Provoking Wonder, Curiosity, and Intellectual Engagement

In Designs for Living and Learning (chapter 5, titled ‘Provoking Wonder, Curiosity, and Intellectual Engagement’), Deb Curtis writes:

Designs for Living and LearningChildren are intrigued with natural phenomena and the physical properties around them – things such as light, color, reflection, sound, motion – the world of physics and chemistry. On the one hand, these things are mysterious and magical to them. But children are also eager and natural scientists, full of wonder, observing closely and taking action to try out their theories about how the world works. They are drawn to sparkles and shadows, and attuned to the sounds [-p.122] around them. They stop to look up and listen when a bird or an airplane flies overhead. Children eagerly put transparent objects up to their eyes to look at the world in new ways. Where these things often go unnoticed or unappreciated by adults, children are quick to be engaged by the smallest sparkly object and call it a treasure. In a place filled with planned opportunities to encounter these phenomena, children will continue to develop inquisitive minds and reverence for the world. With an intellectually engaging environment and scaffolding to explore their questions and theories, young children can develop many healthy dispositions toward learning and acquire skills, deeper understandings, and increasing curiosity about and respect for the amazing world.
However, many program environments lack anything that evokes a sense of magic or intellectual curiosity. Typical early education environments are either overstimulating or oversimplified, failing to engage children beyond a moment of surprise or entertainment. Materials aimed at teaching with achievement-oriented outcomes often convey a message that learning is dry and boring. Cartoon images and commercial figures suggest that learning should always be entertaining. When teachers fill classroom environments with these kinds of things, they disregard and disrespect children’s innate eagerness to explore, inquire, and make meaning of what is around them. Instead, teachers can set up environments that encourage this natural tendency to investigate and theorize about things that provoke a sense of magic and wonder.” (pp.121-122)

Embedded in the seemingly magical phenomena of rainbows, shadows, gems, and the rustling of trees in the wind are important concepts related to physics, science, and math. Being surrounded by these elements can spark children’s imagination, focus their attention and inquiry, and calm their spirits.” (p.122)

Reflective questions posed:

“If you walked into this preschool room, what feelings would be invoked in you?
Do you notice the light, reflections, and colors?
Do particular elements or treasures capture your attention and imagination?
Is a sense of wonder and curiosity evoked by what is here? How?” (p.121 alongside a photo, but applicable to any early childhood education space)

  • “What natural sources of light do we have, and how could we make better use of light to explore shadows, reflections, and color refractions?
  • Where does air naturally move in our room, and what could we place nearby to make magical elements of sound and motion for children?
  • What more useful ways can artificial light and sounds be used to provoke children’s curiosity?
  • How can we use nooks and crannies, windowsills, or countertops to display natural or scientific phenomena or treasures that might capture children’s attention and imagination?” (p.122)

Curtis also points out:

Light

“Consider how natural light moves across your room and interacts with the materials that are there. It can change the apparent color of the paint on the wall during [-p.123] the day and over the seasons. Think carefully about this as you choose paint colors for your walls and anything else you might be tempted to add to them. …Watching light as it moves, sparkles, refracts, and creates elusive colors and whimsical shadows will usually capture children’s interest and provoke a joy in learning.” (pp.122-123)

Sound

“Most children stop to notice the sounds around them and investigate how they can make sounds with just about any object. While some are very sensitive to noise and cover their ears during joyful banging and pounding, other children robustly create noise whenever possible. Making loud sounds is a powerful experience, helping children feel big in their small bodies. Children make sounds in their play more often than they use words. They eagerly imitate the roar of an engine or the sweet mew of a kitten. Observing how they use sounds can teach adults so much about what children understand and feel.” (p.123)

Motion

“Children love to watch things in motion and make things move, including their own bodies. They are fascinated by gravity, speed, and any phenomenon that stimulates motion. From the time they are babies, children find a million ways to use objects around them to zoom, whirl, race, spin, roll, float, bang, pound, swing, hop, leap, and crash.” (p.123) “As they pursue their [-p.124] exuberance, they are involved in important brain development and learning, including the relationship between cause and effect; predicting and hypothesizing; problem solving; and exploring spatial relations, and other physical and mathematical concepts.” (pp.123-124)

Ref: (bold blue emphases mine) Deb Curtis (2003?) Designs for Living and Learning

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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