Earlier this month, while walking back from PE class, some of my homeroom students excitedly pulled me over to a small pumpkin patch that was growing beside the path in a raised bed. “Look through here!” they exclaimed, pulling back some of the vines. It was like a small green cave and inside were a pair of small, orange pumpkins. I loved it and noted to myself that I wanted to stop some day and take a photo of it.
Photography is an amateur hobby of mine, and I’m always on the lookout for interesting shots. I trace it back to the day many years ago, when a dear friend pointed out my son reflected in the airport window as he watched planes on the runway. She is a professional photographer, and something must have clicked for me that day, because I’m more aware of framing than I used to be. Digital photography is a blessing as it gives me immediate feedback on my results and it allows me nearly unlimited attempts to get a shot right.
A week or so after seeing the magical green cave, I thought to take my phone with me on the way to PE. (There’s another photography blessing – cell phones with outstanding camera capability.) I knelt down to pull back the vines and took the shot. Now it was my turn to excitedly show the fourth graders how they had inspired me, and they loved it. “It’s beautiful!” “It’s like a fairy cave!” “Where did you see that?” Other students wanted to see the hidden pumpkins that they had walked past every day. As I showed my division director the photo later and described the exchange, I referred to it as “looking with the eyes of a fourth grader.”
That phrase has turned over inside my mind frequently in the past weeks as I watch my students and get to know them. After a month of school, I’m seeing multiple sides of my students, and I’m curious. How does that behavior that annoys other people help that child? Because there has to be something that feels beneficial to the child, even if it’s short term and doesn’t make sense to us as adults. What is s/he thinking while making this computational error? If I understand the thought process, I can tweak my instruction or assistance. Does the child who seems impulsive all the time have moments of focus? – When? – Under what circumstances? Knowing this may help me channel this child’s focus. Fortunately, I work with a team that is in close communication. We share our observations with one another and our suspicions. We brainstorm ways to support individual students while being mindful of the whole group’s needs, including teachers. We communicate closely with parents trying to forge a partnership, always being mindful that each person wants the best for the child.
In addition to having a sense of wonder about children, I try to bring that to the world, especially nature. I’m aware of the different experiences this generation of children is having compared to mine growing up. There’s more digital distraction and scheduled activity and less free exploration of the world. Fewer opportunities to find fairy caves or to see what happens when you throw a rock in a pond. When I slow down to show them beauty or wonder around us, I hope it has an impact. To open some eyes that might not have seen. To reinforce that it is good to slow down and look for interesting phenomena wherever you are. To inspire a story or a drawing or a poem. One of my online newsletters this week had a great article about nature-deficit disorder and an interview with Richard Louv. He wrote Last Child in the Woods, which I read and enjoyed many years ago.
As I was hiking this morning, I came across a small tree that had fallen. It must have grown within a fissure among granite rocks and dislodged one of them, because elevated above ground was a small rock, enveloped by tree. I snapped a photo, thinking how cool this was and how some of my fourth graders would love it. Then I realized it would be a perfect illustration for some of our work in erosion later this winter. My slowing down and noticing today will have a direct impact on a future lesson, something I wasn’t looking for on my hike.
I celebrate that I still see the world with “the eyes of a fourth grader,” and that I slow down to see nature and children. Who knows what an observation will lead me to discover!