The Joy of Discovery
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
-William Butler Yeats
So much has happened, can it really only be the end of the second full week of school? Students have moved through their initial apprehension for the most part, have begun to learn each others names in earnest and, most exciting of all, are trying out lots and lots of new things. Discovery. The moment when you challenge yourself a little, or a lot and find out something new. Discovery… is sweet.
The students in the Early Kindergarten class are all about discovery right now. We haven’t used that word or talked about it in this way yet, but they are living it, everyday in so many ways. Their courage is remarkable and it makes my heart sing that I get the honor of being there with them when some of their discoveries are made.
Some discoveries are of relationships and budding friendships – new people who haven’t gotten to know each other yet – then, something brings them together. They might have chosen the same area at explore or story workshop or been put together as partners in math. Maybe they were door holders together or sat next to one another at lunch. Whatever it is, a connection gets made to someone new, a new possibility opens up and joy flows in.
Yesterday in the hallway lining up to go outside I got to witness this moment as two students, AH and JL found themselves in line together. They had connected a few times on the playground as windbirds and then as partners in math. They looked at each other, broke out into huge smiles, looked back at me and said, “We’re friends!”
Some discoveries are self discoveries. A child may not understand something or be hesitant to try something new. These challenges can be like mountains – hard to climb. Trying a new food at snack can be one of these mountains, so can having to go to a new place in the classroom if the place you wanted to go is full. Children see other children doing things they haven’t tried yet. This exposure to others with different abilities and tastes, different interests and experiences is so powerful. Seeing a peer do something, seeing them LOVE doing something is a true motivator… I wonder what that might feel like, maybe I could do it too.
Many of these self discoveries happen outside. Yesterday on the playground, LB had a big moment of vision, challenge and discovery. She saw her friends swinging and dropping down from the play structure and she wanted to do it. She went up and sat far away from the edge crying, “I want to do it, will you hold me? You need to hold me the whole time, OK?!” I held her, and through tears she did it once, twice, three times with me holding her. “OK, don’t hold me this time.” She climbs up. “I need you to hold me!!!!, but just till I am swinging, then let go.” Many times she swung and dropped to the ground herself. “Don’t touch me at all this time, OK?” “OK.” She climbed up. “Hold me!, Just while I am sitting.” As soon as she got her hands on the bars she told me to let go. Each time took her a little bit closer to doing it herself, until finally she did it, all by herself and when she reached the ground she looked up beaming, “I did it! Watch me, watch me do it again!” Her excitement and energy were electric, LB discovered that she could.
One more discovery I want to share is the discovery of materials. This is the power of setting up a provocation – an invitation to consider something in a new way. It is part of what we mean by the environment as a teacher. Nicole had set up a chance to explore tempera paint in the studio, but the provocation was both strikingly simple and beautiful – black paper with white paint and white paper with black paint. One color paint, one color paper to work with but opposites next to one another. This experience had discovery written all over it. What will the paint look like on my paper, how will mine look different from that one, what will I paint?
The anticipation was thick as we talked about tempera paint, how to use and care for the materials and what possibilities might be in store for us. As soon as paint hit paper, the children were engulfed both alone and together in the world of discovery.
DM: I made a circle!
Teacher: What is happening to that circle?
DM: I can’t tell you yet.
CG; If you do it (paint) really light, you can make really light paint.
DM: The white (paint) is grey!
JL: I am going to paint the whole paper white.
CG: I’m almost done painting my whole piece black!
AH: This is bad and this is good. This is the fire coming out and the good guy is winning.
The black can really work on the white because it is not the same color.
DM: The big brush made it rough and the little one (brush) made it soft. It was going to be a big machine with all those circles and then it turned into a big box.
CG: It reminds me of a water fountain and these knock these and turn them lighter and into a different shape and then they go in here and it is a tube that goes underground and then goes into the sewer and ground.
HF-A: I made grey! Look!
Teacher: What are you noticing?
H F-A : Grey!
Teacher: Is it just one grey?
H F-A : No, it is two greys and …. white.
Opal school is full of daily discoveries. We, as teachers, set up intentionally to encourage them. We look for them, honor them and celebrate these experiences of discovery. What do you see as the implications for children who grow up in an environment rich in their own discoveries and the discoveries of others around them? How might this impact their view of themselves and their view of the world around them?