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.
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.
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.