Inspiring Wonder in Early Childhood Education

Our world is changing at an unprecedented pace. How do we prepare our youngest learners for a world that we know nothing about, for technologies that haven’t been invented, and for jobs that don’t yet exist? The education of the past will only get these children so far. We have to learn how to look at the world differently in order to be ready to learn in a world that looks different.

I’d like to propose that the secret to setting these children up for success is encouraging them to approach their day to day lives with a sense of wonder. Have them ask questions about anything and everything, have them observe the world around them, have them notice what is going on in their environment, and have them WONDER. Use rich language. Teachers must model, lead by example, and practice with the children. “What do you wonder about?” “What are you noticing?” “What questions do you have?” “What problems have you identified?” “What solutions can we work on together?” Apply this process to everything, and anything, and then sit back, facilitate the conversations and see what happens. What you will experience will be nothing short of amazing. Children see things that we don’t see and wonder about things that we would never even notice.

Instilling and inspiring a sense of wonder is not unique to our Jewish world either. Just a few weeks ago, as we studied Parashat Berashit, I retold the story of creation on an interactive, completely low-tech, flannel board to a group of mesmerized kindergarteners. When we were finished, I asked the children what they wondered about. Their answers were fascinating, breathtaking, beautiful, and most importantly, so wise beyond their chronological years.

So, I gave them “homework”. In our play-based, experiential kindergarten, homework is all but unheard of. As we often do in our program, we re-envisioned the concept as I assigned the children to wonder. Yup. I asked the children to look around outside and say to someone, anyone, “Wow! Look at the gorgeous sky that Hashem created just for us!” “Wow! Look at the leaves changing colors that Hashem created just for us!” “Wow! Hashem created every animal with exactly what it needs to live in its habitat!” Believe it or not, we actually practiced saying the word, “Wow!” in the most enthusiastic, excited way possible so that any bystanders could actually feel the energy, amazement, and wonder in that one short word. “Wow!” Try it. You will also begin to see the world through a different lens. Mah rabu ma’asecha Hashem - How wondrous are Hashem’s creations!

By encouraging children to wonder, think, and speak in this type of way, we are fostering an intrinsic desire to learn, an unparalleled inquisitiveness, and a deep sense of motivation to explore and discover the world around them. When teachers are ready and willing to engage in the knowledge seeking process collaboratively with the children, and actively model this philosophy of learning, the sky's the limit. It is truly magical to experience the outcome, their authentic learning, and their genuine curiosity. What better way to prepare our children for the WONDERS of the future?!

For discussion based on this:
Article about preparing kids for jobs that don’t yet exist.

By Jessica Kohn
Early Childhood Director and Founding Educator of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, NJ

Photo by Ben Porat Yosef