The Child’s Right to Wonder
By Angelina Lloyd, MEdPsy
In the Autumn of 2009, I drove to school beneath a canopy of sun dappled leaves turning orange, yellow and red. I mentally prepped for my morning line time, eager to present a lesson on the changing seasons. Imagine for a moment: the lights of the classroom dim and a single lamp, sans shade, stands bright at the center of the circle, the sun. I theatrically raise a rainbow colored globe tilting on its metal axis, the earth. I turn it ever so slowly, explaining that one rotation of the earth on its axis is a single day. Together we watch light fall on globe, night and day. I demonstrate the spinning of its axis as we make our year-long trek around the sun, 365 (and ¼) days. I point out how the northern hemisphere tilts away in the cooler months and toward the sun in the warmer months. Voila’, seasons explained.
I parked my car, ready to set things up before the children arrived. And then, quite suddenly, as I stepped onto the sidewalk, a leaf let loose from a branch above and twirled in widening circles toward the ground, landing amidst a raucous display of color. I was transfixed, my lesson forgotten amidst the beauty. I listened to the crunch of leaves as a dog and its human walked past. Unexpectedly, I no longer felt prepared for my circle time. Standing on a mosaic of color, I was humbled by my own, well intentioned arrogance. Why did I think it was my job to explain something without first pausing alongside the children to WONDER? Why would I prioritize my knowledge over their curiosity? Why, when so many young children are experiencing their first conscious Autumn, would I not join them in their discovery?
That moment changed the arc of my teaching career.
I ditched my carefully prepared lesson and sat down at the circle beside them. I said, “Whoa!!! Something major is happening outside! On my way to school I noticed the leaves that were green, just last week, are now yellow and orange and red!!! Have any of you noticed this?” The enthusiasm in the room was palpable. The children’s faces lit up, eager to share. Instead of offering answers I joined in their curiosity. Why are the leaves changing? What does fall mean? Why do some trees drop their leaves while others do not? Why are these leaves red and those yellow? How does it work? We talked for days, then weeks. Their excitement only increased. They brought in leaves and acorns alongside theories about why this might be happening and how. A four year old girl with bright blue eyes suggested, “Maybe the leaves like the color green, but they wear it so long it gets dirty and changes colors. And so they have to take it off.” A four year old boy with his brow furrowed in concentration offered, “If leaves stay green, they’ll get frozen, so they change colors. Every leaf changes color. And then the tree goes to sleep. Yep. That’s it” Their ideas and thoughts swirled around us, brightly colored and full of possibility.
We examined the leaves and the trees. We watched the thermometer posted on the classroom window. We graphed the temperature. It was getting cooler. We posited new theories. I wrote down their ideas, falling in love with their words like poetic invitations to wonder. Did I ever give that lesson? Yes, months later, but by then it wasn’t me sharing “my” knowledge, it was our understanding coming to fruition. It didn’t end our wondering it just broadened the scope of our questions.
I’ve never been more grateful than I am for that single leaf, twirling to the ground, which invited me to pause, to linger and to wonder. Life is a beautiful mystery and no matter how many answers we have there will always be more to discover. I know it can be uncomfortable, but we can trust the children and ourselves to linger with the questions. While I may have an answer, it has been my experience that “I don’t know” is one of the best tools in my teaching toolkit. Curiosity is the cornerstone of learning. When we encourage the right to wonder, we are transported, however briefly, into the landscape of childhood, where we might rediscover something great and genuine- a life filled with wonder. Together we might take a moment to pause in awe at the beauty that surrounds us, one twirling leaf at a time.