A deep interest

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Seeing things with the fascination children see them is an important lesson for all of us, says Cathy Nutbrown.


Professor Cathy Nutbrown

They are replacing the streetlights in Sheffield, taking out the old ones and replacing them with more ecological lighting. There is a lot of digging; many pavements have deep holes with temporary coverings and safety barriers. Most adults find the noise, dust and disruption annoying. The process seems to be taking for ever, and the holes in the pavements remain for weeks until the next part of the process, by another team of workers, begins. For the adults this is all a bit of a nuisance.

But children see things differently. There seems to be a fascination with the large equipment brought in to dig – and eventually refill – the deep holes. A three-year-old was excited to see the pipes that were leading to his house, uncovered in a large open trench. He crouched close to the barrier for some time, asking what each pipe and cable was carrying inside – not always terribly satisfied with the answers he was given. ‘How do you know?’ ‘Can we see? ‘What if there is a hole in that one – will all the poo come out?’ The sight of a man in one of the trenches – with his head level with the pavement – was really exciting for a little group of children out on a walk.

I recall a lecture by Chris Athey on ‘holes, gaps and cavities’. She was able to show how the deep interest that some children show in crevices and openings is part of the essential nourishment for their developing minds. Through adult eyes it’s disruption or essential repair, but for many children it is a source of utter engagement, of questioning, and of thinking. Ms Athey’s insightful analysis of children’s thinking in relation to holes, gaps and crevices, and the opportunities for learning with such a focus, leads us to new possibilities for provision. If children on a walk find the hole in the road of interest, what can they be offered to further experiment with holes?

If we watch children, and notice the things they pay close attention to, we can make better and more matched provision for their learning. Seeing things with the fascination that children see them is an important skill of everyone who lives and works with young children. Let them dig, bury, cover, uncover, fill, empty and refill to their hearts content – they are pursuing important patterns of learning, and these schemas are some of the building blocks of their thinking.

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