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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… 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.

About Kim

Kim is an admitted ECE geek. She and Danielle have bonded over their shared geekdom and have come to terms with it. She is a pedagogical facilitator working with educators in a number of early learning settings supporting and extending new thinking and practice. She loves reading, writing, talking and sharing ideas about the potentials of teaching and learning with ece's and young children. ECE geeks unite!

4 thoughts on “The Spirit of Research

  1. What if we were all more open, with all we meet, and remained free-thinking enough to always give room to another’s interpretation?
    We would start to see more.

    Could we each cope with seeing life through the eyes of all? It would require extra time and effort.
    Would the cocktail of understanding/s make it easier to live with one’s own thoughts or simply wash away self-imposed limitations?

    Could we ever use the phrases, “You’re wrong” and “You’re right” when speaking to others who have differing viewpoints?

    Do we accidently print our thoughts on emerging minds or are we ‘programmed’ to do this?

    A fine blog Kim. Thank you for raising this important point so beautifully.
    I’m off to have cheesepaws and hotcakes with a 4,000 year old Dragon now who’s been asleep under the Radnor Forest for a long while – well, so she tells me. What can I say, I have an open mind – I believe her. 🙂

  2. And look at all the deep questions, deep thinking, shifts in thinking and actions that this young person’s thinking and actions have provoked us adults to ponder!

    Are children (and I mean newborns onward) from the “get-go” already “advanced” thinkers more so than “emerging” thinkers? And if so, what hand does our adult ECE trained thinking, our developmental training/”truths”, our by-the-clock-handed-down-routines-and-rules-safety-first-environment, and more: including our culture, our hi(story) both individually and collectively, play in stifling, obstructing, restraining, limiting children’s ready-ability to think deeply & capably, and to create freely?

    This all begs the question for me as to just who is the teacher here? So, I love the idea of working with an attitude of life and living being constant research in which we humans and non-humans (the water table in this instance) are all co-researchers and co-constructors in our constant state of moving along in and with life.

    This young person, Kim’s narration, Grant’s reply, and my thinking-with my reply might just be getting me closer to grasping the words that I read recently in a Bronwyn Davies article: “life is movement itself”.

    And Grant, in response to one of your first questions, I wonder if there would be more peace, a greater sense of freedom, and no longer the need for the word tolerance.

    Kim thanks for this!!!

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Relinquishing our role of ‘the knowing teacher’ opens ourselves to uncertainty and probably tension. But to be able to move through the tension and live with the uncertainty brings moments of such wonder. But it takes courage. And a good dose of not taking ourselves too seriously!! {picture Lynne and I lying under the water table wondering what the boy saw!)

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