While attending a literacy conference last week, I listened to a speaker address the problem of curiosity and wonder disappearing from children as they spend time in school. It was not a new thought, of course, but one I had not revisited for awhile. I realized that, having recently retired, my perspective has changed considerably! While wonder seems to disappear during childhood... I can tell you that it does come back!
One of the major changes retirement brought to my life was the sudden lack of need to multitask! Stress and pressure disappeared from my days and I now find myself with plenty of time to think about the things that interest me most! My senses are on overdrive as I spend more time outdoors and experience the changes that take place throughout the day, from the early morning frosty trees to the water dripping from the icicles and the sun as it reflects on the snow at sunset. As a teacher, I spent my days inside a building from sunrise to nearly sunset. My thoughts were driven by a need to meet curriculum demands and provide for the needs of my students. Balancing family, job, and other responsibilities directed my thoughts and actions in nearly every waking moment.
Suddenly it seemed clear what happens to children. As preschoolers, children never need to multitask! They have no stress or pressure. They have plenty of time to think about the things that interest them most! Their senses are on overdrive as they spend more time outdoors and experience changes that take place throughout the day! Everything is new and interesting and captures their curiosity! Nearly every waking moment is spent in play and exploration as they explore the world around them.
School brings a change to that experience. The older children get, the more pressures are placed on them. Their lives are greatly controlled by school where they spend the greatest part of the day inside, being told what to think and what to do. Many children are even controlled beyond the school day as they are scheduled for sports, dance, and clubs! Evening brings homework for many. There is little time left for unstructured thought and feeling. Alarmingly, we are placing those pressures on children at a younger age than even before!
If we want to develop creativity, curiosity, and innovation in our students, we must somehow recapture the innocence of early childhood. Time is the critical factor. What if children had more unstructured time? What if we slowed everything down and took time to simply be? What if children were able to focus on just one thing long enough to really learn about it? What if there were no homework? What if teachers were given time to simply think and reflect? What if wonder returned before retirement?