Thursday, June 13, 2013

It "Distappeared!!!!" : The Value of Unexpected Learning

Jack made something "distappear".  To him, it was the greatest discovery Eh-VER!

Making something disappear was a side effect of the joys of unexpected learning.  Lucky enough for the children in my program, I have learned through the years that unexpected moments trump my plans any day.  I came to the realization that my plans are tainted with adult, fenced-in ideas, and should have limited appearances in my early childhood program.  Children should be trusted to lead their own learning and I should follow them and make their unexpected ideas "our plan".  I have, through observation, acquired the knowledge LOUD AND CLEAR, that it is in the best interest of the children (aka:  BEST PRACTICE) for me to step back, and release control (AAACK!  Do the words "release control" give you the heebie jeebies?  click HERE). 

It is in the best interest of my littles for me to appreciate the learning and value in the unexpected moments.

Think about it:

The possibilities are endless in the mind of a young child.  They are not yet spoiled by the "correct" answer.  Will it float?  Will it sink?  What will happen if...?  What if we try this...?  What about that....?  Can we mix this and that together...?  What happens if I drop this, or throw that?  What happens if I use this, to do that?

We adults already know most of the answers to those questions...BUT, a young child does not, and there is so much learning in the predicting and the gathering of evidence and proof.  Priceless learning in trying and in the finding out.  Valuable learning is found in being allowed to wonder and then discover the answer to that wonder. 

We adults must be careful.  We have the power to destroy the ownership of discovery, and all the learning that accompanies it with a few simple words.  "It won't work" or "Yes, it does" or "It's not suppose to be used like that" can ruin the opportunity for discovery in a second.   Our adult expectations and knowledge can get in the way of the BEST of wonders!!

Here's what happened recently in my program.  This incident sparked this entire post....enjoy!

I plopped (what the heck is a plop? CLICK HERE) a bucket of water and paint brushes outside.  On one table I had the buggy flubber, on another table, soap dough (recipe at the end of this post).  We also had the plastic raingutter at the end of the sump pump hose, waiting for that surprising squirt of water to rush various objects down the "slide" (as my crew had accurately named it). 

It took about 30 minutes before I heard the first "I wonder"

Side Note:  Children's play needs TIME to evolve.  If the children in your program are allowed just 30 minutes of free play time, they are not getting the full benefit out of play.  I hear time and time again from people, I try to plop, but it doesn't work for me.  The kids walk away after five minutes.  They don't do anything with it.  CHILDREN NEED TIME.  Children also need to be bored.  GRAND things come out of a little boredom and TIME!

Curious Child:  "Nita!  I wonder what would happen if we put the flubber in the rain gutter?  Do you think it will float?"

Thoughts that swirled in my  head:    Of course not.  Its so dense it will sink to the bottom every time.  No way will it float.  Oh, but I need to let them figure that out.  Don't spoil the moment, Denita!!
Thoughts that thankfully came out of my mouth:   "I have no idea.  Why don't you try it and tell me what happens?"

Guess what?  It slid down the slide, lickety split.  It made no difference if it sank or if it floated.  It was now SLIPPERY and AWESOME! 

One thing led to another and the bucket of water with the paint brushes in it quickly became a playground for flubber, and man was it exciting!  "Flubber sinks!  Flubber sinks!" was overheard, quickly followed by a "Lets make a boat with it..I bet it will float then!!"  LOTS of trying, lots of failing and lots of learning and owning of discoveries.

Soon.  Another wonder.  This time, regarding the soap dough (Soap dough consists of dish soap and corn starch...gee....what is going to happen to that if it goes in the water?  My adult mind knows...but, again, luckily my mouth chose not to disclose that information)

Curious Child:  "Hey Nita!  I wonder what will happen if I put this stuff in the water?"
Thoughts that swirled around my head and tickled my tongue:  It's made out of soap for goodness sakes, it's going to just be mush when you get it wet.  Won't be any fun at all
Thoughts that won the internal battle and came out of my mouth:    "I don't know!  Why don't you try it and tell me what happens?"

Click here to view this 29 second video of what happened (trust me...this video SAYS IT ALL):  "DISTAPEARRED VIDEO"

To think that a few simple words would have taken that innocent amazement and ownership of discovery away from that child!!

The moral of this post? 
Adults need to make their adult-ideas "distappear" :). 

1)  We need to carefully, and purposely sort out those swirling thoughts and make sure the motivating ones come out of our mouths.  Instead of telling our littles everything we know,  we need to excite their curiosity in a way that tells them their idea is:   "an awesome wonder,  I don't know what will happen, but I trust you to find out". 

2)  We need to accept the fact that a lot of times, our adult plans can stifle the potential of unexpected learning.  Adult plans should be available for a limited time only in early childhood programs. 

3)  We need to RELAX, and follow children.  Making their amazing wonders "the plan" is not only loaded with learning potential, it is also very empowering too!

"Distappearing Dough" (aka:  soap dough)

2  35 oz containers of cornstarch (Sams Club or Costco)
1 56 bottle of Dawn dishsoap

Mix and mix and mix and mix and knead and knead and knead.  This will be a very messy process.  Once a dough has formed, wash and dry hands well, and dough will no longer be so sticky.  This dough can be formed and scooped like ice cream.  It is super soft to the touch.