Home as a Place of Research – Honoring the Unexpected

  • by Sonya Shoptaugh ON October 10, 2012


    One morning while on a walk in our forest, AC wanted to climb a tree.  We looked for a long time and couldn’t find any with branches low enough for her to reach.  “We could bring a ladder out and put up a board for me to climb on,” she suggested.  “And, maybe we can put a bed on it!”  “What a compelling idea!” I said, and in that moment, the tree house project was born.

    After numerous conversations about her ideas, and opportunities for AC to draw her thoughts, I sensed it was important to give her the opportunity to think 3-dimensionally, as this would surface some of the design elements that needed to be worked out – such as, would there be walls and windows, if so, how many.   She had mainly been focused on the interior.  There was definitely going to be a bed and a rug.  Everything else was an open question.


    I set up the table with clay, clay tools, paper, pens, twine, scissors, sticks, and a platform in the “trees.”  Each item I thought about carefully, as I knew they were strong elements that would influence the direction of her thinking, I just didn’t know how.

    When she came up to the studio the next morning, she pulled up a chair, surveyed the landscape of possibilities and said, “You know how I’m going to get up to my tree house?”  I replied, “No, I don’t!  How?” To myself I thought, This is going to be great, yes, fabulous, steps, rope ladder, new ideas here we come. And then she said,

    “By roller coaster!”

    “By roller coaster?” I gulped, and prayed my eyes were not too wide.

    “Yes, a roller coaster.  I need to make that first.”  She got right to work and I had a mini melt down in my brain, which meant I couldn’t say much – a good thing.  A roller coaster?!  You’ve got to be kidding! My mind froze and raced simultaneously, an odd sensation.


    Children are brilliant.  Often, their ideas do not conform to our overly-pragmatic adult ways.  If we stand aside and allow their genius to have room to romp, we will continually be amazed by where they will invite us to go.  Honoring the unexpected means giving children the right to explore the vast unknown with unabashed curiosity – something they do naturally.

    It also means being prepared to be thrown off balance again and again, requiring us to listen with fresh ears and be attentive to surprises.

    I never could have guessed this was where she was going to take us that morning.  I had anticipated windows and walls.  She invented a thrilling way to access her tree house. Fortunately, the provided materials received her ideas readily, and helped her give voice to her enthusiasm and creativity.

    After a good stretch of time making track and cars, AC got tired and went to her “mirror house” to roll around and dream of roller coasters, and I took a few minutes to make notes about the things I wanted to remember from the morning.   It is a big responsibility to care for children’s ideas well – and I was feeling the weight.

    I’m still not sure how I am going to support her in making her roller coaster entrance come to life, a rather large design challenge to consider and research.  However, I feel the future awaiting us with a big smile.   To be continued …



  • Comments(2)

    Would love to hear your thoughts! Please feel free to comment.
    • Vicki
      October 10, 2012 @ 9:49 pm

      Wow. Another powerful post Sonya. “it’s a big responsibility to care for children’s ideas well…” It certainly is.

    • trixie levy
      October 11, 2012 @ 9:38 am

      Sonya: thank you for sharing your knowledge , your wisdom and what you developed as a grat
      educator!! I can see theorie and practice together, and it is a pwoerful tool for my teachers.
      thank you so much for being so generous…..

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