I thought I was going to write about Wonder, but instead I’ve changed my mind.
I have been thinking about and researching the importance of Wonder within teaching and life for well over 15 years.
This lead me to create a video, I Wonder Why things are so Cool, with the help of my youngest students a few years ago. (Click link to watch!)
Thinking about Wonder as a residual of learning leads me to to thoughtfully create provocations in all forms.
Provocations connected to the senses, the environment, and social interaction
Provocations connected to light, collaboration, the self in the context of others.
Provocations to connect with Early Learning non-verbal children, senses, communication, delight.
Provocations to mark the changing seasons, giving, a sense of the “we” in community.
Researching Wonder leads me to seek out personal sources of Awe, and reflect on my own capacities, beliefs, and purpose.
From my own artwork, to professional interactions, to nature, to travel…
(Imvuselelo, Awakening 2016)
At The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, with one of the curators, Handirubvi Indigo Wakatama and fellow artist in the show Dr. Pamela Lawton at the opening of the important Implicit Bias; Seeing Ours Self Seeing the Other Exhibit.
The awe of being in the presence of the Baobab Tree.
The opportunity to take a tour of Robben Island, (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held) guided by one of the political prisoners who survived the horrific ordeal, to tell the stories of torture, survival, empowerment, and freedom.
The Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick, a powerful and provocative installation. Why is it one of the most popular and well attended exhibits in Washington, DC, with people lining up outside to view?
Why is wonder so important for all, but especially for young children?
Simple Definition of humility
the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble
When one is in a state of Wonder or Awe, one realizes that there is indeed something bigger than oneself out there.
Racecar the Turtle has lived in the SWS Atelier for 17 years. Recently, her very pricey filter broke and the tank became filled with algae and waste.
I went to each classroom and told the children what happened and asked if they could all bring in a dollar, that together, we could keep Racecar alive and healthy.
I located the pump and drove at rush hour to purchase the filter on my charge card. I did not know how long poor Racecar could tolerate her environment.
The next morning, hundreds, yes, hundreds of children filed into the art studio, with notes, dollars, and baggies full of dimes and nickels. I almost cried. Children emptied their own piggie banks. This went on for several days. “Ms. McLean is Racecar ok? Did you get enough money?”
Several adults asked, “Why didn’t you do a crowd sourcing campaign online?” Or “Why didn’t you ask the Friends of SWS to pay?”
Intuitively I knew that the simple act of asking the children to help a small creature that is a part of their daily lives, would work.
A parent told me a story.
Olive, in Kindergarten approached her Mom and said, “Mommy, I want to bring a dollar in for Racecar but I don’t have any money.”
Mom, wisely replied, “Well what can you do to solve that?”
Olive replied, “Can I work for you?”
Mom gave her 4 jobs, worth a quarter each.
And why is humility important?
Ever wonder about injustice?
Ever wonder about creation?
Ever wonder about relationships?
Ever wonder about the environment?
Ever wonder about invention?
Ever wonder about the unknown?
Awe creates a sense of something bigger than ourselves. Humility. Humility leads to wondering, which leads to questions, questions lead to thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness leads to conversation (or action), conversation leads to others, others lead to collaboration, and collaboration leads to relationship, new perspectives, awareness, and often transformation.
I introduced Kindergarten children to the concept of Yin Yang. I framed it as opposites that need each other. I asked them if they could think of some opposites and why they thought they needed each other. Here’s one example of the depth of conversation that prevailed.
“Old and young.
When you’re young, you’d have to figure your way to grow up and be an older person.”
Believe it or not, this philosophical thinking was the path I lead the children on to understand color theory, and specifically, contrasting or complimentary colors.
(By Ruan and Peyton, Kindergarten)
I am concerned about the age of the “child expert”. I am concerned when a 5 year old tells me, I already know that, or I am better, stronger, smarter…
Just because we now have the answers to questions at the tip of our fingers in the form of a smart phone, does not make us smarter. In fact it stunts us.
Our children are not the smartest, strongest, most creative.
They are developing humans who need to be wondering, exploring, creating, questioning, developing theories, and having lots of wrong answers and mistakes along the way.
Children need an environment where the capacity to be humble is encouraged: asking for help, freely giving help, using vast resources around them to understand, grow, create, and connect.
Children must have opportunities to keep on trying, to practice, to take a healthy risk, to not know the answer and feel ok about it.
(PreK children pondered, the query, “Where does your skin come from?” “What would you name your skin?”)
Thanks to our wonderful SWS community, led by Margi Finneran, Foodprints Teacher and Facilitator, we have an awe inspired garden year round. I wanted to go deeper then the usual observational drawing I do with children. This time I wondered, how are we all connected to the garden? How do children see our connection as human beings to the rest of the world? How does seeing yourself as a part of the world create empathy, perspective, and humility?
I asked children to pick one single thing in the garden and draw it, say…a leaf. Then ask yourself what is the leaf connected to…a branch, and draw that…and then what is the branch connected to.
If you get stuck, just call for me, and I’ll ask you a question so you can keep on going.
Here are some of the awe-filled results:
Here’s Miles’ representation of his thinking: “It starts with a flower.”
Look at his progression. “Space is connected to God. Did you know God makes plants?” he asks
When he finished his face had a huge smile on it.
“Can I do another one? Now?!”
This is Charlie’s thinking. Notice he finds a different direction of thought, as well as his bold graphic representation. His progression goes from observations, to connection, to cooking suggestions, to the scientific process of elimination!
This is Lincoln’s thinking and representation: “I am connected to ground and plants. I am connected to animals. I am connected to my Mom.”
This is Emily’s ideas. “Running is connected to the tomato,” and “I was curious, they are hanging upside down!”
Humility allows children to search, ponder, and endeavor. Humility slows children to feel the flood of gratitude, community, and reflect when they figure something out, create a solution or make something new.
This is a completely different experience then knowing all the answers before you start.
This work gave me new perspectives on each child, and the depth and competency of thought each child possesses. When given the opportunity, look what children do.
This also connects to play.
(Sensory exploration and play with rainbow spaghetti)
(Dramatic play and light exploration seamlessly weave together)
(3 year olds playing office)
I have decided to stop children when they decide to play “Frozen” or “Star Wars” during free time in the studio.
“Hey, friends” I interject, “somebody already wrote the story of Star Wars and Frozen. They are really good stories! Now your job is to make up your own story and play it!”
And I stay present and help them by asking questions to provoke their own story of play.
“Hey what about if you build the fort for your story?”
Media driven or scripted play creates a hierarchy of haves and have nots.
It places burden on parents to buy, endorse, or allow children to watch content they may or may not feel comfortable with. These stories all have main characters who become the definition of standards of beauty and strength and popularity. What does this say to our children who do not look like Elsa or Luke, and never will?
And what does it do to the concept of “Wonder” when the story already has a preconceived ending? That only some children know?
Here is a wonderful brief article from the Washington Post with some ideas on helping your children expand beyond “media scripted play.”
Humility is deeply connected to perseverance and practice, and the beauty of creating together. Here are some images that document some of the Winter performances at SWS, along with the creation of the “Joy” backdrop for SWS.
Humility also gives children the opportunity to trust adults to set healthy boundaries, safe boundaries, and value-driven boundaries.
(There’s Mr. Jere playing the moon sax with the children during the Solstice Moon Ceremony in the Atelier)
Humility takes away the anxiety of not knowing the answers all the time,
and replaces it with creative capacities
to develop something bigger and better than ourselves.
Dear Rainbow Connection, That was really beautiful. Can you do it again???? From Payton
Bigger and better than ourselves.
In August, most of our school met for a retreat. At one point, we were asked to go around the table and share our intention for the school year. When it was my turn, I took a big risk, and I said, “This year, my intention and goal is to teach, learn, and encounter all the ups and downs with love. Not just the hippy part, but the hard, gritty, difficult part.”
For 20 years I’ve been researching young children, creativity, and wonder.
For eight years I have taught a Graduate University class called Art and Science-Developing Creativity at The Corcoran College of Art & Design/George Washington University.
Research is in my favor here.
Businesses want creative curious people. Think tanks want creative curious people. Scientists need creative curious people. Look at this article link here!
Alas, policy only slides deeper into forcing children younger and younger to spend their formative years in a fixed mindset being coerced to decode and read long before they have had the experience to comprehend ideas, problems, relationships, and the world around them.
This is not a flaky word.
Love is extremely difficult. It takes practice, passion, commitment, and grit when applied to any instance…sharing, mistake making, idea forming, friend making, conflict resolving, exploration, imagination, conversation.
Without the source of love, there is no reason to keep on trying, to create something, solve something, learn something, get up after a fall.
Often in life we are required to love a person (our children, our spouse, our sibling, our students, a neighbor), so in need of support that they act unloveable. Where does one build the capacity?
And what does this have to do with the Atelier, School Within School, with children, with collaboration, with wonder, with the 100 Languages?
I would say everything.
In the studio “can’t” is a bad word. A disabling word. What can you say instead? I need help, this is tricky, what do you think, how can I, what is not working here, can someone lend a hand, any ideas how to solve this?
What else is a bad word: Good Job! The children are living life, not performing. What does one say instead?
You worked really hard, how do you feel? Tell me about this? How? Why? When? What?
What part was frustrating? How did you figure out how to solve the problem? What do other people think? What makes you say that? What are you thinking of next? What do you need to practice? You must feel really good, you stuck with it, even when it got hard!
What else is a bad word?
Scribble scrabble. There is no such thing.
Easy peasy. No such thing. If it is that easy then you are not growing.
I know that, I know everything, I’m an expert. (said the 5 year old)
No person knows everything. Life and school would be so boring if you knew everything. We are all researchers here learning together. Different people have different areas that they are very strong in. Together, we learn from each other and strengthen each other. Some grown ups spend many years researching things, we invite them to share with us so we can learn from them. We also learn from our friends who are children.
This is love.
Recognizing mistakes. Leaning in to the unknown. Asking questions because it is rewarding and awe inspiring as opposed to answering the question correctly. Listening, observing, watching, admiring, and loving those around us in our learning groups.
Sometimes this is painful. Sometimes this is joyful.
Let us be a witness to these moments instead of being a fixer.
Let us facilitate the language, the environment, the hands, the mind, the body, and the heart to develop equilibrium in this spinning complex world.
When a child is afraid to make a mark on a paper because they are afraid of making a mistake, this is the opposite of love. When a child is afraid to answer the query, What do you think?, because they are not sure what the “right “ answer is, this is the opposite of love. When a child doesn’t try something new, because it’s different, that is not love. This is fear.
The studio is a place where children practice, express, and communicate in 100 ways.
Conversation in the Atelier with 3 year old Sebastian:
Sebastian: “Ms. McLean, you need to let those butterflies out of the glass, so they can fly home to their families.”
Ms. McLean: “They are called specimens. A scientist found them dead, and instead of letting them just stay on the ground, they carefully put them in glass so we can look closely at them.”
Sebastian: “Well then they need to go to a Dr. so they can get better. So they can go fly out the window to their family”
Ms. McLean: “They are dead Sebastian”
Sebastian: “When will they be done being dead?”
Ms. McLean: “They already died honey.”
Ms. McLean: “I don’t know, they probably lived their whole life, and then got old and died.”
And they they do this hard; with me facilitating, in an environment that provokes curiosity, awe, tenderness, rigor, and satisfaction.
Let’s give our children the gift of failing, of asking for help, of finding delight in the surprise of life and making.
Let’s give our children the time to experiment, practice, and make visible their wonder of the world around them.
Let’s nurture this type of love that does not need an external reward to feel fulfilled,
for the fulfillment is in the experience,
in the doing, in the thinking, in the imagining, in the making.
I am not alone in my research.
Ron Ritchard (Harvard Researcher, HGSE, Project Zero ) has written a new book, The Cultures of Thinking, on these very ideas, he calls it “the residuals of learning.”
Vygotsky called learning in this context Zone of Proximal development, and Howard Gardner talks about Multiple Intelligences.
Loris Mallaguzzi, Reggio Emilia Visionary and founder, writes, “We need to define the role of the adult, not as a transmitter but as a creator of relationships — relationships not only between people but also between things, between thoughts, with the environment.”
To which Milo M. responded, “I’m a vegetarian.”
Let us give our children these opportunities so they can be justice seeking, wonder filled, problem solving, curious, creative, compassionate, and risk taking humans.
This year I’m focusing on love.