Creating Contexts for Learning - Exploration, Play & Inquiry

How Does Learning Happen? Ontario's Pedagogy for the Early Years

How Does Learning Happen? is organized around four foundational conditions that are important for children to grow and flourish: Belonging, Well-Being, Engagement, and Expression.

Engagement suggests a state of being involved and focused. When children are able to explore the world around them with their natural curiosity and exuberance, they are fully engaged. Through this type of play and inquiry, they develop skills such as problem solving, creative thinking, and innovating, which are essential for learning and success in school and beyond. (How Does Learning Happen? pg. 7)

The Power of Classroom Play

How Does Learning Happen? states "Research into learning and development – from the early theories of Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky to the latest findings of neuroscience – makes it clear that children learn best when they are fully engaged in active exploration, play, and inquiry." p.35

"Conversations with Dr. Kimberly Bezaire" on the professional learning website www.etfopley.ca is a great resource to expand your thinking about play. The accompanying print resource "Learning in the Early Years: Exploring Our Thinking" written by Dr. Bezaire that was distributed to all K Teachers and ECEs last fall. Watch the following video clip of Dr. Bezaire to learn more about play and inquiry.

Conversations with Dr. Kimberly Bezaire: The Power of Classroom Play

The Role of the Educator

Children’s engagement and learning are enhanced when educators are co-learners. This approach means that rather than acting as “keepers of knowledge” or the sole planners of programs, educators engage with children, planning, participating, and learning with the child and about his or her questions, theories, and curiosities. (How Does Learning Happen? p. 35)
Conversations with Dr. Kimberly Bezaire: The Educator in Classroom Play

The Environment as Educator

The environment plays a key role in the quality of children’s exploration and play. Indoor and outdoor spaces, materials, and furnishings (including how they are positioned), accommodations to ensure equitable learning opportunities and participation for children with special needs, as well as the general design of the space, and the organization of time, all have a significant influence on children’s level of engagement and the possibilities for in-depth exploration and learning. (How Does Learning Happen? pg. 36)

Watch the video below to learn more from Karyn Callaghan about "a new perspective" on the learning environments. Her whole series of videos about the learning environment can be found on the Ministry site "Think, Feel, Act" http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/environment.html . There is also a link below to the Ministry Research Brief "The Environment is a Teacher."

Early Years Learning Environments - A New Perspective on Creating Engaging Spaces for Children
Another professional learning resource is "K to 2 Connections". It is an e-learning experience produced by the Ministry and designed for educators who want to further explore learning and teaching in the early years. It has modules about the The Learning Environment as well as Inquiry.


Learning Environment FDK
The following professional resources are a good reference if you are rethinking your environment. They are available for loan by contacting Blythe Servant servanb@adsb.on.ca.

Provocations and Invitations

An invitation or provocation is something that sparks questions, interest, ideas, theories, discussion, debate and engages the children's thinking. Thoughtful, intentional provocations are a great complement to a planned curriculum which includes a balance of exploration or investigation, guided instruction, and explicit instruction for small groups of children.
Thoughtful, Intentional, Provocations in FDK

The Theory of Loose Parts

In play, loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. Loose parts can be an important part of planning for exploration and provocation.

For more information, visit


How children really play!

After Hours Session

There will be two different After Hours session focused on The Theory of Loose Parts - March 29 (Face-to-Face) and March 31 (Adobe Connect). They will highlight how early learning programs provide environments and experiences to engage children in active, creative, and meaningful exploration, play and inquiry. To register, please follow the link below. If registration is closed, please feel free to email Blythe directly at servanb@adsb.on.ca.

Questions for Reflection (from How Does Learning Happen, pp. 39-40)

If we see all children as curious, competent, and capable of complex thinking, how is this reflected in the environment?

How does the flow of the day allow children to make choices (e.g., to engage in in-depth exploration over several days; to relax and do nothing; to reflect on their experiences)?

What questions and theories do the children seem to be exploring through their play? What are they wondering about in the ways they use materials (e.g., what does their non-verbal communication tell you)? How can you make these visible? What next steps might you take, based on these observations, to support more complex play and inquiry?