I received this reply to the most recent post “An Educated What if.” I started a response, but the post seemed to grow, until I realized that this must be a hot button issue for me. The following is the question from Donna Schmidt and my reply.
“I am preschool teacher, and I find this blog very intriguing. What if the public and private school system made “what ifing” part of their curriculum. Our country’s education system is losing ground every year because of funding. The first classes to be cut most often are the ones for creative thinking and expression. Creative thinking and the freedom to express is how we have acheived our greatness as a world leader. It seems to me that as we pulled away from the creative attributes in our education systems, we started loosing our standing as world innovators and became more concerned with being a ‘world power’. What I would like is some help integrating ‘what If’ in a preschool curriculum. I bet you could come up with some really cool ideas for 4-5 year olds. Thanks for trying and thanks for inspiring.”
My wife and I just watched a TED talk today that might interest you. Although Steve Keil is speaking to his fellow Bulgarians (in fluent English) I think that his message is important and applicable even to us in the US. In fact it may be even more poignant than we would like. The following quote is from the description of the talk on the TED site.
“At TEDxBG in Sofia, Steve Keil fights the ‘serious meme’ that has infected his home of Bulgaria and calls for a return to play to revitalize the economy, education and society. A sparkling talk with a universal message for people everywhere who are reinventing their workplaces, schools, lives.”
Check it out: TED talk about play by Steve Keil
Look at how successful the people who have implemented this philosophy have been. Look at Google and Pixar just to name two. We need to encourage creativity and play. We need to provide the tools and opportunities for our children to learn, without restricting them. I cannot count the times I have had to train new graduate students or post docs on free thinking or thinking outside the box. We spend so many years repressing those attributes that came naturally when we were children. How is it that we teach problem solving and innovation in preschool and graduate school but have this factory approach in between?
Because What-if-ing comes naturally to children, as a pre-school teacher, you are in a choice position to nurture this innate skill and to help it to develop and grow. Dare I say, even to learn the art of What-if-ing from them?
What if our schools were more like interactive children’s museums and Children were allowed to explore, create, dream, imagine and invent freely. What if adults shared their knowledge and wisdom, to help children do all of those things, but didn’t say how or what to do at each and every step in that journey? That is at the heart of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Loris Malaguzzi was truly a What-ifer. His poem, One hundred languages of children, is moving and powerful. This video by The United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education has the poem in both English (at the beginning) and Spanish (at the end).