Hello again! This is our 6th issue of Tales From The Toy Shop, and to celebrate the magical Angelina Lloyd has returned with "The Importance of Wonder". In this piece she reflects back on the past year. She addresses the concern of many parents that their children have fallen behind because their traditional learning was upended. Angelina reminds us that all was not lost. That as human we learn from our experience and surrounds and through play and that wonder is such an important part of our lives. Enjoy!
It is mid-morning. The sun hints at the summer months ahead, as I walk around Denver’s largest lake alongside other city goers similarly seeking a bit of nature on a fine spring day. Couples and families dot the park, lounging on blankets and feasting on warmth. A man hurries past, gesticulating wildly to no one in particular, while talking at a fast clip to coworkers piped in through bluetooth earbuds. A young man rollerblades a languid dance while singing softly to a song only he can hear. Runners dart past, brows furrowed with concentration. My uttered hello's are lost amidst an array of podcasts, playlists and calls. My smile, hidden behind a cloth mask, crinkles my eyes in welcome. I walk on.
The lake narrows as it bends around its eastern edge. I round the corner and see her, standing in the center of the path, three-foot-tall on tiptoe, wearing a yellow canvas hat pulled low over ruffled curls. Her lemony sun dress layered atop rainbow striped leggings and a matching long sleeve shirt, pairs fashionably with her petal pink galoshes. Her nanny watches from a nearby grassy knoll, scrolling through a smartphone. The child notices me. I smile. She grins wide in return with the welcoming enthusiasm of a three year old. She points out at the lake. I nod to her nanny before crouching beside her to peer in the direction of her outstretched hand.
“Clouds”, she says. I nod, quiet for a moment as we take in the beauty of a blue sky dotted with cushiony, soft clouds. I point in the same direction and say, “Look! The clouds are in the water too.” Her brow furrows, looking at the reflected sky. “Yes! Yes!”, she agrees. Suddenly earnest, she tells me, “I have clouds at my house too.” I nod. Serious, I take a sip from my water bottle and reply, “I have clouds in me too.” She looks at me and my orange nalgene bottle for a minute, considering, and then smiles and nods, knowingly, “My mom does too”. We smile. She shows me a stuffie tucked beneath her arm. “Pleased to meet you,'' I say, nodding to the well loved friend. We look again at the clouds. She hugs her stuffie. I stand, thanking her for reminding me to see the clouds. She waves back, bouncing on her heels. I walk on, suddenly more aware of the bustling adults who don’t seem to notice the clouds in the water, the geese swimming along the shore or the chak-chak-syrupy song of a red-winged black bird perched atop swaying cattails at the water's edge. I think of children and all they can teach us.
Several years ago, while studying community involvement alongside my students, we began regular walks in our urban neighborhood. We didn’t walk far. We moved at the pace of a young child, pausing often to marvel over dew drops on a spider's web and the slow march of ants across the sidewalk. The children noticed ordinary things with extraordinary delight. They waved enthusiastic greetings to the local garbage truck as it noisily rumbled up the street. They stood in transfixed awe as enormous cranes delivered building supplies to ant sized workers atop six-story buildings. I asked a group of five-year-olds why moseying along with them was so different from walking with grown-ups. A boy raised his hand, blue eyes intent behind rimmed spectacles, and answered, “People notice what matters to them. We notice spiderwebs and ants, because spiderwebs and ants matter to us. Everyone notices what matters to them but not everyone cares about the same things.” I smiled, amazed again by the clarity of a child. He was right of course. We all pay attention to what we deem important.
This pandemic has been challenging to say the least. On everyone. I have heard parents express a growing frustration and concern over what has been dubbed, ‘the lost year’. Their worry is that children are falling behind in development and education. I understand. This hasn’t been easy. My own son is in middle school and was no less affected by a year spent learning at home, alone and untended, behind a computer screen. And yet the year wasn’t lost. How could it be? Children are always learning.
As adults, we prioritize reading, writing and arithmetic because they matter to us. And they should, we need them to function in society and our children will too, along with a great many other things. Schools are meant to prepare children to meet the future. But when the three R’s become the only thing we notice we are missing a bigger picture. We are like my fellow lakeside walkers who overlook the clouds and bird songs amidst a barrage of busy. We can ask ourselves if our view is complete? Is there value to listening to the birds outside an open window? Is there value in the boredom that results from an unplugged afternoon? Is a child learning when at play? Have our children gained anything from more family time? Has less structured activity resulted in something positive? Was curiosity allowed to mature? And wonder?
As an early childhood educator, working and learning alongside children for more than twenty years, I say, unequivocally, the year was not lost. It would only be lost if we failed to live it. Our children are not behind. Their traditional learning was upended. Their worlds turned upside down, as everyone’s was. But they aren’t behind. Humans have an intrinsic capacity to learn. It’s one of the amazing things about us. We can trust that. If we push young children to value what we value we often meet with resistance. Drilling a young child at home to learn their letters and numerals may result in them becoming work avoidant at school. Why? Because play and wonder are childhood needs.
If we overlook the clouds we inadvertently teach our child that clouds don’t matter, “Seen one, you’ve seen them all.” When we rush past the garbage truck without a genial wave, we tell them to prioritize busyness over pleasantries. When we speak of a lost year what we are really saying is that we love our children and we want them to thrive. This pandemic has been hard. There’s no way around it, but I guarantee the year was not lost. You can trust your child’s intrinsic capacity to learn, to adapt, to grow and develop, like a bud freshly opening into a flower.
As spring arrives in the northern hemisphere bringing birds from distant environs to our newly budded trees, children will invite us to slow down and notice the world around us. They will ask us to allow this moment, in all its messy splendor to move us. They will teach us what matters to them: a cloud on the horizon, a butterfly, a dump truck, a silly tik-tok video, a stuffed toy, the sound of water, a bird in flight. And if luck is on our side, we may remember just how much those things matter to us too. Because amidst our busy lives, wonder is a thing that also needs accomplishing.