By Tam Weiss Rhodes and Heidi Wolf
Marvel: to become filled with surprise, wonder, or amazed curiosity, to feel astonishment or perplexity at or about, intense surprise or interest
I. Learning in context
The “Wonder of Learning” exhibit brought a multi-media display to the Madison, Wisconsin Public Library sharing the work of educators and children from Reggio Emilia, Italy with educators, parents and child advocates. The Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota coordinated a study visit to the Exhibit April 12 – 13, 2019. An event on Friday evening framed our experience and helped us start thinking of moments in our lives with children that were moments of wonder. In small groups, we shared a photo or described a moment when we witnessed a moment of wonder in learning.
Through the exhibit we were offered a deeper look at potential ways teachers can implement and support child-centered learning, and teachers and children can co-construct knowledge around projects.
Heidi: Many of the exhibit panels had sentences or paragraphs that I had to read and reread and even write them down to ponder later. One that stood out was:
“Environments can multiply these marvelings – singling out certain phenomena and ‘amplifying’ them, making them more spectacular.”
Tam: The exhibit triggered reflections and questions on our interactions with children, heightened our awareness of patterns of adult thinking that can hinder us from seeing children and gave guideposts, generated ideas and posed new questions.
- Where are my “aha” moments, and why?
- What happens when I see this learning in the children around me? How do I respond now and what can I change?
- How can I bring about this change?
Heidi: Since seeing the “Wonder of Learning” exhibit, I am making a renewed effort to REALLY observe the youngest in my classroom, to set up the environment with simple materials that engage children and to slow down and let them take in the magic and be in the moment with them.
I am still learning to observe the toddlers in my care and join in their delight and surprise, and to remember what magic each of these experiences might be for them.
II. The photograph
We are standing together at the “Wonder of Learning” exhibit; independently stopping in silence for a long time in front of one particular panel.
Tam: I turn to Heidi and launch into an exchange that seems to continue a conversation begun the night before, during the Network welcome, to launch our work. We are looking together at an image in which children are walking, there are vines tangling their feet, and the teacher appears to realize that something magical is happening.
What grabs my attention is this moment here. Much of the other work is beautiful, but it seems familiar to me because it is situated within the context of the school and classroom. (I point to the photograph.) But here - here’s what I can’t stop thinking about.
Heidi: I was struck with how closely the teachers watched the children for evidence of learning, especially reading body language since these children are just beginning talkers. This reminded me how important observation is, especially with the youngest learners.
Tam: As an adult, attuning to the emotional lives of children distorts time. I have to slow down to value the child’s frustration simply feeling a vine tangling tiny feet – feet that have just mastered walking. At the same time, I have to speed up to act quickly enough to snap the mental image (or photograph), listen to the child, envision the possible trajectories of this learning opportunity, and ensure the child is safely able to negotiate space once more.
And so, I’m here. I get stopped right here.
Heidi: When I was looking at the panel and that photo of feet, entangled in a vine, I too get stuck, but in a way that makes me speculate how often I miss moments of opportunity with children when I rush them along, especially the toddlers, in my effort to keep up with the group of older children in our multi-aged classroom. How often have I robbed the toddlers in the group of a moment of wonder or missed a chance to notice a discovery? I stop myself here, asking, how can I remember to SLOW down, and join the moment of discovery and to see it?
It occurs to me that as adults, as we gain knowledge in life, the routine of daily life becomes mundane. I wonder if we have lost touch with the feeling of what it is like to marvel. Maybe it’s a version of childhood amnesia. With children, especially toddlers, everything is new, everything is magical – a true MARVEL. I think adults forget that the joy and struggle of discovery is more important than the final skill acquired.