Planning for a Full Day of Inquiry-Based Learning

Lately I’ve had the opportunity to work with educators who are either teaching Kindergarten for the first time or are moving from a half-day Kindergarten to a full-day Kindergarten program. I get a lot of questions about how to structure a full day for our early learners. In this post, I’ll try and give you an idea of how we’ve arranged our weekly schedule to work best for our program and student needs. Please keep in mind, this is just one way of organizing things and that our schedule does change as the year progresses and as we find things are either working well/not working at all. Also keep in mind that “prep” times are periods on our schedule that are assigned by the school.

Here is our current weekly schedule. Click on the image to open a PDF file.


When we were arranging our schedule, we felt it was important to make sure that the children had ample time for working at discovery centres, both in the morning and in the afternoon. In the morning, our discovery time runs from 10:10 a.m. to 11:25 a.m. This time includes a self-directed snack (children stop to eat if/when they feel the need though most opt out of a morning snack) and reflection time. During centre time, the children self-direct their own activities. This was a big change for me initially. When I taught kindergarten half day, I was that teacher with the clipboard who assigned children to specific centres each day. In full day, I let go of making choices for the children and let them choose the activities that are most interesting and important to them. If I encounter a student who only ever chooses the block centre, I may suggest an alternative or invite him/her to see what is happening at the Art Studio. And I have never been turned down. Generally speaking, most children are interested in trying new things and are interested in the provocations that pop up around the classroom.

Reflection time is a crucial part of our day. Reflection time is when we gather as a group to share our learning from Discovery time. I jokingly refer to reflection time as “free advertising” because it is the time when we can highlight the important learning goals/behaviours/discoveries we want the children to be demonstrating, through the children’s own work. The decision about which children share is not random, but purposeful. Perhaps it might be a student who made a breakthrough or did their personal best, or it may be a child sharing an interesting way they interacted with materials at one of our provocations, or it may be a child sharing a problem they encountered while working and the class is invited to help them brainstorm a solution. The reflection process is interactive. When a child is sharing, the class is given the opportunity to ask questions and give feedback. I continue to be amazed by how thoughtful the children are in their questions and comments. They often speak of being ‘inspired’ by things they saw their classmates doing. I am often inspired too! And remember that child I mentioned earlier? The one who chooses the same centre day after day? Reflection time is one of the ways we can inspire that child to try something new, or at the very least, stay connected to all the interesting things that are happening in the class.

In the afternoon, we try to mirror the morning schedule as closely as possible. We usually begin the afternoon with writer’s workshop, a focused three-part lesson on writing skills. When I have prep in the middle of the afternoon, we sometimes opt for a shorter group time on the carpet with no writing so that the children still get ample time for exploration at centres. The afternoon is also when we run our “special programs” such as Math and Science Investigations (which you can read more about here) and Art and Fine Motor Instruction (which you can read more about here).

In our class, we try and make the most out of every moment of our schedule. For example, if I am leading a group lesson on the carpet (e.g., during Focused Instruction) then my ECE partner is working one-on-one with children for guided reading. Similarly, if my ECE partner is leading Reflection time, then I use that time to pull students for guided reading. In this way, we are able to achieve a balance between whole group instruction and still target the individual needs of our students.

For those interested in my day plan format, I’m including a sample day from my day plans. I’m always tweaking my day plan format each year, but this style has served me well. Click on the image to open a PDF:


As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!


24 thoughts on “Planning for a Full Day of Inquiry-Based Learning

  1. Hi – I’ve been working with 2-3 year olds but i’m starting a new position with a kindergarten class. I am also new to inquiry based learing and Reggio Emilio plus I have never worked with 4-5 year olds and i am finding it all very overwhelming at the moment. Please can you give me some advice regards to literacy, math and writing activities. Or if you know of good websites or books you can recommend. Thank you!

    • Hi Jess! Congratulations on your new position. Try not to be overwhelmed. You will be able to transfer much of your knowledge and skills from working with preschoolers to this older age group. For writing, I try to infuse writing into all our centre time activties: clipboards, notepads, and a variety of writing materials are all readily available in the classroom. If you search “writing” on my blog you will find some specific examples of this that I have shared. I also do a daily writer’s workshop where we practice writing about our lives (I modeled my workshop after Lucy Caulkins’ “Launching the Writer’s Workshop”). For reading, we infuse letter and word work in daily shared reading and read aloud time. I focus on one or two poems a week which the children take home to share with their families on Fridays in a shared reading folder. All the poems from the year are kept in this folder and the children truly treasure them as their special reading books. We also do a daily borrow-a-book program where the children take home a leveled reader to practice each night (obviously, this kind of program totally relies on you having access to levelled readers). For math, I run an emergent math program. One of my favourite resources is “Growing Mathemical Ideas in Kindergarten” by Linda Schulman Dacey and Rebeka Eston. I also get a lot of ideas from Pinterest, so I would suggest taking a look on there for some inspiration! Good luck!

      • How exactly do you run your math program? I am trying to see where it is on your schedule.

      • Hi Abbie!
        Great question. Math lessons take place during Focused Instruction. However, math is integrated into much of what we do. The math centre has provocations that support our learning goals as do other centres in the classroom (playdough, light table, art studio, sand and water, etc.) We often emphasize mathematical thinking during reflection time at the end of our discovery block. We also have math warm ups/games during entry time as te children are getting organized. Hope that helps!

  2. Hi Alexis- I was reading through your blog and had a question. (Really a million but I know part of my journey is messing around myself haha). I noticed in your exploration you have two discovery/learning center times. When you are setting up for those are you putting mostly the same materials/provocations out at both times or do you have different focuses for the two different parts of the day? (I realize that some of your ideas may come from seeing what they do in the morning- but I mean in general how would you organize it?)

    • Hi! Great question! Generally, the centres are the same in the afternoon as they are in the morning. As you alluded to in your question, sometimes we add things to the centres based on our observations or conversations during reflection time. We find that the children really need the opportunity to explore the same provocations – either because they want to revisit something from the morning or because they spent the whole morning engaged at one centre that they need an opportunity to try something new. I hope that clarifies things a bit! – Alexis

      • How would you handle having another class come into your room in the middle of the morning everyday? I teach my class all in Spanish, and an English class comes in every day for 40 minutes. How can I have both do Reggio inspired lessons?

  3. Do you do reading and math groups? Our school is pushing for us to do more inquiry based learning but we spend 3 and a half hours of our day in guided reading/math groups and writers workshop so I am really struggling with how to make this work.

    • Hi Melikhab,

      I agree that time is always a challenge. I try to juggle it by keeping our schedule as consistent as possible each and every day so I can stay on top of it all. We do writer’s workshop daily after lunch. Guided reading happens mainly in the morning. My ece will pull kids to read while I am leading focused instruction and I will pull kids to read while my ece partner leads reflection time before lunch. The other time I read with kids is when we are in the library or have computer lab. In this way, I am able to meet with everyone in my class each week. Math workshop is done as a whole class during focused instruction, with small group provocations available at the math centre for my targeted skill building. I pick and choose when I am going to work with specific students based on what other things are happening in the class during discovery time. I like having that flexibility.

  4. Does your school do guided reading and math groups? We are supposed to be moving towards inquiry based instruction but we spend 3 and a half hours in these groups and workshops so I am struggling with how to fit in meaningful experiences that are truly inquiry based.

  5. Thank you for sharing your weekly and daily schedule. I would like to implement inquiry based learning with my full day Kindergarten this year and I am curious about how you start. Any suggestions for what to do the first few weeks of school?

    • Hi Maryann!
      One of the things I like to do is start with working on developing inquiry skills. I usually start with observing/noticing. Using the sentence starter “I notice..” (or you can use “I see…”) I like to take my students outside and see what they can see. Sometimes I ask them to record their “noticing” on sticky notes. Afterwards, we share what we saw. You would be amazed at how much conversation, wondering, and thinking results from such a simple activity. Many inquiries have begun this way. I usually record our conversations and look on my notes after to see where we can go next. One of my favorite books about noticing is Quiet in the Garden by Aliki. Hope that helps!

      • Hi! I am new to Kindergarten, previously I taught Grade One! I am wondering what a half day schedule would look like for you, as our division is still on the half day routine! I am also wondering where your printing/letter formation would fit in! Do you spend time working on letters everyday?!

      • Hi Allison! A half day schedule would look very similar to the morning part of the schedule I posted. I found when I taught half-day kindergarten I had to make a choice each day on what my focus would be (e.g, three part math, science lesson, literacy, etc.) whereas I can generally do it all with a full day. I had to be pretty creative with fitting in things in like writer’s workshop (after setting up the expectations for writing time I used to do it on entry most days – the children would start writing in their journals first thing and we would share, reflect, and highlight learning goals afterwards). I don’t do specific letter work (as in letter of the day/week). That is all integrated in our shared reading program (e.g., I use an ABC flip chart and CD that I got through scholastic) and our writer’s workshop time. The only letters I specifically teach are the ones in each child’s name (so it is different for each child). Pretty much every centre I set up involves a writing/drawing option (e.g., drawing plans at the building centre, making lists at the house centre, recording thinking at the math centre) so the children get a lot of hands-on, meaningful practice with writing. Hope that helps! – Alexis

  6. In the past the teacher did the majority of the guiding and speaking. How would you plan to move the classroom to student centered inquiry learning that requires the development of self regulation skills?


  7. This post is super helpful! Thanks so much. I am new to Kindergarten having just taught grade one in a very regimented schedule based school I am so new to this whole free flow and inquiry method (WHICH I LOVE). It is week two of school and all my boys want to do is build blocks and all my girls want to do is colour. I also work in an international school so all ESL learners. I have many interesting things put on the tables but they see “free choice” as PLAY time so they almost always revert to blocks and colouring. Any suggestions? I like the “I see..” idea but I think I need something a little bit MORE! Thanks so much in advance!

    • Hi Steph! In my experience it takes a LOT of modelling! I model things of course, but the reflection time is when you can really highlight the kinds of learning or choices you want the kids to be making. For example, if I set up a new centre that I want all the kids to at least try and only one child goes there…you can be sure I am going to choose that child to share what they did at the centre during reflection time. I call this “free advertising” because by highlighting that child’s work many other children will naturally gravitate to that centre afterwards.
      Also, at the beginning of the year it is perfectly normal for kids to gravitate towards what they find familiar and safe! It takes time for some kids to take risks. If your students are comfortable with blocks, try extending their play there by having them draw what they’ve built or work on getting a small group to collaborate on a larger structure. The conversations that arise there might lead to bigger questions for discovery. If your students are really into colouring, try putting out blank mini books and encouraging them to turn those pictures into stories to read to the class. Or incorporate drawing into other areas of the classroom: draw a math story, sketching flowers at the art studio. Hope that helps! All the best!

  8. Pingback: The First Day of School | The Curious Kindergarten

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