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Inquiry-Based Learning Activities To Do At Home

Western International School of Shanghai

Many of us got used to staying at home this past year with the global pandemic, and this meant we had to take the reins on our children’s education. Even with schools and learning centers back open, there’s no denying that inquiring and learning with our kids at home has immense benefits. 

Inquiry-based learning is also a cornerstone of the IB Programme, commonly used by top international schools worldwide. For example, this Shanghai international school, WISS (Western International School of Shanghai), thrives on their application of the full continuum of the IB, being them the only school in mainland China to offer all four programs. 

By encouraging inquiry-based learning in your children, you not only educate them, but you allow them to reach a deeper understanding of the meaning and application of what they learn. With that, here are a few fun inquiry-based activities that you can do at home with your children.

Inquiry-Based Activity #1 – Grow a bean in the dark and in the light

Growing your own plants teaches kids how germination works and how plants need certain things. All you need are some beans (lima, pinto, mung, or others are good), paper towels, and clear plastic cups.

#1 Get your two plastic cups and stuff them with paper towels (quite compactly) until they are about 2 inches full. 

#2 Put some water in the cups so that the paper towels are damp.

#3 Next, put the bean seeds in the bottom of the cups but make sure they are touching the sides of the cups. (This means you’ll get to see the seeds growing)

#4 Put your cups in different environments – one in a very dark place (a cupboard, drawer, etc.) and one in a bright sunny place like the windowsill.

#5 Keep observing your seeds. Are they growing differently?

Ask your child why they think the beans are growing differently. One is growing much better than the other because plants need light. If a plant doesn’t have any light, it can’t grow. It’s just like how humans need food, water, and air to live. Plants need air, water, and light (this is their food!).

Inquiry-Based Activity #2 – Write a hidden message and reveal it with heat

This is a fun experiment you can do at home with things you’ll most likely already have. All you need is milk, vinegar, orange juice, honey with water or lemon juice (just one of them), a sheet of paper, and a heat source.

#1 Squeeze or pour the liquid you’re using into a glass.

#2 Dip a cotton bud/swab into the liquid, write a secret message on a sheet of paper, and then let it dry completely. You can’t see what it says, right?

#3 Next, with an adult’s help, hold the paper over a heat source – the stove is probably best.

#4 Now, can you see the message you wrote?

Ask your child why they think they couldn’t see the message before, but they can now. The reason? When we applied heat, we changed the state of the secret ink (oxidized it), and that’s why we can see it.

Inquiry-Based Activity #3 – Make a lightbox

Ask your child to look at something at home (maybe a picture, a painting, the clock). Ask them if they know how they see it. Do they know it’s because of light? Everything we see, we are seeing because the light is reaching our eyes. We can do an experiment to prove it. All you need is a cardboard box and objects you already have.

#1 Get your cardboard box. Put an eye-sized hole in it towards the bottom of one side (just 1 cm or so). Look into the box. If you can see any light, make sure you tape up the holes so that it’s complete darkness.

#2 Make a small hole up top. This one is for your phone or flashlight to shine through.

#3 This step is for parents only: put some different objects in the box – some soft, some smooth, some shiny (good examples: a stuffed toy, a rock, a shiny spoon, and maybe some other fun ones for good measure). Don’t tell them what the objects are. Cover up the hole on top with something temporary. Again, make sure that no light is getting in.

#4 This step is for kids: look through the eyehole. Can you see anything? Why not?

#5 Now, shine your light source through the hole up top and look through the eyehole. Can you see the different objects? Why is it that you can see the objects now that you couldn’t before? We can see them because of the light. The light source shines its light onto the object, and then it reflects (bounces) to our eyes – that’s why we can see the objects in the box now.


Author’s BIO: Written by the Team at WISS – The Western International School of Shanghai is an international school located in Puxi, Shanghai. WISS is an International Baccalaureate World School that educates students from preschool through high school. WISS offers the Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Programme, and Diploma Programme. Wikipedia

Address: 555 Lianmin Rd, Qingpu District, Shanghai, China
Phone: +86 21 6976 6388
Email: admissions@wiss.cn


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