Monday, August 1, 2011

Writing and Wonder

Kids are full of questions about the world:  How do snakes shed?  When do sharks lose their teeth?  What makes rocks hard?  Why is the sand white at this beach and beige at another?

Writing can be a place to explore, formulate opinions and theories, ponder facts and share ideas.  One of the most helpful books on this subject is A Place for Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough (Stenhouse, 2009, $20).

Though this volume is geared toward parents and teachers of grades K-3, many of the writing prompts—and certainly the spirit—can apply to older kids and adults as well.  Indeed, some of the simplest exercises are the most adaptable—and profound.

With summer upon us, you might be eager for some “playful learning” approaches that stretch your kids, engage the whole family and fit in well with vacations, daycamps and the season’s more relaxed pace.  Or as a teacher, perhaps you’re thinking through changes for next year’s lesson plans.  Here’s an activity that can last the whole summer—and beyond.

Place of Wonder.  Heard and McDonough designate an actual place in the classroom for children to write and post questions.  Kids can read one another’s questions, share thoughts and think about where to find answers.  You might designate a similar place in your home or have a weekly dinner where each family member comes with a question about the natural world.

Even reluctant writers can write down one question and reluctant readers are often galvanized to read if they think it will help them to discover what they want to know.  Rather than simply doing a Google search, encourage kids to check out books from the library and to “teach” or talk about what they learned.  They might make a poster, draw a picture or write a report, story or poem.  This whole question-research-writing/drawing-teaching/sharing process often jumpstarts additional questions and investigations.

For adults, the Place of Wonder can be a powerful way to connect with what actually is around us.  Techno gadgetry, general busyness and a certain “seen that-done that” attitude can work against us actually experiencing the small wonders of the world—which are anything but mundane.  This summer, adult writers might set aside 10 or 15 minutes a few times a week to focus on something in the natural world—perhaps a plant, bird, stone or shell.  Allow yourself to be curious, to ask questions, to seek out some answers, to write about the experience.  Or perhaps, just stay quiet with that object for a while and wonder.

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