An educated What-if too.

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?

The following link is to a video from the Portland Children’s Museum which also runs a Reggio Emilia inspired early childhood program called the. Opal School

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).


It is so beautiful I’ll end this post with the print version:

“The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.”

Loris Malaguzzi, Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach
(translated by Lelia Gandini)

I would offer one last suggestion, and add on a request. Our mascot Heavenly Ham Hock III (Hock, for short) is a flying pig. We envision him with the fabulous bird wings he is depicted with on our home page, but that is our vision. Have your preschoolsers do a study of pigs, learn all about them what they eat, how they live, what they look like. You could even visit some pigs at a farm or petting zoo. Find some art representing pigs, and recreate it. Once you know everything you can possibly know (or better yet, what the children can think of, to discover) then pose the question: “What if pigs could fly?” See what happens. Sketch the possibilities. If your pig has rocket boosters learn about rocket boosters. If it has wings learn about the things that have wings (birds, bats, airplanes etc.) The What-if-ing is really limitless. When you have created some fabulous flying pigs send us pictures or art work and we will create a page for it, here on our blog. We would love to see the creations that come from this little exercise.

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One thought on “An educated What-if too.

  1. Okay! I have just the group to do it! I’ll keep you posted! And my version of Hock is sitting over my desk with the words “What if?”, in large letters. To quote one of my most inspiring what ifers “Oh! the places we can go!”.
    Thank you so much.

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