Monday, 17 August 2015

Seeing the World Through the Child's Eyes:

The Surprise of Child-led Learning Environments

Reflecting on Practice

Will is the life force for children and without its energy something vital in them dies.  What sap is to the paint, will is to the human being.  Will is vitality, the iridescent juice which makes one's spirit shine.   Will urges the child to it's blood-and-silver path.... Will tensions the wings, lifts the flight feathers into the storm to generate its own power in the unsteady sky and to wait, hovering, holding a moment of betweenness, after flight and before pitch, between horizon and air, between in-breath and out-breath, to decide in its own moment to swoop or to soar.  It is will that makes the eagles flight radiant; in the wildness is its integrity for only when it is self-willed can it be true to itself.  Will animates, intoxicates, energizes; will is the rebel and angel mesmerized by earth and air; it improvises, riffing where it lists.   

Without self-will, children's well-being may be affected.  Without wildness, they can go crazy. Bury it though you many, wildness will explode out of the earth and out of the child.  Suppressed wildness (and repressed will) take their revenge later in self-destructive madness, drugged oblivion or self-harm.

Kindled in earth, of a kind with all animals, kin to kittens, cubs and chicks, children are not aliens to wildness but akin to it, wild at the raw core.  

Chapter 8 (The Will of the Wild), Jay Griffiths, Kith

Something happened to me this past week that made me stop and think more deeply about child-led learning environments and how, at their very core, is the will of the child.  While viewing a spider at work on it's freshly caught prey I was about to start sharing what I was seeing before me.  Then, I was stopped in my tracks with the realization that what appeared before me as so obviously occurring was the complete opposite of what the children saw happening.  By embracing children's hunches, wonders, interests, questions, ideas, and thoughts as intrinsic elements essential in guiding learning we  help to support and foster a culture of learning that is process driven rather than outcome driven.  I have worked with children in both traditional and nontraditional learning environments in diverse settings and have witnessed the magic that unfolds when children pursue knowledge of their own will, when their will is honoured as the learning unfolds, and where the learning culture is supported by an ethos that embraces experiential, inquiry-based, emergent, play and place-based learning.  And it's not just the learning process that is magical.  I have seen the child's encounters with their environments change to ones of respect, empathy, wonder, and an open-heartedness that is quite humbling to witness.  I have learned that when children make deep and meaningful connections to their environment through these means the learning that happens is long-lasting.

All of this also brings to mind  Carol Dweck's growth mindset theory and her ideas around praising the process rather than praising the end result in order to teach kids a love of learning that then helps them to embrace unknown challenges.  The idea of "not yet" opens the doors to possibilities for unfolding growth, modification, expansion, adaptation, and transformation.  An idea that truly changed how talent was previously considered as a fixed point.  What I deeply resonate with, though, is her idea that whatever is there, whatever presents itself in the present moment as the child encounters his or her environment that is the raw material that we have to work with.  This is my favourite take away, my aha, that meeting the child wherever they are at is the starting point in the learning process.

Bearing that in mind, please view these #EverydayNature encounters with a spider.  It's a series of three clips and the final clip records what the children think is happening.  What shocked me and consequently caused me to stop recording is my own realization that what I think is happening may not be the same as what children think is happening.  When I think of the child-led learning environment and the idea that we begin with whatever presents itself in the present moment and to honour the child's process in learning I have been wondering how this encounter could have unfolded differently and how to support future learning around this observation?




What: What did the child observe? The child observed a spider killing its prey. 

So What:  What were the child's hunches, wonders, thoughts, ideas, questions, and interests?
The child thought the spider was swatting its baby in a swatting cloth.  The children said, "It's a baby."

Now What:  How can the child's learning process be supported? 
In progress.....

Below, you will find a lovely game that we played which demonstrates how we fostered a culture of learning that values a process driven learning model.   This inspiration came from our daily observations in nature.  

Learning In and Through Nature

Inspired by spiders:
How Spiders Inspired Us to Value a Process Driven Learning Model

We began noticing that spiders spin their web as traps for their prey.  We observed insects that were caught in the spider's sticky silk on its web.  We also observed that the location of a spiders web help determine how many insects the spiders caught.  Location, location, location!  So, we asked the question:  Who is the smartest spider in the forest? Which spider was smart enough to find the best location for snagging the most insects?  

We observed that when the location was not right a spider would pack it's bags and leave its location in order to spin another web somewhere else.  Its talent for finding the best locations to hang its trap was not fixed.  The spider could improve its learning through process, experience, and trial and error.  We tried to find where the new locations were.  Where did that spider move to?  We discussed whether or not we thought that the new location was the best location?  Was the spider learning through a process driven learning model?  Could the children's own learning process be reflected in the spider's learning process?   

As our observations continued, we noticed that spider webs were suspended within an outlying structure as we followed the spider's silk to trees and branches.  So, when had an idea!!  Why not build our own outlying structure and then move it around to areas where we thought would be the 'best location' for a spider?  

Here is our spider observatory...

We asked ourselves three questions:

1.  Will the spider spin its web in the location we have set out for it?


2.  Will it snag it's prey?


3.  Will it pack it's bags and leave?

Building Our Structure:

The Spider Observatory

We felted these spiders because our observatory became a risk hazard as it was not clearly visible in it's natural surroundings and the children would trip over it time and time again.  We fastened them to the observatory frame which then became more clearly delineated in our forest environment.  The children just loved these felted spiders and the tripping hazard was diverted!

Felted spiders 

Here's to the surprise of child-led learning environments and meeting the child where they are at! 

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