Teach kids to wonder. Or just enjoy them when they do.
We talk about the wonder of childhood. Sometimes as teachers, we create wonder in our classrooms. And sometimes wonder spontaneously generates, slamming through our scripted plans.
Annabelle (not her real name) stared at the days of the week on her Kindergarten bulletin board. Her class had just sung its daily “Days of the Week” song to the tune of The Addams Family. My attention was on her peers who were charging off the rug after morning meeting. I certainly wasn’t wondering what anyone was thinking, especially a quiet kid.
Turns out, Annabelle was thinking about spelling. In the middle of the classroom chaos, she turned to me. “Why does ‘Thursday’ start with a T?”
She wrinkled her forehead. “It should be an F.”
Fursday? Who says Fursday?
Slow down, Dawn. Before you answer, figure out what she means. Oh, I got it! She is unable to say “th” yet, so she’s spelling the way she speaks.
No. The kid said, “Thursday.”
While I stood replaying her speech patterns in my mind, one of her classmates jumped in. He had assessed the situation and was taking over. “It’s ‘T’ ‘H’ – thuh. Thursday.”
“Oh!” she nodded, smiled and skipped off to her friends. Her peer mentor chuckled to himself, “Fursday.”
I put together what had happened. She hadn’t known about the “th” sound (or had forgotten about it), so she was looking at the word as “Tursday,” which she knew was wrong. She had gone through the alphabet to find the closest single-letter sound to “th,” which very reasonably was “f.”
I was seeing an early speller observe a word, compare its spelling and sounds to what she knew, note the inconsistencies, and problem-solve to find a better solution. Then she asked why her solution wasn’t the right one. Her classmate listened, engaged, and explained the phonemic convention.
By the time I realized that this had been a cool moment, both kids had moved on to coloring. The time for teacher commentary had passed.
It had been a random amazing moment in the classroom. Another quick encounter that I didn’t appreciate until after it was over. Argh, these supersonic moments of learning frustrate me. I want an Amazing Moments Warning System so that I can schedule them into my day. I want time to explain to the kids why their observations are significant.
At the same time, I want to encourage this kind of inquiry in other students. How to do that? I already ask, “What questions do you have?” In this case, even if I had been specific, like asking, “What question do you have about the days of the week, which you say every single morning?” probably would not have elicited Annabelle’s musing. Her question came in the gut of the moment. Fortunately, she was confident enough to articulate what was on her mind.
Should I have “Wonder Time”? “For the next four minutes, you can wonder anything. Look around the room, look out the windows. Write or draw what you’re wondering, then let’s talk about it.” Hmmm. I’d get oddball questions for sure. Guidelines and examples would help. But would Annabelle have come up with this question during Wonder Time? I kind of doubt it. However, maybe Wonder Time would help other kids to build the habit of articulating their own musings.
I could also try to be ready with instant praise for the spontaneous moments. I hadn’t been ready for spelling analysis, so I just watched the moment pass. It would have been great if I had gotten the whole class’s attention and told them about Annabelle’s question. I could have empathized with her thinking. I could have admitted to the class that I still have problems with spelling. Yes, that would have been neat.
But. Sometimes, the magic happens between kids and we’re just lucky to witness. In the middle of Addams family tunes, coloring shamrocks, and countless distractions, sometimes those moments of wonder burble out without us – and the whole point of education appears.
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