“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
Kindergarteners come to school with a huge sense of wonder. They are constantly questioning, pondering, discovering, wondering, exploring – it’s just a natural part of who they are. I absolutely love this part of working with four and five year olds! I think it’s my job to keep that sense of wonder alive and to encourage it as a part of the learning experience. While most of us have a curriculum and/or state standards to follow, I find that the standards are simply a departure point. If I only teach the standards as they are written, in order to “cover” an objective, I miss many opportunities to get kids excited about learning. I once had an instructor tell me, “if you’re only going to cover something, you may as well bury it in the backyard.” This has stuck with me and I try very hard to create learning experiences that are ongoing, meaningful, deep and full of discoveries.
Life cycles are a part of our curriculum. Our county provides us with an ant farm, which is a fun way to study life cycles, but I like to go beyond that by extending this study throughout the year. We start the year with monarch caterpillars in our classroom. We witness the amazing transformation to butterflies and then track their migration to Mexico. In the winter we bring “baby beetles”, commonly called mealworms, into our classroom. The children observe the tiny wormlike critters go through their transformation into large, black beetles. We count, record and observe the changes. We get them out of their habitat and look at them closely, feel them crawling on our hands and experience their life cycle firsthand. We get an incubator in the spring and learn about chickens – watching the baby chicks hatch in our classroom. Through these many experiences, students truly learn our required standard about the life cycles of living creatures. They also learn much, much more.
This year my class is extremely interested in dinosaurs. I started a dinosaur box the first week of school in order to appeal to this interest. I filled it with dinosaur books, toy dinosaurs, pictures of dinosaurs and fabrics, rocks & stones to create dinosaur habitats. We also have a dinosaur sensory box, an app on our ipads that teaches kids how to draw dinosaurs as well as an app that teaches kids information about dinosaurs. Out of this play area, many children have written books to teach others about dinosaurs. They have learned how to read nonfiction texts with graphs, labels, captions, and various nonfiction text features. They are continuously drawn to the dinosaur play because it is something that interests them. They want to learn more and they want to share their learning with others. Are dinosaurs in my curriculum? No, but through the dinosaur play many of my literacy standards are being met.
Another way I try to keep wonder alive in our classroom is with our “Wonder Wall”. I first read about this idea in the fabulous book, A Place for Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jen McDonough. We have a special board in our room where we can put post-it notes about things we wonder about. This is a way to keep track of our thinking and to remind us about things we want to talk about, investigate, explore and learn more about. I keep a close eye on the Wonder Wall and use it as a launching place for classroom units of study, books we read, websites to visit and experts we might know that can come and share their knowledge with us. It’s a great way to keep track of the many wonders that kindergarteners have!
Deep learning and exploring happens when children are encouraged to follow passions, explore interests, inquire and wonder. Giving children time to explore and honoring their investigations, thoughts and discoveries allows for real learning that will stay with children forever. I try to not get caught up in the push to follow pacing guides and “cover” the curriculum. I want my teaching to be deep so that the learning sticks and is meaningful and exciting for the children. I follow the children’s lead while making sure I am accountable to the curriculum, standards and expectations of my county. It’s a juggling act of sorts, and it’s not easy, but it’s something that I can’t do any other way. I strive to be that “good fairy” and give my children the gift of a lifelong sense of wonder and to keep my sense of wonder alive each day in our classroom. I can only do that when my focus is on the children in our classroom, their interests and their needs, at this moment in time.
How are you keeping wonder alive in your classroom?
This post is cross posted on the #kinderchat blog as part of the NaBloPoMo project. Early childhood educators from all over the world have contributed to the #kinderchat blog this month for daily posts about teaching children in the early grades. Join us for our weekly chat on Twitter – 9pm EST Mondays under the #kinderchat hashtag – and for a new Webinar series starting January 30. Katie will be leading a conversation about writing in the early years at 9pm EST January 30. Join us in Blackboard Collaborate for the first #kinderchat Campfire Webinar!