Look What We Found!

by, Amy Butler

North Branch Nature Center

Montpelier, Vermont

The following conversation was recorded this spring in Harrison Field during an ECO day with children from Union Elementary School.  

"Look! Another one! You can pick it up."
"Woah, I found one! On the leaves,..I don't know."
"Guys, we keep finding them! We better have a big pack to put them in."
"Yeah, you can find one for it!"

"Oh! You almost stepped on this one."

"Oh. Sorry."

"Is it alive? Look, more."
"They are not alive, but they have fur."
"Come on guys follow me, I saw some more. I found another one!"
"Same over here. I found the baby!"
"Put it in my hand."
"Oh you got it,... the baby. Here's the baby. Here's the baby."
"Awwwww. Their cute. Isn't that a baby?"
"Hey look. We found the baby one. Come and see the baby. Put it down."

At this point I am discovered and the young child focuses on what's in my hand.
"What's that?"
"Well, it's a tool. It's a way scientists can record what they are learning about."
I am holding a small audio recorder, documentating this unfolding of intrinsic wonderment.
The child looks back up at me and with a very serious face and voice says,

"We should record this. Can we record this? Can we use that tool?"


Now the child designated to hold these babies proclaims,
"Journals! We need our journals!"
"We need red pencils."
"Some are purple. And they have green stems."
"They are pink too!"
My audio recording ends here. But I guess you could also say this is where it begins. This is where all learning begins. By asking questions and following a mystery. Developing language, social skills, moving and talking, shouting, pausing, observing, wondering. Curiousity is a powerful drive in a young child that can lead to some of the deepest learning. I never answered these kindergarteners questions. They never even asked me to tell them what it was that they were finding all over the forest floor on that early spring morning. Instead, I joined them in their world of imagination and discovery. I knew what it was that they were bubbling over with excitement about. But my knowledge of the mystery is really quite boring compared to their 30 minutes of active engagement. You want good inquiry based learning? Then don't answer their questions. Answer their curiousity with another question and then another. For strong cognitive development to occur we need to offer children new knowledge just on the edge of what they already know. In educational psychology terms it's called the zone of proximal development. By not answering right away we allow children to master new tasks such as language, cooperation, empathy, and how to use tools to further their knowledge. Just like the two children in the dialogue above. No adults needed. So even if you know the answer, pretend like you don't. In an age where answers are literally at our finger tips, it's important to slow down, relax and enjoy the sense of wonder with the children around you.

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