Thinking About Thinking
But to know something
and to be able to relate and use that knowledge
is the beginning of learning to think.
- Caroline Pratt, Social Thinker & Progressive Educational Reformer
Thought, like the movement of a blue whale, breaches the surface, floats wanderingly, and retreats to depths in no particular order or assignment. While blue whales usually cruise the sea at five plus miles per hour, they can quickly burst to more than twenty miles per hour. This, too, is possible with thought. Thought can collect up and shoot forth with vigor when there are enough restorative resources and room to move freely. In the same way that water maintains energetic charge after the whale has passed through, mind health is energized in the space and quiet among thoughts.
I was fortunate to engage such a thread with a preschooler, whom I’ll call Quinton, and shared some of his theories about the softness of wolves in my last two blog posts. They are summarized below.
“It’s soft like a wolf. I have never touched one, but I know it is soft. I want to see a wolf with my daddy. We walk in the pasture to look for them.”
Quinton’s Theory as Curated in The Power of Theory in Social Constructivism, Wert Knowing Blog, July 16, 2019
“This sand feels soft like a wolf. A wolf is full of sand. That’s why she is soft. When she dies, she opens up and shares her sand with playgrounds.”
Quinton’s Theory as Curated in A Tale of Two Inquiries, Wert Knowing Blog, July 30, 2019
In the following weeks, wolf stories emerge in the block area. One day, I bring one of my favorite artifacts from home - a stone carved into the form of a K-9.
This K-9 is particularly interesting because she has a pup in her belly, and little holes that offer a peek at the pup. The next day at preschool, I settle the stone K-9 on the block shelf, and wait to see what happens. Quinton and two friends return to the block area to build roads and ramps for vehicle travel. When Quinton spies the K-9, he is drawn in immediately, and calls her “wolf.” After she is examined among the friends, the wolf becomes a protagonist in the children’s play.
The wolf walks on the road
with her baby inside.
All of a sudden, a car comes
speeding down, and hits the wolves.
They are hurt, but not dead.
Someone calls the hospital,
but there is no medicine.
This vignette repeats until, finally, the hospital gets some medicine. It shows up in the form of a purple book. Quinton administers the remedy while a friend steadies the wolf. When the medicine arrives, the road becomes a hospital. After the wolf gets her dose, it transforms back to a road. The friends don’t discuss the scene change, yet, together, they choose it.
Later the same day, Quinton carries the wolf to Clay Works. He creates a relief of her face, and, with help from a friend, learns to roll a clay sphere between his palms. He employs his new skill to create earthen balls of varying sizes, and then pinches them into a headdress for the wolf.
As a final touch, he adds a small ball of clay to the wolf’s nose. Quinton reflects,
Now she’s ready.
Ready for what? I’m not sure. That thought might surface in my presence tomorrow, next week, or never. What matters is that Quinton is building free relationship among his thoughts. It is vital that there is room in his being, as well as in his environment, for his ideas to breach with a burst, float aimlessly, and retreat deeply, much like a blue whale navigating the tumult and calm of the sea.
Wonderings on behalf of young learners:
Can we adults truly define the outcomes of children’s wonderings? Even if we could, would we want to?
What are the best tools and processes to evaluate children’s learning and knowledge? Who decides? What is the deciding body’s pedagogical mindset? Is the child’s development of creative thought and connection the focus of evaluative testing?
Does a narrow scope of answers have a place in dynamic thinking and open research? How might predetermined goals have shaped Quinton’s inquiry with the wolf? How would the expectation of linear certainty have affected the work of NASA scientist Katherine Johnson, or novelist and philanthropist Isabel Allende?
August 13, 2019
Opening Quote: Pratt, Caroline (1948). I learn from Children: An Adventure in Progressive Education. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Photo of Blue Whale & Small Boat in the Pacific Ocean: The Planet Today, https://www.facebook.com/ThePlanetToday/, March 2018.
Blue Whale Facts: NOAA Fisheries Species Directory. Accessed August 12, 2019. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/blue-whale