• Time for Wonderment

    by Sonya Shoptaugh ON January 17, 2013

    Bath time. It is a part of most family’s daily routine. For some, it is fun. For others, a chore. For most, it’s a blend of both, with the common intention for children to get clean, wash the day off, and afterward, climb into fresh pjs, ready for sleep. Often this is the moment when parents exhale a sigh of relief, ‘day is almost done.’ (I know that feeling well.)

    And, it is also one of those ordinary times of day that has extraordinary potential for wonderment.


    One day awhile back, I was considering how I wanted to savor bath time more with my daughter, to slow it down rather than rush through it. This led me to think about luxurious bubble baths, and then I began to ponder what it might be like to have bubbles not only on the water, but in the air too. And what if we didn’t have regular lighting, but something more playful? And, maybe some balloons, for a festive feel…

    While AC was napping, I pulled out a few items (bubble machine, bubbles, towels, various lighting options – including a black light, more towels, balloons) and began to set up the room for her evening bath.

    Our bathroom is your basic American family bathroom. It has a tub, a toilet, some tile and a bucket of toys. That night, however, it transformed into a island of imagination.


    Children naturally approach life with a sense of humor and awe. We are born with curiosity woven into the fabric of our being – this is how we begin to make sense of the world. Too often, wonderment is seen as secondary and tangential to learning, when in fact, it is primary and at the heart of what propels us to explore and discover. And, every moment has the potential for robust wonderment, if we slow down enough and invite it in.


    As bubbles began to flow into the bath and all around her (and over the side of the tub…), my daughter was mesmerized. She watched her surroundings become iridescent as balls of rainbows wafted around her. More and more bubbles filled the air. With millions of bubbles landing all around her and on her body, she began to talk about what it might be like to be inside of one of them. She has a strong desire to fly, and perhaps she thought this would be a way for her to finally get into the air, once and for all. She bounded out of the bath.


    AC examined the bubble blowing machine to see where she could climb in.

    “Mama. If I step in back here where the liquid is, will the machine blow me out in a bubble?”
    “Ah, love, that tray looks a little small for you … perhaps we need to think of another way for you to get into a bubble…”

    She got back into the tub and we talked more about how she might be able to inhabit a bubble. Bath time ended with a lingering question and the ordinary space took on a new identity – it became a place of wonderment where time can expand and new worlds can be imagined. Now, when AC asks to take a bubble bath, I know this is what she means.

    (I would love to hear your thoughts about how you have made wonderment come alive in your daily life. Please feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at Creative Childhood to continue the conversation. I look forward to hearing from you!)

  • How Leaves Get Their Colors – A Child’s Perspective

    by Sonya Shoptaugh ON October 16, 2012

    Autumn has arrived in the Hudson Valley and we are surrounded by astounding and ever changing beauty. Walking through a tapestry of color is a daily occurrence for us. Our feet crunch leaves that once were above us, and now fascinate us on the ground.

    One morning while on a walk with my daughter, I found myself curious to know her thinking about why the leaves change color. I asked her a question to begin the conversation, and felt the excitement of anticipation — I knew I was going to learn something interesting.

    Mama: So, how do you think these leaves change colors?

    AC: All these ones were healthy, but the greens ones weren’t healthy so the healthy ones change colors and the not healthy ones don’t change colors.

    Mama: I see. If the not healthy ones wanted to change colors, what would they do?

    AC: Because they are not taking vitamins every single day. They want them to take 12 a day. They are only taking 3 a day. They take the minerals kind of, of the air, minerals of the air.

    Mama: Oh! They take their minerals of the air vitamins. I understand. But where do these colors come from?

    AC: That is the color that the air is! The air’s color, we can’t see the air’s color so, they come on the leaves. The vitamins are different colors. The vitamins are what the colors the air, and then the air falls onto the leaves and that is what makes the leaves change colors. The air takes their vitamins every day and that changes the air and the air falls on the leaves, and that is what makes the leaves turn colors. The leaves fall because it is just Fall. Happy Fall!

    She began to dance in the leaves and I joined her, both of us taking delight in the crisp air and our conversation. After we got back from our walk, I invited her to draw her ideas, keeping cognitive and expressive languages as close and constant companions.

    How children construct theories is deeply intriguing. They weave together their observations, impressions, lived experiences, and their imagination, intelligence, ingenuity, and what they value. The process of developing hypotheses is most important, not the “accuracy” of them. By asking my daughter what she thinks, and taking her ideas seriously, she is learning her thoughts are valued, and her theories are worthy of being heard and merit consideration.

    If I had told her how leaves change color, the conversation would have been short lived and would not have been as welcoming for her participation and her perspective. The more we can give young children the chance to jump into questions, keeping the sense of wonder alive, the more we allow them to hold onto their love of discovery – a quality that connects them to their own learning and ways of knowing for a life time.

  • 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 …



  • A Table of Clowns: Accepting the Premise of the Play

    by Sonya Shoptaugh ON September 26, 2012

    The last time my daughter and I were in California visiting my parents, I realized something noteworthy. This was the realization:

    Every time a child does something imaginative, we have a choice as to how we respond, and over time, our responses have long lasting effects on how children view their own inventiveness. The more we accept the premise of children’s play, the more likely they are to believe in their own creative abilities.

    This insight came while my family was at one of our favorite cafés in Oakland. We go there every day, and this morning, like all other mornings, I pull out various things for my daughter to play with so I might be able to sip my coffee for a moment or two and maybe say hi to my folks.

    I get to talking with my mom, while my daughter digs into the toy bag. The next thing I know, she puts a blob of play dough on her nose and goes to visit with my father, who then put blobs of play dough on his nose. I laugh. My mom laughs. Then she puts a blob of play dough on her nose, and I do the same. We are a table of clowns.

    This was when I realized that I am among the fortunate to have grown up with parents who know how to play, who accept invitations to be imaginative, and join in with gusto. I have a strong sense of my own creative abilities, and putting play dough on my nose comes naturally. I give my parents credit for this.

    That morning, the message we gave my daughter was, ‘Your inventiveness is not only valued but encouraged.’ As a result, she is more likely to believe her creativity is welcome.

    Other responses that could have happened:

    1. I notice the blob of play dough on her nose and say, “Please take that off. You are supposed to use that stuff on the table.”

    2. I laugh, and say, “Aren’t you cute, now why don’t you make a car or something.”

    3. I don’t say anything or do anything, but pray other people around the café don’t notice my child has a blob of pink stuff on her nose.

    Now, there are times when is it completely appropriate to redirect what is going on, for whatever reason. I do believe, though, the vast majority of the time, it is not only fine to accept the premise of the play, but advantageous to all involved. Young children live effortlessly in the world of imagination. If we join them there, not only do we bring more joy into our lives, we honor them for who they are – incredibly inventive human beings.