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April 19, 2021

Lessons from Early Learners: Cultivating a Sense of Wonder

Being around young children can be exhausting. With questions like, “What is that?” and “Why is it like that?” they act like they’ve never seen the world before. And oftentimes they haven’t! Young kids approach the world with a wide-eyed sense of wonder, constructing meaning from every new experience.

I’ve spent much of my life straddling the world of young children and the world of adults. While there are many things young children can learn from adults (how to tie shoes, how to read, how to get along nicely), I’ve also learned that there are many things adults can learn from young children. Teaching young children taught me to see the world through new eyes, embrace my curiosity, and to focus on fun.

Early Childhood Education

Teaching Channel recently partnered with First 5 San Francisco to create our first batch of early childhood videos. In these videos, we see children questioning, wondering, and working together to make sense of the world around them. When we allow students a chance to wonder freely, we help them become passionate and driven learners.

Here are three ways to cultivate a sense of wonder across grade levels:

Ask Questions, Find Answers

Conversations with young children burst with questions. By building instruction around students’ questions, we can create buy-in and excitement around learning. In this lesson, Nadia Jaboneta has her students share hypotheses about bugs. After sharing their hypotheses, students get a chance to test their ideas and provide evidence for why they did or did not work. It’s important to not only allow students a chance to ask their questions, but also give them a chance to find answers.

Allowing students a chance to ask questions, form theories, and test their ideas helps to build independent and engaged problem solvers. Throughout the grades, we can embrace curiosity by giving students choices when designing their assignments and problem solving approaches. But the most effective strategy of all may be modeling your own curiosity about the world. By thinking aloud about your wonderings, you can motivate students to investigate the unknown and encourage lifelong learning.

Value Unconventional Views

One of my favorite things about young children is their fresh take on life. In this video, preschool teacher Sandra Davis asks a student to talk about his drawing of a sad face. When Ms. Davis asks, “What are these coming down from his eyes?” the student responds, “Crying drips.” Calling tears “crying drips” makes perfect sense! By allowing this boy a chance to come up with his own name before telling him the conventional term, Ms. Davis shows that she values his ideas.

Throughout the grades, we can help students feel free enough to make guesses that they know aren’t quite right. Through these guesses, students show how they are developing their own understanding. I can imagine a high school student calling mitochondria a “power factory” or a hypotenuse “the longest side.” Of course we want to make sure all students learn academic vocabulary, but it’s also important to let students play with language to approximate their thoughts, not limiting understanding to knowing the correct vocabulary.

Prioritize Joy

In this video, preschool teacher Jennifer Hawkins says, “Young children learn best by interacting with things that are meaningful to them.” I think we all do! When we are encouraged to pursue the things we love, we develop an investment and appreciation for our learning. As teachers, part of our job is encouraging students to follow their passion and another part is helping students find their passion. The most effective teachers help develop students who go curiously into the world around them, finding joy in places they would have never imagined.


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