An Inquiry into Materials – Behind the Scenes

An Inquiry into Materials – Behind the Scenes

We went behind the scenes and met our show-runner to understand how the last unit – ‘Materials Help Us Build and Create’ was explored by our children. Miss Neha – the academic coordinator for K1 at Toddler’s Den Ahmedabad sat down with us to take us on a journey of the inquiry.


Hello Ma’am, to start off would you please tell us which themes do you cover in K1?

Yes, so for our early years learners we look at 4 interdisciplinary themes:

  • Who we are – an inquiry into the nature of the self
  • How the world works – an inquiry into the natural world and its laws
  • Sharing the planet – an inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things, and
  • How we express ourselves – an inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values.

The ‘Materials Help Us Build and Create’ unit falls under the theme of ‘How the World Works’.


And what more do you look at in the theme ‘How the world works’?

How the world works is exactly what it sounds like: a deep dive into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Science in the early years may touch upon earth and space sciences, physical sciences, life sciences, or environmental sciences. But for this unit, we focused on chemical sciences. We attempted to understand the behaviour of materials. Children investigated the changes in matter due to mixing, heating, cooling and so on!

The theme ‘How the World Works’ is an inquiry into the natural world and its laws, the interaction between the natural world and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; and the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.


How do you set and measure goals when you take up a unit?

First, we have a discussion as a team to select benchmarks. We identify the conceptual understanding we wish to achieve and consider what kind of behaviour will indicate it. Then we plan provocations to achieve our benchmarks. During these provocations we use rubrics which comprise formatives and summatives to measure our goals. Formatives are our observations of their performance as we conduct activities in class. And summatives are our reflections during an end of the unit activity. Creating a rubric helps us keep track of progress and plan inquiries accordingly.

An example of what a rubric looks like


What did you aim to cover in the materials unit?

This unit is all about construction, building, and creating. To explore these concepts children deep dive into three lines of inquiry: what are materials, their different types, and how we use them to create a finished product. Materials was a highly sensory exploration from touching, feeling, and experiencing different natural and synthetic materials, to articulating and communicating how those materials felt and what their uses were.


How do you go on about conducting a unit?

First, we plan different provocations to assess their prior knowledge. This data on children’s prior knowledge is key for teachers to understand the level at which each child is beginning their exploration. Teachers use this information to tailor learning experiences for each child and to ensure differentiation.

For this unit we conducted two activities to test their prior knowledge. First, we set up an inquiry table and placed objects of different materials such as glass, wood, cotton, and plastic on it. Using this setup we asked our little learners to touch and feel the objects and to describe them.  During this inquiry, children came up with multiple uses for cotton. Ridhaan shared, “We use cotton to dab dettol on wounds”, while Prisha said, “Cotton can be used to remove nail polish”, and Diya C informed us “I put it in my ears if I don’t want to hear something”.

And for the second one, we did a ‘Walk and Talk’. We took the children on a walk around campus and tested their understanding by asking questions about things around us. Here, their vocabulary came into play. For instance, when Ayana saw some flowers she was able to share that they were very soft while wood was rough. This inquiry also allowed children to interact with each other. When Hirvi found that Rian had fevicol, she asked him what it was made of. These engagements helped us establish what they knew and what they didn’t.

Walk and talk, or run for fun!


Tell us more about what went on in class during this unit.

We did a lot experiments and hands-on explorations since materials mostly looked at science and math concepts. For instance, we did ice painting through which children discovered that matter has different states. To begin, we tested their prior knowledge by asking if they knew what a refrigerator did. Next, we made popsicles with water and food colour and got the children to paint using those. This helped them learn about freezing and melting, and they also exercised their creative thinking while painting.

Our educators also felt that children engaged highly in problem solving activities like float and sink. During this activity we placed a tub of water, foil, and paper in the class. And with very brief instructions they started working to make a boat that could float. They enjoyed testing what kind of boat would float and finding out how much weight it could carry using trial and error. In a few tries, Amyrah concluded, “I think only plastic will float and clay will sink!”. They also asked nuanced questions relating foldability with floating. Prisha asked “Why does the pipe cleaner which is so light and flexible sink?”.

Whatever floats our boat

What are your thoughts regarding children’s learning patterns? How do you plan for it?

All children display different patterns of learning. A group might be very good at understanding the activity and concept whereas others might be better at learning by doing. As educators we aim to create an immersive environment that engages children’s senses yet leaves room for them to learn in their own way. Keeping this in mind, we plan a variety of provocations for our children to allow them to learn in the manner that comes most naturally to them.


Which engagement stood out for you?

There wasn’t just one honestly. There were a few things we were looking at. One was practical knowledge, and the second was hands-on experimentation. To exercise and develop their practical knowledge we would engage in thinking activities where we would ask questions such as “Would a paper table be able to hold something?”. And whatever they researched and discussed came into action in experiments which was the part that children really enjoyed. Often, they would even take initiative to do the activities themselves!

An especially fruitful engagement was investigating comfort. We placed different materials and a pillow cover, and asked children to test them to see what kind of bed would they want. Mysha shared that if she would sleep on a bed made up of paper, it would tear and she would fall down. While Arjun B said, “If there are stones or wood in pillow, my head will hurt and blood will come out”. And Kavya pointed out that plastic is not comfortable because it is pointy and it would make noise. Children concluded that they would need something soft in their pillow.

Another engagement that stood out was building a well. Our toddlers participated in building a small well on campus. This helped children identify the materials that go into building something, and observe how they have to wait for cement to dry. Being a part of a construction process from beginning to end let them observe and reflect on the whole transition that materials go through to build something. We still have the well, so that it serves as a reflection point of the unit and makes learning visible.

What skills were you looking to build in this unit?

For each unit we target thinking, social, research, communication, and self management skills. And these have subtopics. We use these as metrics to measure their performance throughout the year. Each activity has a different skill set and concept associated with it. For instance, show and tell would enable them to communicate their knowledge of how materials are used to build and create. The IB learner’s profile also lists 10 attributes which we try to inculcate in them. This unit we guided them to become knowledgeable and reflective inquirers.


And how! Thank you so much for speaking to us, Miss Neha. It was wonderful getting to know about what our little creators have been up to. We can’t wait to see what they’ll be doing in their animals unit next.