Slice Of Life Story- Fostering Conversation and Curiosity

The childhood of my youth has most definitely gone the way of tape recorders, cassette players and similar recording devices. It is either defunct or at best on life support. When sharing childhood experiences with today’s generation of students, I realize that our respective childhood experiences, generally, and in particular with regard to technology, remain worlds apart.

There are other difference of course. My generation grew up in small houses with big backyards. The focus of our daily existence was pretty much the world outdoors. We survived all the rough and tumble of childhood sans Google. Many of us enjoyed exceptional latitude when wishing to explore our immediate world. The children I now work with, (and I’m talking in general terms here) find the focus of their lives increasingly turns towards the indoors. The growth of technology in its myriad forms calls them like a siren to remain under cover. X box, computer games, DVD’s win out over an outdoor lifestyle.

 So many kids today grow up in houses that have little or no backyard and the siren of technology constantly beguiles them to exist quite passively, indoors. A recent survey indicated 85% of parents are anxious about the amount of 'screen time' children experience. Freedom extends to the front gate for many of these children.  

The world has become a more potentially dangerous place in the minds of parents. The media feeds that fear.  Anxious parents control so much of the time children spend beyond school. Children’s lives are frequently timetabled, leaving little time to explore, create and generally discover the wider wonders of the world. It turns out parent are spending less time playing with their children 'outdoors' than previously. The kids that do live this kind of life are the lucky ones.

This change of lifestyle has resulted in a narrowing of world perspectives among many children. 

While debriefing with teachers, I notice a recurring theme. They often lament a general lack of world knowledge among their students. Teachers confide that they feel compelled to do more compensatory teaching. Trying to encourage greater student awareness of the world around them is consuming more of their teaching time. Encouraging sensory awareness, noticing small natural wonders, celebrating simple pleasures have increasingly assumed greater significance. Rejuvenating the sensory perceptions of students has become something that requires more attention. 

An experienced teacher told me that she believes her childhood was akin to the adventures of Tom Sawyer. The childhoods of too many of today's children lack that element of real adventure. Maybe she's right. When you're coddled, constrained or lathered in anti bacterial, it becomes difficult to live childhood as it was intended. In some educational settings play is seen as surplus ('this learning stuff is serious business') to need, when in reality it is a necessity. 

Ben, a young teacher I once worked with told me how at one point, ants invaded his classroom. He decided to investigate the matter more fully and took his class on a mission of discovery to find where the ants were actually coming from. They tracked them down to a tree outside the classroom where the ants were found in mass profusion at the higher reaches of the tree. They watched the ants and discussed the possible reasons as to why they were there and in the classroom. They drew the ants and some even decided to write about the ants. One student drew a picture of the tree with a huge ant ‘castle’ in it. Ben and his students had shared a teachable moment. It was an invaluable chance to wonder and speculate. Curious learning was encouraged.

It is evident that rich conversations in the home have been replaced by watching and viewing. We have a visual generation, but verbally too many children find themselves undernourished. This points to the increasing importance of instigating quality conversations in the classroom.  In classrooms where talk in the form of -conversations, text talk, conferring, peer feedback, debates,  discussion, questioning, pondering and reflection are regular occurrences, teachers are laying a foundation  for deeper thinking, deeper comprehension and ultimately a more informed world view. It builds vocabulary and a desire to read and write more willingly. 

When kids have the opportunity to articulate their writing intentions; to discuss and clarify ideas, they generally produce more effective writing pieces. This makes pre-writing essential.

Wonder, curiosity, and exploration need to be surrounded by conversation and questioning. They need to be nourished. It is becoming more important then ever to foster such conditions in our classrooms.


  1. Wonder is essential to true learning. That is what I believe. I love the story about ants! Brilliantly cultivated teachable moment!

    1. Thanks for your response Michelle. I agree with you with respect to wonder. As teachers we must bring our own wondering into the classroom, Wondering must be valued in order for it flourish.

  2. I see that in some of our international school kids too- they have lots of travel opportunities, but somehow much of it becomes virtual. I am consciously trying to bring more wonder into our classroom.

    1. Keeping bringing the wonder with you. We must be curious learners too. In that way we cultivate wonder. It becomes an infectious, irresistible force.

  3. An ant castle! That moment will certainly be remembered. Your post is an important one. I'm fortunate enough to work in a rural district where outdoor play is still a big part of most childrens' lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. I recall my six years teaching in rural settings and I agree Molly. It possesses a more organic connection to the outdoor life. It's also an active versus passive thing. No matter where we live we must encourage that active participation. We begin with our own example.

  4. Hmm. I just had two versions of this same conversation -- at school, with teachers, and at a party, with neighbors. The role of teachers has perhaps never been more valuable, nor challenging, than now - when so many parents seem to have relinquished much of learning at home to the screen (and I say that as an advocate of digital writing).
    Thanks for the perfect post to share back to some of my conversation friends.
    PS -- the ant story is perfect

    1. Always pleased to have you drop by Kevin. I too am an advocate for digital writing/ learning when it is constructed as an active and creative element of building knowledge. The concern in the home is exactly as you state here, the abrogation of responsibility for monitoring and guiding such interactions. Glad you liked the ant story. I often tell it during workshop presentations. It is such an apt descriptor of celebrating wonder and observation of the world around us.

  5. Wise post, Alan. Some of my best teaching moments have arisen out of experiences like your friend's ant story. Our kids are really hungry for these type of experiences - both at home and in the classroom. We can't control what happens at home, but we can do our best to create room for this kind of learning in our classrooms.


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