Monday, 3 October 2011

Too Many Questions? Golden Silence?

and forever explaining things to them.

How often do we ask children the same questions. Children fully engaged in play, a child bursting to show us an amazing discovery, children lying quietly under the tree looking up at the leaves moving in the sunshine, a child silently watching the birds on the pond may all be asked questions! 

How often do we need to ask children the following questions....

Why do we often feel the need to ask children these questions – how much better to share the moment with the child by just being there. Children have the right to high quality interactions; to adults who genuinely want to share in and who value the child's learning and experiences.  Allowing children the time and ‘space’ to do something with the facts they are presented  with .... understanding them, connecting them to each other, sorting and categorizing them, manipulating and applying them while seeking solutions to new problems – these are the opposite to rote learning where all that is required is to repeat back what has been memorized. 

Adults who promote these higher order thinking skills through sensitive and appropriate open ended suggestions rather than asking standard questions will be part of the child’s amazing world of discovery – seeing and experiencing the world through the eyes of the child.

Natural Learning: 

“We are connected with and contribute to our world” 
“We are confident and involved learners” 

Three children aged 4, 5 and 6 years found blue bottle jelly fish washed up on the beach. Their initial reaction was avoidance having been taught by adults to fear them “cause they can sting you” but they watched in  fascination as I  use a sea shell to turn one over and they soon overcame their fear, picked up handy ‘tools’ such as shells and driftwood to investigate the bright blue shapes. “It popped!” “like a balloon but a small balloon”, “ this one can’t pop”, “ maybe too hard, no I know; it goes into the sand, it sinks when you press it”, “hey, I know, I know, the sand is soft and only on the hard sand they can pop”

They found a larger jelly fish which moved “it’s alive, don’t pop it”, “no, it’s the wind makes it move”, “ shhh, be quiet so I can see it”, “this is my favourite colour, blue but some pink, purple when you look here”, “ I can nearly see through the big bit, Niki come see!”


I commented that ”I also like the colours , all the different shades of blue and the translucence of the body. The body does not have the stingers so I can touch it gently as long as I don’t touch the tentacles because that is where the stinging bits are”. The children fell silent reflecting on what  I had just told them, studied the jellyfish more closely, some tentatively touched the float and then handled it with more confidence. 

Now the discussion turned to how they could save this jellyfish , “maybe it needs water so it can swim”, “yes, we need to put it in the sea ....but then it will swim away”, “I know, we can make a dam for it to swim in”. The children started to dig a hole close to the water’s edge and were then faced with the problem of how they were going to get the jelly fish into their dam. “don’t pick it up, it has stingers”, “yes and they shoot out, and that is very sore, maybe you will die!”, “yes, and you will go to ‘hostibal’, maybe in the ambulance”. 

They sat beside me silently and after a few minutes asked“Niki, can you put it in our dam so it can swim, cause we can’t pick it up?” I again explained that as long as we didn’t touch the tentacles we would be safe and should they ever get stung they had to wash the area with water but not rub or touch it. I picked it up and placed it in the water, the children cheered as it floated in their dam.


“The water has gone away”, “it can’t swim anymore, it’s not moving” they commented as they noticed that the water levels had dropped and the jellyfish was no longer floating. 

Using their hands and shells they carried the water from the sea which was not very effective until one of the little boys pointed out that they could dig a channel from the sea so that the water could go into the dam. There was a lot of discussion about the depth and width of the most effective channel as well as collaborative work with three children trying to create the channel. 

 A wave reached the dam and the children cheered but then realised that the water flowed out again “we need a wall, a wall to close the dam so the water doesn’t go out”. They closed the gap after the next wave trapping the water and then continued to extend the wall and enclose the dam, adding shells and seaweed as decoration – transforming it into a castle for the jellyfish.

 More jellyfish were collected with the children making sure that they did not touch the tentacles; they were calm and purposeful in their actions and took great pride in the fact that they could now handle the jellyfish themselves. 

Children commented on the size of the different jelly fish and exclaimed in surprised delight  when they found one with longer tentacles, “this is the longest, this is the biggest one”, “no, look that one is bigger but the stingers is short”, “long stingers sting more, they go round and round”. “Niki look at this looooong one, right up to here.... my head”. At this stage I felt it was appropriate to share more knowledge I felt they would be interested in and showed the children that the float or body could be as big as 15cm and that the tentacles could reach 10 metres by stepping out and marking this in the damp sand. They copied the actions and were soon using non standard units of measurement to do their own measuring. 

With the tide coming in the children had to repair the damaged parts and increase the height of their walls. “More and more and more water is coming, look .... the jellyfish are all swimming now”, “the wind is pushing them, that’s how they keep moving”, “that was a big one, it went over the wall, quick fix it, more sand”, ”wet sand is not working, we need dry sand” 

A large wave broke through, flooding the dam and washing away large parts of the castle  – all three children worked together as a team to rebuild and strengthen the defenses until a number of big waves came in quick succession and they were no longer able to keep the waves out. They stopped, watched their collection of jellyfish wash back into the sea and then jumped up and down laughing in delight, waving and shouting “goodbye jellyfish” before moving on to play in the dunes.

  • The children were fully engaged in this activity for more than an hour and a half
  • There were no adult designed resources or toys available and children used their imagination and creativity
  • I did not interfere with the children’s play or thought processes but waited until I was ‘invited  in’ by the children
  • Children demonstrated high levels of independent thinking without interruptions from me
  • I used an appropriate intentional teaching opportunity to pass on factual information as well as mathematical concepts

Possible Lines of Development (PLOD)
  • Research jellyfish on the internet and in reference books to extend the interest and knowledge through IT and the written word.
  • Offer children a range of resources to explore water flow.
  • Offer children a variety of materials to explore flotation and the power of wind.


Some Early Years Learning Framework Curricular links identified retrospectively

“We are connected with and contribute to our world” (EYLF outcome 2)
 “We are socially responsible and show respect for our environment”

“We are confident and involved learners” (EYLF outcome 4)
“ We are curious, cooperative, confident, creative, committed, enthusiastic, persistent and imaginative”
“We are developing a range of skills and processes such as problem solving, inquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching and investigating”
“We transfer and adapt what we have learned from one context to another”
“We resource our own learning through connecting with people, place, technologies and natural materials”


  1. I love this post so much, thank you for writing it. You have expressed beautifully something that I often think about - the insistence of many parents on questioning, testing their children constantly. I think it actually interrupts the learning process rather than enhancing it. Great post! x

  2. Thank you Deb. There is such a fine line between interference and interaction and I feel that adults often 'interfere' in children's learning - with the best intentions of course.

  3. This is another excellent post, Niki. You make such an important point here about adults not "getting in the way" of children's experiences. I know I've been guilty of it myself - spoon-feeding information or asking too many questions - when the child's experience is what counts.

    And of course, it's another example of the sort of experience that is only available to children when they are immersed in the natural world with time for unhurried play and exploration.

    Three posts so far and all excellent - I'm going to spread the news on Facebook. Alec.

  4. Lovely post. It is a great exposition of how the teacher works in this way. I have written a response in my own blog:

  5. This is again a beautiful post, Niki. I'm going to share this on my FB page.

  6. Loved the points you made, but even more i loved the beauty and simplicity of how you described the children's interaction, play and self study of the jellyfish. Took me back to the many hours of the day that I spent on the beach with my own children, not just surfing but letting them just explore on their own.

  7. What a beautiful post and a wonderful learning experience.

  8. This is amazing. I am definitely guilty of asking those very simple questions over and over again when we are out exploring. This has taught me so much and given me such insight. Thank you so much for writing up the great story of the play and learning on the beach.

  9. Thanks for this Niki,

    I love how you put your personal experiences throughout your blog and many of us reading can truly relate. I believe in putting myself in the child's shoes for each experience they take whether they are challenged or celebrating as this makes me much more appreciative and understanding- not to mention excited!
    Time time time is the best :)
    Love the 'too many questions' completely agree the genuine conversation and being in full presence is the best- Thanks Niki can't wait to share this :)
    Keep shining Belinda x x