Burst Bubbles

We are extremely fortunate where we live in that our children have free reign of cross-country exploration. At the bottom of a very steep paddock owned by a neighbour lies the remains of a once large cattle beast. Long since cleaned by the rubbish collectors and recyclers of the insect world, the bones lie just prominent enough to create a sense of wonderment in little eyes exploring and seeking adventure. These bones have now earned the title of ‘Dinosaur Bones’ and they live ‘Over the Back’ when referred to as part of a proposed expedition plan when heading out the door for the day. Much hypothesising has occurred as to the species of dinosaur these bones may belong to, and great imaginings have happened as to how these bones came to rest at their final spot at the bottom of a paddock in little old Napier, New Zealand.

So naturally, when friends of my children come over the play, a visit to the ‘Dinosaur Bones’ ‘Over the Back’ is on the list. My 7 year old and her friend, with 4 year old in tow headed down the paddock returning with rather a great many bones that they announced would be perfect for their science table at school. The current unit of study …. of all things …. Dinosaurs.

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And suddenly there were palaeontologists invading my lounge. I had bones on the rug and classification, hypothesising and labelling occurring just after afternoon tea had been consumed. The language was rich, the enthusiasm was unmeasurable and the focus for the next hour and a half on these bones was extremely intense. At the end of the play date, the bones were packaged up ready for school and the science table the next day.

When I checked in with my 7 year old after the bones were taken to school as to her teachers comments about their arrival, I was truly saddened and shocked by the response she was given. My child said that her teacher had allowed them to put them on the science table, but that they were probably not real dinosaur bones. That it was highly unlikely that they were authentic, but she would concede and have the bones on the table as artefacts nevertheless.

I felt saddened for my daughter at this response. My wide-eyed, enthusiastic, focused future palaeontologist in one statement was brought rapidly back to ‘the real world’. The world where we work by facts and real-stuff……and that if a child is incorrect, we must correct them…..never mind the learning occurring along the way. Her bubble was well and truly burst.

My 7 year old is a very intelligent child. I suspect underneath it all, she probably had cottoned on to the idea these bones may very well not have been authentic…..but the joy of the pretend and the resultant imaginative role-play, creative thought and blooming language development, in my mind, was far more important than her immediate knowledge of whether or not the bones were actually real.

Why is it that we, as teachers, are somewhat uncomfortable with the magic of make believe and pretend? How do some find it so difficult to see the learning that children engage in by exploring their interests and passions? Why do we think that learning only occurs when someone (usually an adult) is in control of teaching explicit facts and figures? Why is learning seen as a separate activity to life? Children are learning constantly in every moment of the day. For many adults we are continuing to learn at least something new frequently. If not, we should be, for this is how our brain is wired. It has a ‘use it or lose it’ programming code…..and for us to keep the grey matter, we should be challenging ourselves as adult learners often.

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What made me sad with regards to this teachers response is that she missed a moment. She just missed it completely. Instead of taking my child and her friend’s enthusiasm and stoking it’s fire, she dampened it down and suffocated it. Imagine the kind of activities that could have stemmed that day in class with the arrival of these large bones. Maybe they are dinosaur bones…..maybe they’re not? If not, what else……if they are….what kind? How could we find out? Where could we look? The skills to develop in the inquiry are right there…….The possibilities are endless. And yet…..she missed it.

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If we, as teachers, go with our children’s passions and interests……allow them free reign to explore, the learning that unfolds is so much more meaningful to the child than content we may have thought they would have engaged in for the day. Because, after all, it isn’t work when it’s fun right?

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4 thoughts on “Burst Bubbles

  1. Hi there,

    Firstly thank you for your wonderful blog – I have really enjoyed reading your thoughts about education, experiences and inspiring quotes. I am a new entrant teacher living in the Manawatu and on study leave this year finishing my degree, with most of my papers focusing on special needs. I have encouraged lots of my colleagues to read your posts as I think you have a wonderful writing style and can put into words what lots of us are thinking. I particularly related to the post about why you don’t want to go back into the classroom yet – I am looking forward to having my own class again next year but not on the pressure that I feel I will be placed under to meet ‘standards’ that I know from research and brain development that not all of my kids are ready for.

    I wanted to share with you a programme coming out of Australia at the moment called the ‘Walker learning approach’ designed by Kathy Walker. You may have already heard of it but it follows all the latest play and discovery based research into how young children learn and is especially good for boys who need to be active rather than passive. This approach will get me back in the classroom and I am keen to see if New Zealand takes it on with the same enthusiasm as Australia has. With so many more of our new five year olds arriving at school with ASD diagnosis and learning difficulties I believe this approach is a way we can cater to everyones needs without some of the stress and frustrations of trying to ‘fit’ the child to the classroom programme and resulting in tears all round.
    Kathy Walker has a website and an excellent book called ‘Play Matters’ which outlines the approach and how to implement it if you are interested.
    Thank you again for your insights.
    Niki

  2. Hi Niki

    Thank you so much for your lovely feedback about this blog. I do appreciate hearing from people following along with me in my learning journey – sometimes you write into the void and are unsure as to whether or not you are connecting with like-minded people on a similar adventure!

    I had not seen Kathy Walker’s program before, so thank you for sharing. I will take a much closer look at it, as it certainly looks very promising on the surface! It is time we challenge the very nature of our practice within the four walls of the classroom structure. Even more so, we should challenge our very outlook on what we define ‘learning’ as. You are right, there are more children arriving with needs outside of the box and we need to be responsive to our individual children’s needs. I will investigate this program more – looks like some more highly useful PD on the horizon!

    I wish you all the best upon your return to the classroom. Your future students will be extremely fortunate to have a refreshed, reinvigorated and reflective teacher in front of them! Take care of your ‘teacher heart’ and hopefully the standards won’t have quite the impact they (shouldn’t) have!!
    Sarah 🙂

  3. Hi Sarah I just discovered your blog today after stumbling upon an article you wrote that ended up on NZ teachers Facebook page. Well all I will say is Wow!! You have managed to put everything I am thinking about teaching and learning into words. I am one of those teachers who are questioning their practice and say why am I doing the things I am. I am about to start teaching a class of Yr O children and after having done it twice before the traditional way with groups, task boards, systems and planning planning planning. (Which really didn’t work for 3/4 of the class) this time I am setting up a play based learning environment based on the Reggio way, with influences of inquiry/project based learning based on children’s interests. To meet the schools expectations I will still have group work but it will be much shorter so I can be in the play. For the first time in a long time I am nervous, unsure and excited all at once. I don’t know how it will look but I know it will be fun, rewarding, and I get to play and love learning which I why I became a teacher… Thank you for you blogs and keep them coming so I don’t get bogged down in the system. 😄

    • Hi Ginny, great to hear from you. It is so nice to hear from educators that feel similarly to myself. Sometimes it does feel that you are paddling your own waka against a tsunami! Fantastic to hear you are establishing a play-based learning environment for your students – they are so fortunate to have such a reflective and adaptable teacher! You will find that you will enjoy your days far better for the change! Sounds like you are reconnecting with the very reason you went into this profession…..and being ‘true’ to your own ideals and values. When you do that, magic can happen! Please feel free to keep in touch – would love to hear how your journey is going. Good luck 🙂

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