counting pigs or other counters, hanging up a set of wooden balance scales with carabinas help children to understand concepts such as 1:1 correspondence, sorting and classifying and other mathematical properties long before children learn to form number bonds and patterns and language.

Experimenting with conductivity using a horseshoe magnet, wand and magnetic pole marbles can provide mystery through their invisible energy whether attracting or repelling other items as if by magic. Simply telling children that magnetic properties exist is not nearly as interesting or as meaningful as direct discovery.



Combining Loose Parts in Play for further Inspiration

Selecting and setting up trays, baskets and boxes in open shelving units allows children to independently explore the properties of materials. Tinker trays are ideal for inquiry-based learning as there are no real limits but instead a base for testing out concepts of classification and order, without pressure to achieve an outcome from the play.

Children can be encouraged to add to add to the collections or engage with them within indoor or outdoor play settings. Finding small items such as rocks, pine cones, stones, leaves or bark can be added to collections for further examination. These are ideal for making and playing games like hopscotch or noughts and crosses. Equally valuable is when they are used for pretend money or food to use in dramatic play. 

When added to areas of the program, such as in natural craft art experiences like painting, pasting or collage it can add an extra dimension of texture to the activity as well as an additional sensory experience. Often the simplicity of mixing colours when painting or working out how much glue or tape to use to stick materials together is a total experience in and of itself by exploring their properties. 

Including natural or recycled materials such as fabric scraps, match and popsticks, pegs and string can encourage additional exploration of weight, height and gravity aschildren engage in more construction-orientated activities in how things work together.


Documenting Curiosity through Art & Craft Activities

Whilst the process of discovery is important when it comes to loose parts play, there are times when children and educators may want to record their discoveries as well. These could be documented through art and craft displays or photographs along with captions typed or written by the educator or child. Many children like to experiment with an iPad or tablet using the emoji symbols used to communicate messages. 

Writing letters and numbers in finger paint on a tabletop could be printed by putting paper over the top. Creating a name or picture using natural materials could be drawn on paper or photographed by a child or educator.

Some children may like to experiment with emergent writing by doodling shapes, numbers or the letters of their names on a tabletop with finger paint or shave foam. Feels-Write Number Stones are ideal for those who don’t enjoy getting their hands wet or dirty.

Capturing the thinking and making it visible is very important and an easy way to document the beliefs, ideas, questions and wonderings of children and the changing ways in which they see and experience the world around them. As they grow and develop with experience it can be important to refer back to different times of the year as well as track the learning with them along the way. 

An important aspect of our mission at Bellbird includes developing our own curiosity as adults and having an open mind to lifelong learning which is achieved through play and exploration.

With so many natural phenomena we can sometimes take for granted the marvels and mysteries of life, but this is not the case for children. The more new experiences they have, the easier it becomes for their excitement to pique and be stimulated. It seems that the excitement of curiosity is infectious, which makes the process of discovery so important.

To find out more about staying curious please explore our blogs in the Bellbird Educator Resource Centre. 


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