Children as researchers and theory builders: A Reggio-inspired perspective

Whilst hanging out the washing together, my eldest, hanging small items on the hanging pegs, noticed that the hanger was tipping to one side

A: “Why is it tipping?”

Me: “Hmm… it is tipping”

A: “It’s going this way”

Me: “I wonder why it’s tipping”

A: “Because of the pants”

Me: “The pants are on that side”

I pause and wait a few moments

Me: “what happens if you put pants on the otherside”

A takes a pair of pants and pegs it on the other side of the hanger and then repeats the process

Me: “Whats happened”

A: “It’s not tipping”

Me: “It does seem to be balanced now. I wonder why that is?”

A: “Because I put them on the blue pegs”

Me: “So it doesn’t tip anymore”

A: “No because the pegs are blue”

“Learning is about being a researcher. The young child is a builder of theories. The young child learns by communicating and expressing their concepts and theories and by listening to others” 

Carlina Rinaldi

This is an example of my daughter noticing and trying to make sense of the world around her. She investigates what happens when she adds more pants to the hanger, she observes the effect and she comes up with a theory as to why the hanger was no longer tipping to one side. She tells me that it’s because the pegs are blue.

Obviously as adults we know that the reason isn’t down to the colour of the pegs, we understand the concept of weight and balance but A is still figuring it all out. I could have given her the answer “I think it’s because you’ve now got pants on both side and now it’s balanced” but I didn’t.

Bruner believed that the credibility of these theories is not important, what is important is the process that leads to construction of the theory. And so, this time, I let the mystery be. She now has a theory, a schema if you like, in place that she will be able to revisit and test. Sometimes it might be necessary to steer them in a different direction but in this instance I decided it wasn’t.

My role was to listen

“One of the foundations of our work is the careful, respectful, tender ‘listening’ with solidarity to children’s strategies and ways of thinking.”

Vea Vecchi

So I offered her ideas and questions but did not providing her with the answer this time. I felt that in that moment telling her that her theory was wrong wouldn’t be tender or respectful. She had done the important work, it didn’t matter that the theory wasn’t 100% correct. My role now is to reflect on how I might provide opportunities or a provocation that will help A explore this concept further.

Next time we happen to be hanging out the washing together I will probably say something like “Remember yesterday when it was tipping to one side…” and we will go from there. That might be all we need to build on her current theory…

I will be sure to let you know.

One thought on “Children as researchers and theory builders: A Reggio-inspired perspective

  1. What a beautiful experience. Your children are fortunate you are listening to them. If we valie the process than the fact she states the blue pegs are responsible doesn’t matter does it? She’s thinking, she’s trying out theories and we don’t need to point out the flaws in their thinking because that’s not what matters. The goal is the thinking not the ‘right’ answer


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