Birds have been a wonderful ongoing study in our family for the past couple years. The interest peeks and wanes but it’s constantly there. Just like in real life. I don’t know about you, but my heart leaps when I start to hear more song birds at the beginning of each Spring. Every Spring my inner bird antennae are active and alert! As Spring moves onto Summer, we get used to the birds again… Our interest isn’t as high, but we still acknowledge and love the birds around us.
Penelope loves knowing your favorite kind of bird. If you tell her once, she’ll remember… probably for the rest of her life too! After receiving a bird book from Aunt Mary for her birthday, she decided the Northern Oriole was her favorite bird because she likes the nests they make. I started to wonder, “Are there Northern Oriole’s where we live? Will she ever be able to see one?”
One afternoon we were returning home from errands, and as we were getting out of the car, something yellow caught my eye. I looked up, and low and behold, a beautiful Northern Oriole was gliding in the air through the Sycamore tree branches in front of our house! We were SO excited. Shortly after that we ordered our first Northern Oriole Bird Feeder. Penelope was thrilled to help install the feeder.
At first we weren’t sure where it should hang outside our bird watching window. We placed it carefully in a spot where we could see it from the window. There were a couple problems about this spot. 1. It was so low to the ground that you could only see it if you walked right up to the window. Up until now, we were used to watching the birds come from the table because one of our feeders is on the window itself. Little did we know, a new problem would arise…
“Mr Squirrel! That’s for the birds!” Oh poor Mr. Squirrel, (Penelope was pretty sure this was Nutkin to be exact) our culture honors feeding wild birds, but does not honor, feeding you Squirrels! You get a scolding if you “steal” the “bird’s food!”
Although we love the squirrels and have pity on them, we knew if this behavior kept up, we wouldn’t get to see Penelope’s favorite bird, the Northern Oriole. What to do?
I could have done two things. 1. I could have solved the problem myself or 2. I could let Penelope take the lead in trying to solve the problem for herself. I chose the second option because I saw this as a wonderful motivational learning opportunity. We did this the following way:
- Identify the problem
- Think of possible solutions
- Try them out
- Assess/Reflect: Did it work? Why or Why Not?
- Repeat 2-4
Penelope chose to write Squirrel Nutkin a letter. Clearly in her mind, he needed to simply be told what to do. Since he wasn’t listening to us through the window, she thought a sign outside would help. He would see the sign, read it and know what to do. Did this work? Or rather, would I know if it would work? I thought we were going to problem solve in a more scientific way. I was surprised to hear her solution actually and I honestly didn’t think it would work at all! Before leading her in another direction, I decided to let her try it out. I was amazed that her mind immediately went to a literary solution, and I decided to honor her thinking process.
One of my summer reading books for this year is Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia by Via Vecchi. When I read these paragraphs, I realized that this is what separates the Reggio Approach from all other approaches… Respecting and listening to children’s theories… no matter their age!
Alice (aged 4 years 11 months) lying on her mattress suddenly says, ‘I think brains have books all around them. We say ‘Brain! read the rainbow book!’ and we think of a rainbow. The brain is surrounded by millions of books where lots of things are written and the books are what we think.’ Some months later, the same girl, Alice, walking through a meadow says, “Where do they get the colors we use? Perhaps they collect lots of dead butterflies and make colors from their wings. No, perhaps they use grasses?’
How children make theories is fascinating. The presence of rationality and imagination and such close intertwining between them is found only in the theories of great thinkers; in children’s theories there is also that highly empathetic approach to things which is highly developed in children and a sensitive filter for understanding and connecting things. (p. 29 Vecchi, 2010).
After I read this, something hit me hard inside. My heart softened, my gut deepened. I realized how precious this short window of time really is. In ALLLL her future years, she would problem solve more scientifically… more rationally. ONLY now, I get to witness the presence of rationality and IMAGINATION intertwine!! What. a. gift.
After we hung up the sign, we found the Squirrel and his friend (probably TwinkleBerry this time Penelope thought) at the bird feeder. I asked Penelope, “What happened? Didn’t he read your sign?” She looked puzzled and didn’t answer at first. Finally she said, “He must have trouble reading. Let’s think of something else.” It was at this second phase of problem solving, Penelope decided the bird feeder should be higher off the ground. We found this new window feeder hook and tried that instead. The next day something wonderful and almost magical happened….
“MAMA LOOK! NORTHERN ORIOLE! NORTHERN ORIOLE!”
I was actually in the kitchen making lunch when she called me. My first thought was, “Naw, she must be mistaken…” When I saw she was right (and of course she’d be right!) I squealed and grabbed my phone to take a picture! A tear formed in my eye… I was so happy for her! She problem solved in a way that was new to me and it worked! I got to witness the rational and the imagination close at work in her mind. It was a memory I will cherish forever. I hope there are many more to come before she grows up!