Exploratory play is the stuff of curiosity and
inquiry. It begins as soon as the baby is aware
that something shiny is dangling over her
head and she reaches out to examine what it
is. Exploratory play is highly physical in the early stages
as the infant or toddler uses all of his body to explore
the world around him. By age four, exploratory play
is soaring. Children who have been encouraged to
explore freely and without undue limits will continue
to use exploration as a means of learning about the
world in which they live. By the middle years, as any
teacher of the Junior Division knows, there is nothing
that holds more interest for many at this age than
taking things apart and putting them back together.
Materials are an important part of exploration.
Children learn about the characteristics of materials
as they interact with them and this knowledge is
important for scientific experiments. They learn about
the characteristics of shapes as they build with blocks
– an important learning for understanding geometry.
With or without materials, children explore position as
they move themselves and objects in different spatial
configurations. Position is relevant to movement and
dance, as well as geometry.
Exploration flourishes in an emotional environment
that encourages initiative, curiosity, and problem-
solving. Placing too much emphasis on the end
product or on using tools in the “correct” way causes
children to lose confidence in themselves and inhibits
risk-taking. Teachers will know when to interject
prompt questions or demonstrate how some tools
work so that the exploration does not become
frustrating for the child.
As the child matures, all five senses are engaged in
exploring and learning about the world. Children
use their senses so much, it might be said that they
are keen observers of the world as a result. They
absorb a great deal of information as they watch the
emergence of the butterfly from the chrysalis, as they
listen to the seeds shaking in their pod, as they smell
the fragrances of the different flowers, and as they
touch a sample of snake skin. They bring this world
knowledge to their reading and writing, and they use
this ‘data’ to make comparisons.
Children have been involved in some form of inquiry
from infancy as they explored their effect on objects
in their world. Inquiry is an important component of
the kindergarten program and the primary grades as
children continue to experiment in an effort to discover
more about a particular interest that intrigues them.
By the end of the Intermediate Division, exploration
is the essence of scientific inquiry. It is the process
that enables the researcher to find solutions for the
many challenges in our world, and the artist to create
innovative works.
The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Science and
Technology uses the words investigate through
experimentation. The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8:
Mathematics refers to children developing problem-
solving strategies as they pose and solve problem
and conduct investigations. While exploration is
acknowledged in these curriculum areas as an
important component of learning, it is not explicitly
connected to the elements of play.