Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Daryl B. Greenfield

Second Committee Member

Rebecca Bulotsky-Shearer

Third Committee Member

Heather Henderson

Fourth Committee Member

Brian Doss

Fifth Committee Member

Batya Elbaum


Research consistently shows that children from low-income environments tend to lag behind their peers in school readiness, language-development, and problem-solving skills. A number of studies have indicated that inquiry, or asking questions, is a domain-general learning tool that can help improve outcomes in all areas of academic readiness. Research conducted in middle-income samples shows that by the time children enter preschool, they often generate questions that seek to explain phenomena or extend understanding, and that those children who ask more questions have better academic outcomes. This work, however, has not been replicated with children from low-income families. Using multilevel modeling, the proposed project is the first to empirically examine child-generated inquiry in a sample of preschoolers from disadvantaged backgrounds. The study also assessed gains in inquiry over the school year, and the moderating role of teacher emotional and instructional support on these gains. Further, the study investigated associations between children’s inquiry and their school readiness outcomes (i.e., mathematics, literacy, and science). Findings revealed that children asked few questions overall, that they made significant gains in inquiry over the school year, and that Emotional Support significantly moderated gains in inquiry. Children who showed a basic level of inquiry in the fall made more vocabulary gains over the course of the school year than those who did not. Implications for research, practical applications, and future directions in the field of child-generated inquiry as well as teacher practices are discussed.


inquiry; preschoolers; achievement gap; questions; classroom environment; school readiness