The Need to Discover

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Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. – Carl Sagan

My co-teacher L sent me this photo. She said, “Imagine these all over the classroom….. Or like as a fence in the garden….”

I couldn’t deal at all and we had the following speculations about this mysterious plant:

Me: What is this. What does it feel like. Is it smooth. Is it thick? Is it like paper-like? Do the colors change? Is it always that white to green thing.

L: I’m imagining it as thick and sort of waxy. Very sturdy. I hope it grows to add a touch of violet, similar to the color of one of the succulents in our window.

Me:  I don’t know how I feel about the plant. I think I want to break it apart and study it. I want to see how it breaks. Like does it snap. I imagine it doesn’t. I can imagine it bending.

L:  It snaps probably. I’m just basing this off my minor knowledge of other succulents. I just wonder how it got so big, is it like a goldfish-in-it’s-bowl phenomenon where it grows only to the limits of it’s pot or what.

Me:  I mean it seems like it’s not normal. But can’t be sure. A lot of succulents are weird. 

I then commented that this must be what out children feel when they see plants that we adults are already familiar with. The urge to figure out what I was looking at and what I could do with it was so intense. It led me to reflect on how I allow children to act upon those same urges when it comes to other things, plant life or otherwise.

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We talked a lot in our school last year about nature, plant life and bugs. Some teachers feel very strongly that children shouldn’t be allowed to “destroy” nature or kill bugs. Others felt very strongly on the other side of the spectrum, that children should be able to explore the world at will. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, or at least I have in the past. I try to give my personal opinion that we shouldn’t kill bugs, in a way that children feel they still have a choice in the matter. I feel the same way about plants – I let children know if they pick flowers before they bloom they will never bloom, but still leave it up to them to decide.

Having had this experience with awe and wonder over a plant I have never seen before, I have a bit more understanding of my children’s perspective though. The urge to touch, smell, break squish, cut, and learn about something new to me was so strong that I would probably do all of those things if that plant was actually in front of me. As an adult who has formed impulse control capabilities and who understands the value in caring for nature – I would struggle to leave that plant alone.

So imagine how these children feel when they see carrot tops starting to emerge, or tomatoes that aren’t yet ready to pick. They are new and wonderful and engaging and tempting.

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Maybe it is worth exploring the unknown, if only because the very feeling of not knowing is a painful one. – Krzysztok Kieslowski

What does this mean for my practice? I’m not sure. I think understanding our children more deeply will always have a positive effect on our practices.

I also think it will encourage me to create more ways for them to experience new things deeply, and to investigate new things at will. Cut, crush, pull apart, and examine plants we bring into the classroom, grow a tomato plant in our classroom that they can pick as they see fit without warnings of the fruit being under-ripe and keeping singular materials out for extended periods of time.

I think most of all, I will try to take negative connotations out of my tone when it comes to how they interact with nature. don’t want the plants to become bare or the trees to lose their flowers before they bloom,  but I also already know the effects of those things while the children don’t. Just as I wanted to touch, cut, and break the succulent plant, and probably would have, I want to allow my children the same freedom to explore their world and discover these things adults no longer wonder at. Because their need to understand the unknown, is just as important as that trees need to bloom. 

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