Opal School closed in 2021. You can continue to access these resources for free at teachingpreschoolpartners.org/resource-library/.

Opal School Children on Play and Learning


Since this video was created for the Association of Children's Museum's annual conference in May 2012, it has gotten a lot of attention — most notably from John Seely Brown, who was thrilled to see it just prior to his keynote address as the conference. 

It is interesting, given the attention it has gotten from various well known organizations as well as Brown, that it hasn't been shared more widely. Recently, someone wrote that the children are "parroting" language they have heard. 

Listen carefully to the language of the children. Where do you hear language that has been parroted? Where do you hear language that is clearly an innovative contruction of a novel idea, based on lived experience? What is the difference? Why might it matter? 

What societal forces make it difficult to value the insight the children are sharing? 

Share your thoughts in the comments field below or the discussion forum to extend our thinking about language and our image of children.

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4 responses to “Opal School Children on Play and Learning

  1. I think there is a huge difference in language that has been parroted and language that is constructed based on lived experiences. Parroted to me is when a child is just given an answer or told what to think. True language that represents the child is language that’s based on their lived experiences. I personally do not feel that the children’s responses we in any way parroted. Their responses were a direct reflection of the experiences they have had and the environments in which they have worked. It’s clear that the children have been given a great deal of respect. They are viewed as competed and capable children who are able to produce such language, they don’t need parroting. Their ideas, thoughts, questions and feelings have been carefully listened to and supported through their experiences at school. I think the terms they are using reflect the conversations they have had with their teachers. It appears to me that the teachers and children have engaged in some very meaningful, deep and rich conversations.
    CMSD, Carrie Benson

  2. I don’t hear parroting at all! In fact, I hear children unpacking (“cracking open”) the words for themselves (“wonder” about learning vs. “wonderful” learning). It feels to me using the term “parroting” approaches children’s experimentation with language from a stance of distrust; from a deficit model of children’s ability to understand, connect, make real for themselves. Seems to express more a lack of comfort on the part of adults: do WE truly understand these words? Wonderful to have them reintroduced to us by children’s minds.

  3. All children’s language is learned from other humans. When used to express their own thoughts and experiences, this isn’t parroting. When children are exposed to a rich vocabulary, they acquire a deeper and more nuanced understanding. They incorporate the words into their own vocabulary and are able to grasp new concepts and articulate them. I love that words matter so deeply to children encouraged to explore them, as shown in the video where the children were “unpacking” the word “research.” Language is a tool which children will interact with just as they play with everything else in their environment. I consciously use words that make the children in my preschool classroom wonder and think. It is my gift to them.

  4. America still carries the cultural legacy of “children should be seen and not heard.” If you don’t listen to children then of course this video would surprise you. The commenter can only imagine these children are merely parroting adults because they lack the experience of truly knowing children for what they are; capable, engaged, innovative people with valuable insight to share!

    I remember growing up and being asked “what are you going to be when you grow up?” As if I was not someone already. That somehow adulthood would bestow upon me wisdom, insight and value.

    I don’t think our consumer based society is interested in getting to know it’s children as much as it is interested in understanding them for the purpose of selling them something.

    Sad, really. I feel so lucky to be a part of a community who value my children as individuals and capable members. I believe every word in this video is an authentic expression of what each of these children think.

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