Everyone may have different reasons for homeschooling, but a common thread is a desire to inspire children to love learning and become lifelong learners. “Inquiry-based learning,” or IBL, is one of the best ways of achieving this goal. Its child-directed, investigative core is why methods such as Montessori and unschooling are so popular. Continue reading to discover how to engage students using IBL and spark your child’s motivation to learn by harnessing their natural curiosity!

What Is Inquiry-Based Learning?

The term itself may offer some clues, but exactly what is inquiry-based learning? Essentially, it is using real-world questions to guide learning. In some cases, the questions can come from the students themselves, but a parent/teacher can also create guiding questions to help frame upcoming lessons. Then,  as new concepts are learned, students  develop responses based on their newfound information. Steps to more formalized IBL activities include an introduction of the topic; brainstorming of questions, predictions, and hypotheses; investigation and research into the topic and questions; student-driven conclusions; and sharing, debating of ideas, and reflection. Often, IBL involves group learning and discussions, but the unique problem-solving methods of individual children are also emphasized.

In essence, inquiry-based learning builds on the yearning to understand how the world works, and the inherent inquisitive nature of kids. Interest-based learning nourishes that curiosity, encouraging kids to see the world as the fascinating planet that it is!

Why Is Inquiry-Based Learning Important?

As compared to the multitude of teaching and learning methods out there, you may wonder, why is inquiry-based learning important? The question, really, is this: How does inquiry-based learning help students? Inquiry-based learning benefits students mostly through student engagement. When students are more engaged, they learn material on a deeper level and retain it longer. They enjoy learning, avoid student burnout, and make connections and associations that are important to them, thus bringing more personalized meaning to topics being studied. Further, inquiry-based learning benefits students by building important investigative skills, like use of the scientific method and varied research strategies (emphasizing primary documents), as well as critical thinking skills, like problem solving and constructing an argument—all skills that are key to success in college and careers.

Use of inquiry-based learning at home also provides benefits for you in your teaching role. Knowing how to keep students engaged is an important feather in any teacher’s cap. The learning benefits of inquiry-based learning will help prevent parent burnout and help you gain a more thorough understanding of how your child learns. By observing your child ask and answer questions, seek and make sense of information, and present findings and conclusions, your effectiveness as an educator—and parent—will also grow.

Inquiry-Based Learning Strategies for Parents

Did you know that Time4Learning uses inquiry-based learning? Time4Learning’s middle school curriculum and high school curriculum often begin lessons with real-world guiding questions and end with reflection. Students are expected to be able to analyze primary and secondary sources and create arguments. Time4Learning begins preparing students for these expectations in the elementary grades. In response to parent feedback, Time4Learning has started infusing IBL into lessons as early as third grade social studies by incorporating more interactive matching, sorting, and multiple-choice activities, including some ordering of primary documents, and a third-grade crowning project. 

Time4Learning’s new fourth-grade social studies curriculum is all-in when it comes to inquiry-based learning! To explore the theme, “What Makes America America,” it follows a roadschooling family traveling the five regions of the United States, each with one state as a case study to investigate a real-world issue. For example, a study of New York investigates the hidden meanings behind names, while a study of Florida questions whether we should prepare for natural disasters. Each chapter begins with a compelling question, which is followed by supporting questions in each lesson that are then answered. 

Throughout the fourth-grade social studies course, students learn to do research and then choose claims, evidence, and conclusions to formulate arguments while recognizing counterarguments. These “think-it-through” activities lead to a capstone in which students research and report on one of the 50 states. Throughout the curriculum, parents have the flexibility to choose which activities to include, the type of assessment, and whether to build in optional extension activities to further the learning. Stay tuned for even more IBL in Time4Learning’s future!

Even if your curriculum doesn’t include inquiry-based learning lessons, there are things you can do to capitalize on your child’s natural curiosity. Try these strategies in your home education program to teach investigative and critical thinking skills while increasing student engagement:

  • After introducing a topic, ask your child, “What do you want to know more about within this topic?”
  • When your child asks a question about any subject, take time to investigate the answer together, demonstrating how to research and make conclusions in the process.
  • Teach how to use primary and secondary documents and multiple types of research sources (e.g., library materials and reference books, the Internet, podcasts, interviews, documentaries).
  • Include activities like science experiments, project-based learning, field trips based on guiding questions, and problem-solving group work or debates when possible.
  • Ask your child to present claims, evidence, and conclusions informally (and think about counterclaims) when asking for something in the household (e.g., getting a pet, going on vacation, or purchasing a new toy).
  • Spend a little less time presenting content and resist the urge to directly answer all your child’s questions. Instead, tease your child’s intellect with limited information and then support your child in finding the answers.

These are just a few inquiry-based learning examples for inspiration. Bringing IBL into your home simply requires you to pay attention to the questions your child is asking and to model and inspire making real-world connections through investigation. Here are two compelling questions: What would happen if education were based on what children truly wanted to know? How much more likely are your kids to develop a lifelong love of learning as they become more engaged in their education?