Back to the Garten: Inquiry-Based Learning in an Outdoor Kindergarten Classroom
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Informed by alternative learning theories that apply a constructivist approach to education, this research study explores one form of experiential, hands on education; inquiry-based learning. Grounded in the new sociology of childhood, which values the voices of young children, this study examines how inquiry-based learning is experienced by kindergarten students in an outdoor classroom in Fonthill, Ontario. This research expands on current relevant literature to understand kindergarteners’ experiences in an outdoor inquiry-based classroom through their first hand reports, accompanied by observations made by their teachers. Based on a constructivist framework, this study employs a phenomographic methodology consisting of semi-structured, participant guided interviews, and inductive data analysis involving a cross-comparison of the transcripts across kindergartener and teacher participants. Three major themes emerged from the data in this study: (a) student-led experiences in the outdoor classroom; (b) lessons experienced in the outdoor classroom; and (c) boundaries to learning in the outdoor classroom. Responses from participants in this study raise questions for future research regarding the use of informal learning in the public education system specifically in regards to the roles of teachers, the structures of learning spaces, and the experiences of diverse populations. This study supports the notion that outdoor, inquiry-based learning can be one way to engage students in their own knowledge construction, demonstrating a connection between this model and the values of social justice education.