Tag Archives: researching


The Heart Shaped Leaf



“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”

Rachel Carson


Yesterday while outside a child came up to me with the glimmer of excitement in her eyes.  She was clutching something in her hand.

“Danielle I found a heart shaped leaf.” She unrolled her fingers to reveal a small green leaf in her hand.

 I asked if I could take a picture and she excitedly said yes.  We talked about where she found it, what kind of plant we thought it might be and if we could find a leaf book that would help us figure it out. She proclaimed she had such a book at home.  Plans were made to do some research. She then excitedly went to show the other children. Soon heart shaped leaf hunts had started and theories were being constructed on why the leaf was heart shaped. The moment was but a small fraction of my day but it has stayed with me.  As I sat at my computer last night preparing to write a narration on our explorations outside, I couldn’t help but pause and just look at the picture.

I found myself in a deep state of reflection. I thought about the opportunities that are constantly presented to the children and I when we go outside. I found myself trying to think of a parallel experience in the classroom.  Treasures have been found but usually I put them there. Rarely do we find something that is surprising to everyone in the room.  Except for maybe a spider or a bug, which did originally come from outside.

I found myself thinking of a classroom visit I did a couple weeks ago where the teacher said excitedly to me “We are trying to spend more time outside. We are allowing more natural play and learning like the nature kindergarten.” I wondered later in an email to her if teachers felt like the nature kindergarten was legitimizing outdoor play. Yes she replied.

I thought of how I have observed play that continues to be revisited over long periods of time.  I am talking months here. Children engaged in play that they designed.  Trying on roles of strength and vulnerability to see how they feel.

I thought of all those times I decided to go outside even when I didn’t want to and how almost always I was thankful I did. How something amazing and/or unexpected always presented itself.  Like crows breaking into our backpack and flying off with our snacks, a young falcon in a turf war with said crows flying and dipping overhead, a sap tree that magically turned blue after the first frost, the Camus lilies that bloom in the spring and make our green hills seas of blue and I thought about how I couldn’t of planned any of that.

I can create the loveliest stream with fabric, tape or paper for the children to jump over in the classroom but I cannot recreate the sense of accomplishment they feel from jumping over the deepest darkest mud puddle.

I can give them climbing apparatuses to challenge their bodies but I cannot recreate the mind body connection a child builds from running on the rough unpredictable surfaces you find in nature.  

I can plan elaborate treasure hunts with beautiful jewels to be found at the end but I cannot recreate the sense of wonder a child feels when they find something as special as a heart shaped leaf.

What is my role then?

I remembered Lella Gandini’s wise words she shared with us this fall “It is not the job of the teacher to be prepared, it is the job of the teacher to be ready.” This is what I believe outdoor play requires of me, to be ready.  It requires me to look at the world with fresh eyes,  be ready to think with the child and embrace my sense of wonder.


“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in” 

Rachel Carson

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The Spirit of Research

A doll house on a low table. A common sight in a child care setting, so common we take it in with a glance.Standard equipment.

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 A small boy approaches the doll house, grabs it with both hands and pulls. Clearly he wants this house on the floor to play with at his level. An adult helps and the house is moved to the floor. But contrary to our expectation, the boy doesn’t crouch down to play with the house. Instead he goes back to the table and grabs the table cloth and pulls it off. Underneath is a water table, empty of water.

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The boy lifts  the lid and climbs inside.  He uses his body, his hands, feet, head and torso to feel the contours and hollows of the table. Abruptly he climbs out and runs across the room to gather pom poms and rocks.  Again he climbs into the water table and fills the hollows with his found materials.

 As the boy moves the rocks and pom poms around learning more about the shapes within the table, another idea emerges. The pom poms and rocks are discarded. Quickly he tucks his body into a ball and fits himself into the contours of the table.

Then the boy says: Put the lid on.

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The adults in the room saw only a table and a dollhouse. The boy saw, well, we will never know exactly what he saw, but it was certainly more than a table and a house.

 We have all had moments like this, surprised by what children do with materials…. the unexpected way a sock can turn into an elephant nose, or a sanitary napkin can be Santa’s beard (yup, I’ve seen it done!)

 Which begs the question…..how do we provide opportunities for these multiple ways of seeing? How do we provide materials and environments that spark inquiry?  How do we create a culture where climbing into the water table is embraced?

 I offer you the words of Carlina Rinaldi:  I would like, …to propose the concept of “the normality of research,” which defines research as an attitude and an approach in everyday living, in schools and in life . . . as a way of thinking for ourselves and thinking with others, a way of relating with others, with the world around us and with life.

 So there, beautifully put is our challenge. What if everything we offered to children, the materials, the environment, the culture, the relationships were offered in a spirit of research?  What if we kept the refrain “children as researchers” in our minds every time we put stuff on a table? What if we considered ourselves co-researchers by the side of children?

 Adapting research as an attitude and an approach can transform our thinking and our classrooms. It can transform our lives with children.

Just watch them.



Danielle and I and Danielle’s colleague Ashlee with Lella Gandini

Danielle and I spent two full days with Lella (OK, we weren’t exactly alone with her, we shared her with 123 other people….but still….)

Lella Gandini has been integral to introducing the Reggio approach in North America, accompanying the Wonder Of Learning Exhibit and introducing the ideas and the stories to rapt audiences. Lella doesn’t simply give lectures, she embraces her audience with her humour, her grace and her passion. And so we spent two days talking, listening, wondering, laughing…..entering into her beautiful vision of what education can be.

She spoke of creating joyful problems for children. A joyful problem, what a lovely image. An image that respects children as curious and intelligent and seeking research and investigation. An image that believes teachers are strong, capable of thinking and listening to children.

If we were to think about joyful problems, how would we set up a room?

How would we approach a child as they investigated the problem?

How would it shift the questions we asked? Or the expectations we had?

I see this invitation to create a joyful problem as a provocation to think differently about learning.  To embrace the joy and the complexities.

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Children love running. They tell us how fast they can go, ask us to watch, proudly showing off their speed and agility.  They run to get to the bathroom, run to get the glue, run to get to the swings….or run to give us a hug.

And what do we say to much of the running we see?

Walking feet! No Running! Be careful!!

Why do we not celebrate running? Could we not pay attention to the joy, the power, the accomplishment of running? Could we not explore how it feels to run, how it looks, how it sounds?

Among children’s many movements running is the one they use  most for exploring this space. Their words convey all the powerfulness, the sense of freedom and emotion of running. They also convey children’s competency and capacity for interpreting perceptions and imaginings that these invoke. ‘Running: Notes for a Choreography’ from Robinson Preschool, Wonder of Learning Exhibit

What would happen if we stopped saying “no running”…..? I’m just asking……

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Have you seen it?

Have you seen the Wonder of Learning Exhibit?

It is currently in Vancouver BC and I was lucky enough to go with a group of educators last week. My first impression was of lightness and space as the high windows filled the room with natural light. Comfortable chairs overlooked a view of tugboats and log booms working the Fraser river, and the mists floating over the mountains. There were beautiful artifacts to handle, low tables to compose the natural branches, stones and seed pods, books to peruse. The environment urged me to slow down, take notice, attend.

The exhibit meandered through the space, inviting me to pick up a thread of a story, follow it, pause, and then begin again. I read about children experimenting with light, measuring how far a beam would reflect, hypothesizing on why the beam faded away as it reached the trees.  I watched toddlers explore white paper, rolling it, tossing it, shaping it. I watched children run through an open space, embracing the sounds and the feeling of movement, but attending to one another, observing, connecting.

But there was so much I still need to see. In my two hours I absorbed a small sense of place, more a feeling than anything else. This space, this exhibit requires more from me, requires me to listen, to search for myself, and to lose myself to it.  I need to think with it longer, talk about it, argue and challenge and be challenged.

So I will be back.  I will return to find out what else it has to say to me, what else it will invite me to rethink, reconsider, recreate.

Thank you Laurie.

The art of research already exists in the hands of children acutely sensitive to the pleasure of surprise. The wonder of learning, of knowing, of understanding is one of the first, fundamental sensations each human being expects from experiences faced alone or with others. ~ Loris Malaguzzi