Sunday, August 9, 2015

Leaving Room For Wonder

Walking through the park one morning, I noticed a few bricks red bricks peeking up through the grass. Taking a closer look, I noticed a line of bricks. Then, further on, I saw there were actually two rows of red bricks, buried or covered by grass in some places, a brick or two missing in others, stretching through the park.

What were they once a part of?

I had never walked this way before, or at least not in a long time, and couldn’t remember having seen them before. Were they part of an old path? That seemed the most logical answer. But then why were the bricks only in lines, without anything in the middle? Could this be the remnant of some structure? I thought briefly about taking out my smart phone and googling my question – no doubt someone had already asked and answered it before. But it was a beautiful day, and I wanted to enjoy the walk, not stand in the park staring at my phone.

I decided that I’d look up the answer later – maybe there was information on the historical society website, or if not, I could post my question on a “forgotten history” or local architecture forum and get a quick answer. I continued my walk, thinking and wondering about the rows of bricks that continued in uneven and broken rows through the grass. The discovery of the unexpected started my mind wandering, and wondering. What other mysterious objects might I discover? After a while I noticed several half buried bricks in the area around a bench, and then around a tree. Eventually, I found a spot in the park where the bricks clearly formed an intersection of what must have once been paths, now abandoned. But I continued to wonder. Why had these paths been designed this way? And how did they fall into disuse? Why were the bricks so prominent in some places, yet buried in others?

What if I had been on a walk with children when I had noticed these bricks? Perhaps I might have said, “I wonder why these bricks are here?” and used their observations as some starting point for a project or exploration in the classroom. And I might have worked with them to help them discover the answer to their question, in an open-ended, child directed way that allowed the children to take ownership over their own problem solving.

But why does every problem need to be solved?

Problem solving, making observations, forming hypotheses, gathering data, and evaluating the results are important skills. Logical and scientific thinking are essential components of cognitive development and school success. But when we view every question as a vehicle for scientific discovery, or a problem to be solved, we lose a spark of our creativity and imagination. We lose the ability to wonder. “Wonder” becomes just one more step in a science experiment.

But what about wondering for its own sake? Not to generate hypotheses or to find answers. We live in a world where the answers can be at our fingertips at any moment, a world where children are taught that they can discover the answer to any question, whether through their own explorations, or through a few clicks on a screen. We need to help children hold on to some moments of wonder, some moments where children are allowed the experience of wondering for its own sake, to turn questions over and over in their minds without knowing the answer. And perhaps never knowing the answer. The drive to wonder, to think, to pretend, to imagine is as crucial a part of our cognitive make up as the drive to discover. We need to leave room to wonder.

Image by © Robert Llewellyn/Corbis

1 comment:

  1. I like this post Shelli. I think children's natural state is to wonder. All you have to do is give them the time and the space and wonder takes over. Maybe that is why many adults have lost the ability to wonder because we do not give ourselves the time and space. I am glad you found a little wonder and had time to share it. Tom