Children’s Big Ideas

By Barbara Isaacs

During many of this year’s Musings webinars, we have been encouraged to be “curious” in our work with children.  This I took to mean to be curious not only about their development but also about the way we engage with them and reflect on our own work.  Children’s own curiosity is often the impetus which sparks our research, reflection and ponderings over their questions, and challenges us to find the best ways to respond simply and honestly to their enquiries. We hope that the last webinar of this Autumn term will help us to celebrate young children’s unique capacity to grapple with Big Ideas and reflect on the ways adults respond to them.   We also hope it will help our understanding of the importance of co-constructing some of the answers. 

Children remind us of their unique potential to embrace big ideas; their curiosity and creativity often demonstrate their Theory of Mind and emerging of metacognition.  Their engagement and critical thinking in considering these ideas are very much about the process rather than outcome and for this reason children should be given the time to explore and wallow in these ideas and require our very best listening and observation skills.

Behind all “big ideas” lies children’s curiosity. It is one of the characteristics of childhood, and dare I say it, of all humans; yet keeping the flame of curiosity burning can be hard when you are a teacher burdened with curriculum requirements and assessments.  The more recent “planning in the moment” approach to organising learning for young children should offer us tools for nurturing of children’s innate curiosity.  For us Montessorians this should be second nature – being guided by the child’ inner, spontaneous and natural drive to learn should spur our own curiosity as we search for answers to big questions we are asked at most unexpected moments.

Peter Moorhouse (undated) has defined curiosity as a driver of learning in the early years.

Throughout early childhood curiosity drives children’s desire to explore, to ask questions and to play. Children learn most deeply when they are following their natural curiosity – as it places them at the centre of their learning. Initial interest and curiosity lead to inquiry, their intellectual curiosity developing the cognitive state in which they are open to exploring ideas

I also love his slogan – this should be written above the door of every early childhood setting.

Curiosity – the spark of exploration

Curiosity – the catalyst of engagement

Curiosity – the fuel of creativity

Mallaguzzi (1993:77), the father of the Reggio approach, recognises our role in supporting young children’s creativity in this quotation:

Creativity becomes more visible when adults try to be more attentive to the cognitive processes of children than to the results they achieve in various fields of doing and understanding.

You may also remember the National Strategies 2010 publication Finding and exploring young children’s fascinations. Whilst the focus is on supporting gifted and talented children, a focus I am not particularly fond of, because I believe all children have fascinations.  But I love the idea of exploring fascinations with children and finding ways of exploring them together. Having the opportunities of grappling together because we adults are also often as challenged by the questions as the children are.

One thing is for sure: by asking these questions, young children demonstrate their capacity to seek answers.  When our daughter was around four, she often asked to be told the story of “How the World Became”. And as I am a very poor story teller I would tell her the story of evolution using the story of the prehistoric timeline as my model.  Over the next few years, she would often ask to have the story repeated, usually as we took our daily walk, demonstrating an on going fascination which developed into a life-long professional interest in the animal kingdom which she is now sharing with her own children.

As I am preparing for our webinar, I would like to invite you to share one of the big questions you have been asked by a child during your professional and personal life and reflect on how you responded.  Were you able to co-construct the answer with the child, did you feel overwhelmed by the clarity and enormity of the question?  Maybe this book published last year by Wide Eyed editions will help you to find some of the answers: Big Ideas For Young Thinkers: 20 Questions about Life and the Universe, by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins.

Do join us on Tuesday 14 December for our last Musings webinar of the year as we explore Big Ideas and Big Questions. We will share practical examples and explore how we might respond and welcome your experience. Register here.


Malaguzzi, L. (1993). ‘History, ideas, and basic philosophy: an interview with Lella Gandini.’ In: Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Forman, G. (Eds) The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – Advanced Reflections. Second edn. Greenwich, CT: Ablex Publishing

Moorhouse, P. (undated), ‘Curiosity’, Birth to 5 Matters, online: [date accessed 8 December 2021]

One thought on “Children’s Big Ideas

  1. I feel fairly confident in my role to Co-construct with older children. This term however, for the first time, we have had a cohort of very young children (2.5yrs). Some non Montessori trained teachers in the setting, sit alongside the children daily doing jigsaw puzzles. This has become routine and the children now request and expect the teacher to always help them as they do puzzles etc.
    I have encouraged the teachers to step back and to give children time to explore. I wonder, (even after my years of experience) am I being too harsh in my expectations, or, because the children are clearly unable to do some of the activities themselves, allow this practice to continue? Is this co-construction, or a little too much interference?

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