I have always found that a conversation with a three year old can completely destroy one’s self-esteem. It’s the ‘why?” questions. There you are as a teacher, filled to brimming with qualifications and experience, well-read, well-travelled, smug and serene; yet faced with an average three year old it all begins to rapidly unravel.
If you have never fallen foul of a three year old, count yourself lucky. It all starts innocently enough with a statement of fact, some well-worn piece of knowledge you confidently tell a wide-eyed three year old child. You turn to go, your job here done, when the child responds with a “why?” This still seems an easy thing to answer, but you suddenly find you are not quite as sure about this one. You stagger out an answer anyway, knowing you are getting vague but you muddle along with enthusiasm.
Then comes another one. Another ‘why?” and you realise that you have really very little idea of how to answer, and more alarmingly you see the pattern of “whys?” forming and realise how very little you actually know.
We can know a lot, we can gain huge amounts of knowledge on wide ranges of subjects, but it is terrifying how egg-shell thin this all can be. How easily cracked and broken we become after three taps of a simple “why?” Can we really be this impoverished with our deeper thinking and reasoning skills, that out of practice?
For Green and Healthy week Year 4 have been asked, why? And it all started powerless, when we decided to work through a day with no electricity.
“Why doesn’t the whiteboard work?”
“Why is it so hot?”
“Why is it so dark?”
“Why aren’t these things working?”
We started to look at answering these “whys?” We followed the trail back, through power grids, sub-stations, transformers, to turbines, coal and oil powered stations, to mines and oil rigs, to deep under the ground where the ancient remains of forests and prehistoric creatures lie fossilized.
“Why would all this run out?”
Following the path of ‘whys?’ lead to talks on sustainability and alternative power supplies. Breezes from open windows cooled the room, we became used to writing in the sunlight.
Following on from our “why?” thinking, we took our learning outside. We strode off on a course around the school, carefully observing how we use the land in our immediate environment. In doing so, a familiar backdrop, that land was transformed into areas of food production, water supply, housing and waste disposal. Questions emerged on why we need all this?
Why we need this or that sort of crop?
Why do we need so much housing, and why is it this sort of housing?
Why do we bury waste in big holes? Why do we produce so much waste?
How can we sustain all this?
Our adventure and experiment has opened a huge array of “why?” questions and we are thinking, thinking deeply. We ended the day, a lot less powerless than we started.
By Jon Crew, Head of Year 4