Gaining a Sense Of Wonder. It Takes Time.

There are times over the course of the year, but especially towards the end of the school year, when a teacher can sit back and simply watch the children’s stories unfold. Resting easy, without intervention or instruction, trusting that all the supports are in place to be able to simply listen as the children’s individual stories sing, little melodies woven into great bursts of joyous song.

  The den rocket ship builders.

The den rocket ship builders.

So this happened for me two weeks ago with the four and five-year olds (our “Tracks” class). I was watching the den-rocketship builders. There are three builders and a couple more ad hoc crew members. You can tell the builders from the crew because the builders wear gloves. They bring these each day from home, retrieving them from backpacks before heading to the den for a day’s work. On this day as I sat watching, one of the builders was leaning against the den structure, perched against an angle in one of the branches that served as a launcher. He was staring into the middle distance, his thoughts his own.

I didn’t take a photo and I didn’t ask him what he was thinking. This was a memory I wanted to hold for myself and to leave it for him as well. The other builders hammered here and there behind him. They use these bits of what were once a butcher block cutting board. The rain dissolved it into handy sections. These sections are now axes and hammers. They moved around him. He just sat. And I did too.

In this moment, I thought about time and how uninterrupted time is such an essential ingredient in childhood and in gaining a sense of wonder. I saw it in front of me in this precious moment. We only have the children with us for short periods of time, but the parents and the teachers have all agreed that gaining this wonder will get our full attention with the time and room needed to grow.

  Yet another stump is turned over. She checks these each day, making her rounds, carrying the “adorable baby” insects with her like these two slugs…

Yet another stump is turned over. She checks these each day, making her rounds, carrying the “adorable baby” insects with her like these two slugs…

So as he began to stir, I did too and I looked around at what the other children were doing. The children play alone and in sets, and this too is given room. We have also agreed that there will be room for different kinds of play styles and each will be given time to grow. One child was turning over every stump she could to find “adorable worms.” Another was outlining some “you-won’t-believe” and “we-should-all-run” danger to an audience in the most expressively, realistic way I have seen ever. They all nodded, agreeing, then set off running.

I laughed to myself watching her, thinking that she could certainly earn an Oscar or similar one day, but more likely she would be the very one to convince a group of stodgy aerospace engineers to buy in to her incredibly risky and imaginative idea for off-world exploration. Whatever she accomplishes, I know that she began her story here in these windows of time when her sense of wonder was nurtured.

  Drawing her play in the fairy nature den. “I like to alone-play in this den,” she tells us.

Drawing her play in the fairy nature den. “I like to alone-play in this den,” she tells us.

As I watched, I thought about how this time is fleeting. It is precious and hard-won. We all have to make the agreement to keep it safe and as a school, we actively look for families who will join us in honoring this commitment.

While the children will certainly find room for their sense of wonder to grow outside of school, will this particular kind of wonder follow them within the context of school? I am not so pessimistic to think that all precious moments like these will be prevented or eliminated in other school settings. To be sure, there will be other kinds of wonder that they will find when they head off to “big kid” school.

I mulled this over as I watched them and thought, “Ah, perhaps we should bring about an awareness of this because this time actually can be found wherever they go, in elementary school, in high school, and even in their work as adults.” It is a quality that can be brought to every moment of life. It is like a flame that has been lit and it can be turned up or down as needed. It will always be there.

  This is the den rocket ship. Its branches will be moved and dragged about by another group of children and made into something else, but this moment and the play it held will last a lifetime.

This is the den rocket ship. Its branches will be moved and dragged about by another group of children and made into something else, but this moment and the play it held will last a lifetime.