For Plato, ‘The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things’ – and spring is the bringer of many lovely things. The daffodils bloomed early this year and mine are still dancing in the breezy sunshine in my garden.
Last week I watched a little boy – probably not yet three, lying on his tummy staring intently at the crocuses that were carpeting the ground under a tall oak tree. His staring over, the small boy got up, clapping his hands.
‘What’s that?’ he asked his father.
‘It’s a flower – it’s called a crocus.’
‘It called… Annabel,’ replied the toddler.
‘It’s a crocus.’
‘Annabel! Annabel!!! ANNABEL!!!!’
‘OK – you can call it Annabel, I’m going to call it crocus,’ said the father.
They walked on – the small boy jumping and clapping his way to the park exit. I could still hear exuberant shouts of ‘ANNABEL’ as they walked away.
The fascination in the detail of the crocuses compelled the little boy to get as close as he could – to look, and then to seek a name that matched the beauty that he saw. Children’s unhurried fascination, their intense encounters with nature, need to be supported by patient adults who, like this father, don’t hurry them along and distract them from their studious examining, but who are patient because they know something important is happening.
Adults who work with young children know they are patient observers, and need the space and time to be curious about what they see. Children will pose their own questions about the natural world, staring intently at a spider on a web, the petals on a flower, a fish in water. They will form theories about the world and everything in it as they play outdoors. Susan Isaacs’ observations of children in her experimental Malting House School show how a rich environment and freedom and time to explore can lead children to generate and seek their own answers to numerous questions.
A former HMI once said that children should not re-invent the wheel – that they did not need to discover everything through play, yet there are indeed many things that children need to discover for themselves, through playful and tenacious enquiry. As Paulo Freire wrote in 1970, ‘Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.’