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Books for Facilitating Open-Ended, Student-Led Learning

October 26th, 2021 | 3 min. read

By Lisa Williford

We know that children learn best and most naturally through open-ended exploration and self-directed trial and error. After all, humans have been learning this way for a very long time. But practically implementing this kind of discovery and learning in a classroom setting can seem like a daunting undertaking! The list of resources below will show teachers how to set up open-ended learning experiences that will promote natural curiosity, facilitate independent problem solving, and spark creativity. 



Loose Parts Learning in K-3 Classrooms

Loose parts. You have heard the term, probably in the context of promoting engaging play with open-ended, natural, and manufactured materials that can be manipulated with limitless possibilities. In this book, discover how a loose-parts mindset promotes active learning in the early elementary classroom, enhancing curriculum and ensuring connection to state standards, and how to practically apply this mindset in the classroom.

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Making Space for Preschool Makerspaces

Engaging in makerspace experiences naturally enhances children’s maker mindsets, encourages them to think independently, and prompts them to create what they imagine—skills they will carry throughout life! Filled with colorful photographs taken in real early childhood settings, this book will guide you step-by-step in making a makerspace from drafting a plan and gathering materials to supporting specific skill development and garnering administratorr and parent buy-in. 

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Provoking Curiosity

Student-Led STEAM Learning for Pre-K to Third Grade

With jam-packed days and mounting expectations, teachers struggle to incorporate STEAM activities into each day. Provoking Curiosity brings new and easy-to-execute STEAM learning experiences that encourage children to think, explore, and wonder. Each exploration builds on core ideas in the STEAM disciplines, develops higher-level thinking skills, and uses readily available materials in early childhood classrooms.

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Integrating Inquiry into Learning Centers

This book approaches learning centers through the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) lens, and shares how themes can be integrated into the most common learning centers to promote creativity and higher-level thinking. 

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Treasure Basket Explorations

Heuristic Learning for Infants and Toddlers

Treasure Basket Explorations explains heuristic learning—discovery by trial and error—and how to encourage this type of learning to boost development in infants and toddlers. In this book, teachers will learn how to set up treasure baskets: containers filled with easy-to-find items that support explorations in emergent language, math, and science skills. 

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Creative Investigations in Early Science

Young children are born scientists with an innate desire to analyze and investigate the world around them. Creative Investigations in Early Science helps educators expand and encourage young learners’ inquisitive nature through hands-on, minds-on explorations. 

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Creative Investigations in Early Engineering and Technology

Many STEM books and programs for early childhood focus on math and science, and exclude technology and engineering. This book helps teachers create a more well-rounded STEM learning program through explorations that encourage children to think, make, tinker, and innovate. 

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Creative Investigations in Early Art

Creative Investigations in Early Art provides teachers with an inquisitive, explorative approach to boost young learners’ creativity and critical-thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills through artistic expression of all kinds including music, movement, dramatic arts, and visual arts. 

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Creative Investigations in Early Math

Creative Investigations in Early Math gives early educators practical ideas for intentionally fostering young children's hands-on explorations in math, rather than just teaching math. As children encounter math in everyday activities, they will gain a deeper understanding of numbers and number sense, computation, geometry, patterns, measurement, and more! 

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Play Today

Building the Young Brain Through Creative Expression

Play Today shows you how to get the most out of children's playtime with thoughtful preparation, then stepping back and letting creativity and self-directed learning begin. With some simple props and donated items, you can transform your centers into rich and rewarding learning spaces for the children in your classroom.

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Time to Create

Hands-On Explorations in Process Art for Young Children

Rather than merely teaching your child to name colors and to hold a pencil, the hands-on process art experiences in Time to Create encourage discovery through a variety of art media, including drawing, painting, print making, collage, and sculpture.

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First Art for Toddlers and Twos

Open-Ended Art Experiences

Discover the natural curiosity and enthusiasm of toddlers and twos as they explore over seventy-five creative art experiences designed just for them.

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Author(s)MaryAnn F. Kohl, Christie Burnett, Ann Barbour, Laura Wilhelm, Marnie Forestieri, CDA, Kelly Jennings-Towle, Junie Albers-Biddle, Debby Mitchell, Deirdre Englehart, Angela Eckhoff, PhD, Cathryn Peshlakai, Sarah Wright, Teresa A. Byington, PhD, Robin Marx-Mackerley, Tricia Rosengarten, Suzanne Goldstein, Carla Gull

Lisa Williford

Lisa Williford, an experienced marketing event coordinator, served with Kaplan Early Learning Company and Gryphon House from 2020 - 2023.