Tag Archives: genuine interest

Inspiring Curiosity and Wonder

Each purple link in this post will take you to an ECE blogger 
that has inspired me in some way. Check the blog roll on
the left for more inspiration.

Young children are fascinated with anything that stimulates their senses. Consider the newborn that is drawn to human faces and the sound of Mommy’s voice, or the toddler who delights in blowing and chasing bubbles, and the preschooler who can’t get enough of GAK or OOBLEK. These experiences not only delight multiple senses, they inspire curiosity and wonder.

Childhood should be filled with the kinds of experience that engage the senses and challenge children to expand their thinking. Musings such as “I wonder what will happen if…” should be a mantra in any early childhood setting. To observe a child and see the concentration on his face, or the deliberateness in his hand movements is utterly fascinating. As an adult, watching this exploration from the outside makes me wonder what this child is thinking and what is motivating him. I wonder about what this child is wondering about.

Will he figure out how to make the mobile move?

Will she discover how to make a bubble land on her hand without popping?

Will he find a way to re-create the sound of crashing blocks using the musical instruments?

Then of course, my thoughts turn to how I can support this exploration.

  • What other materials can I provide to encourage the process of discovery?
  • What provocations can I set up to continue to spark this child’s curiosity and wonder?
  • How can I engage this child, either through an experience or a conversation, to learn more about what she is thinking or what motivates her?
  • How can I support the process of discovery without taking over, gently finding just the right words or interactions to extend the learning?

I am constantly fascinated by the depth of a child’s thinking and understanding. While their language skills and vocabulary may not provide a means of expression, their actions certainly do. This takes me back to the look of concentration, the focus of their attention, or the engagement of their hands.

When I visit a program where the teachers share this fascination, it’s obvious. The wonder and curiosity of the teachers, about the children, is so clearly evident in the layout of the environment, or the documentation that is displayed. How a teacher or caregiver sets up an invitation for play and learning is directly related to the value that caregiver places on capturing the hearts and minds of the children in their care.

I shared my excitement in a previous post about how fascinating it is to watch teachers truly engage with young children. I so truly enjoy watching teachers have conversations with children. I love to see their descriptions of various experiences through photos and written documentation. It’s especially gratifying for me to see (hear) the teachers voice in the documentation, opening the door to what makes that teacher wonder about the children.  To see the reflections of the teachers, and of the children is so delightful. Margie Carter and Deb Curtis from Harvesting Resources have written great articles and books about this kind of reflective practice that engages curiosity and wonder in teachers.

Sometimes, I don’t have the opportunity to be in a program with a caregiver to see all of the engaging experiences that take place, but I get to live it second hand when these caregivers share stories during a workshop with me. I live for the opportunity to talk with caregivers about what inspires them, what creates that sense of curiosity and wonder within them, and what they can do to continue to engage and inspire the children in their care. So a shout out to all my teacher friends who have allowed me the opportunity to question and challenge them about why they do what they do. The questions aren’t always easy, and they don’t always lead to answers, but the process is invigorating for me. I hope it is for them too!

So tell me what inspires you? What creates a sense of curiosity and wonder in your work with young children? I’d love to hear your ideas!


What Kind of Observer are You?

I had the opportunity to visit St. John’s Episcopal Preschool  in Washington, D.C. St. John’s program  is inspired by the philosophy of the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. And inspired it is! When my good friend and colleague, DJ Jensen asked what I liked best about the program, I said “observing the teachers.”

I visit childcare centers and preschools several times a week, with an opportunity to observe teachers, their environments, and their interactions with young children. During my visit to St. John’s was the first time that I truly witnessed what I’ve been describing for all these years. Usually, what I see teachers doing is more of a “lifeguard” style of observing. Teachers scan the room frequently to make sure that everyone is safe. They look around to see where everyone is playing and with whom, but it rarely goes any deeper than that. Teachers capture the surface details of what’s going on, but typically miss the heart of what is happening.

Typically, when I ask teachers to review their observation notes and share one thing they learned, most teachers will tell me that their notes did not reveal anything of value. We tend to train teachers to observe in a clinical sense, removing them from the action and reporting the facts, just the facts. While there is value in that kind of observation for specific purposes, in general, this type of observing does not truly support observing to build relationships with children.

The teachers at St. John’s were actively engaged with the children during their play. They sat at the tables and on the floor and talked with the children. They asked questions, and they waited for responses. They showed a genuine interest in what each child was doing. While they engaged with the children, they took notes on what they saw and heard. They took notes on their conversations. Those notes sometimes made it into a documentation panel, which shows a period of extended exploration and learning. The documentation panels highlighted explorations and discoveries of the group as well as from individual children. Successes and failures were documented, with quotes and questions from both the teachers and children.

One thing I noted from the visit to St. John’s was the amount of TIME the teachers devoted to exploration and discovery. While these classrooms were busy, they lacked the frenetic pacing that so often occurs in many preschool classrooms. There were few transitions, which allowed for much more time for play, and the chance to explore everything in more depth. There was no pressure to “get things done,” as is so often the case in many programs.

When we can take the TIME to slow down and BE with children, we have the opportunity to rediscover the joy of being 2 or 3 or 4. When we slow down and BE with children, we can rediscover the reasons many of us became teachers in the first place. When we slow down to BE with children, we can learn:

  • What inspires curiosity and wonder in the child
  • What motivates the child and keeps him engaged
  • How does the child think and problem solve
  • Who is this child as a learner
  • What makes this child happy and joyful

This is the kind of observation that every child deserves.