Children are young investigators of the world. They have innate curiosity and a tendency to experiment. They learn by doing – they observe, try things out, experience. They acquire knowledge when they are engaged and when the topic interests them. They learn about the world by trial and error. These natural inclinations of children can be fully developed by using the research project method.
The aim of the Young Investigators programme is to develop children’s logical thinking, cognitive curiosity, asking questions, acquiring knowledge through experimentation, drawing conclusions and teamwork skills.
WHAT IS A RESEARCH PROJECT?
A research project (Project Approach) is an in-depth study of a topic of high cognitive value to the child. This means that the topic is relevant to children, close to their everyday experience and open to in-depth exploration.
An essential feature of the project is its exploratory character – the activities are not pre-planned, but are a response to questions that arise during the work, either from the children or from the teacher. This interdisciplinary working method works well with children from the age of two.
Each research project consists of three phases.
- In Phase I, children choose a topic, gather background knowledge about the topic, explore questions of interest and develop hypotheses.
- In Phase II of the project the children together with an adult plan various activities, and then in groups or individually collect data that will allow to test the hypotheses and answer the questions posed earlier.
- Phase III is the summary and presentation of the project results.
An important teaching aid for research projects is the so-called “researcher’s chest”, which contains the tools and aids needed for research (magnifying glasses, tape measures, recorders, sketch pads, sample containers, spades, etc.). The children can use everything in the trunk during the project.
For the purposes of the programme we created educational materials and training modules to prepare librarians, day-care centre instructors, pre-school and grade I-III teachers to work with children using the research project method.
Our trainers learned the method of research projects from its creators – Prof. Lilian Katz and Prof. Sylwia Chart in Allerton (Illinois USA), and from Prof. Teresa Vasconcelos and Prof. Demetra Evangelou.
- We prepared 6 methodological booklets for those working with children using the research project method: “Research projects with the youngest children”, “Research projects with preschool children”, “Research projects in early childhood education”, “Parents’ participation in research projects”, “Documenting research projects”, Research projects – implementation of the core curriculum in kindergarten”.
- We produced a promotional and educational film “Little Explorers”.
- We presented the effects of the Mali Odkrywcy programme in March 2013 during the Debate at the Presidential Palace “A Little Pole in Kindergarten and Nursery. Availability of care – quality of education”, which we co-organised with the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland. The introductory lecture was given by our guest, Professor Teresa Vasconcelos – an international expert in early childhood education. We also prepared an exhibition on research projects, which was visited by the First Lady and the participants in the debate.
Everything that is new usually evokes fear or uncertainty in us. Also, the new method of working with children made me anxious as to whether I was sure I would be able to do it and whether it would really be possible to do it in such a way that the children would benefit most from it. Despite many fears, the children surprised me with their interesting and unusual questions and their willingness to explore the answers. I was very happy when the children eagerly and excitedly told each other what they saw under the microscope and called each other to share the view with others.
I think the children learned to be more persistent and patient. I saw them drawing and mapping elements with great precision and they all brought their work to completion. I also noticed that they enjoyed talking to each other and having discussions.