By Sonja Lukassen, Lead Educator
I was preparing to tell a story to a group of 40 kindergarten students who were gathered around the fire. Since not all of the children had yet made it to the circle, I passed the time by asking students what sorts of animals they thought lived in the surrounding woods.
Foxes. Chickadees. Chipmunks.
Squirrels. Owls. Coyotes.
Blue jays. Porcupines. Mice.
All great answers, all accurate, all complete with a story or connection from the student or me. Great- we were setting the stage for an excellent morning of forest wandering and noticing.
The remaining children had joined the group and I was ready for my story, so pointed to one final child to share her forest animal.
Monkey, she said.
Hmm, I said. Do you think a monkey could survive living in a forest like this in a season like this?
Yes, she said. I’ve seen one- in the tree outside the window at my house.
I though, Huh.
I said, That’s amazing! If you see it again would you please draw a picture because I would love to see what that looks like. I’ve never seen a monkey in a tree in the city.
Okay, she said.
We moved on to our story and into the rest of our day.
How lovely it is to encounter young children who know our forests well enough to be able to name so many native creatures.
And how lovely to encounter a child who knows other things- that a monkey has been in the tree by her house; that it will return and she will be able to draw it.
I love to respond to a child’s question with “Hmm, what do you think?” It shifts the focus away from me as the supposed expert and brings it back to their creative, imaginative, unencumbered ideas. Why shouldn’t there be a monkey in the tree outside your house? It’s highly unlikely, incredibly unusual, but not impossible. How wonderful.
A caterpillar is taking bites out of that stick you keep poking into that hole? Do caterpillars only eat sticks? Do they live in tree holes all year or just in the winter?
You just found bones from a dinosaur? How did they get there, and how long have they been there?
You found ancient writings under the bark of that stump? How beautiful and mysterious. How did they get there?
By nurturing a child’s thoughtfulness and ideas we are telling them that we value their words, their thoughts, the way they are experiencing the world.
I have watched a child, filled with excitement, show an adult a dinosaur bone that he found. That he found! I have seen the excitement completely dissipate and the child deflate as the well-intentioned adult told him that it obviously was actually a deer bone, and what particular bone it must have been.
I doubt these young humans will live their entire lives interpreting the world around them in quite such a fantastical way- as they get older the need for facts and to fit the pieces of their world into order will most likely take over.
What an engaging notion, though, to think of children who believe in the nearly impossible as holding onto that belief. What wondrous, remarkable, and seemingly-insurmountable obstacles might be negotiated with determination and certainty if these children grew into adults who continued to believe in impossible things.
I’d rather like to find out. Wouldn’t you?
You saw a monkey in the tree beside your house? Sweet. I’ll be looking for one in the tree near my house later on. I hope I find one. Thanks for the inspiration.