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Lessons on Deeper Learning: A Maternity Leave Reflection

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:1-5

Last May, my husband and I welcomed our first child. It was definitely not as straightforward as that sentence was to write. She arrived early and weighed in at a tiny but mighty 1300 grams (2lbs 14oz). When we called my parents to let them know she was here, my dad’s first question was, “Is she breathing on her own?” She was; praise the Lord. But, it was more than that. I could not help but feel so strongly that God was right there with her, breathing life into her lungs.

NICU time, specialist teams, and many appointments, on top of figuring out how to do life with a new baby, brought their own challenges, tensions and moments that have stretched everyone in the family to grow into the “what’s next.”

There has also been so much joy. I have witnessed strength and love and God working in this tiny human in a way I don’t think I’ve understood before.* It is not lost on me that every morning, in my own home, I look into a gorgeous wee face that is created in the image of God. 

What does all of this have to do with deeper learning?

My daughter is thriving. She’s about to turn one in just a few weeks. Watching her explore, learn about and discover life has been the greatest joy. And, it has connected me to my students in a way I hadn’t expected. Deeper learning is happening every day in our home, and I hope to take some of these lessons back into the classroom with me. She is a person in God’s story and the way she is formed and empowered to shape the world begins now. She will grow, become part of a learning community and be formed and shaped by a community of people who love her. What that looks like, specifically for her, is yet to be seen.

However, what I do hope for her is what I hope for my own students – that her natural curiosity, energy, willingness and courage are nurtured, engaged and allowed to shape her as an image bearer whose part in God’s story is ongoing.

We are created with the desire for deeper learning. 

Here’s a glimpse into her day. Today, she slept until she was ready to wake. Until her brain told her it had rested enough. She’s a reader and always asks for books in the morning. We sat together and read, talking about the things we were reading and how we’ve seen them in our own life – birds, trees, the sun, families. We had breakfast together while listening to music and talking about what we might do today.

How well do we ease students into their days with thought and reflection on the learning to come?

The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous spring day; naturally, this meant we’d go outside. For two great hours, she moved freely around the outdoor space we were in, exploring with all of her senses (dirt is extra fibre, right?), laughing when she was happy, showing me her discoveries, and bravely taking on new challenges like climbing. She did not slow down. She was fully engaged with her environment. My role was this: to watch, follow her lead in play, encourage her in her exploration and help her find new language or knowledge she might need for the connections she was making and challenges she faced. I was with her the whole time, excited about what she was learning but allowing her to lead.

How well do we allow our students to lead with their senses, intuition, strengths and curiosities to gain knowledge and take risks that allow them to grow and develop at their own stage and age?

When she was tired, she took a nap. Her cues were strong: rubbing her eyes, yawning, laying her head down. I know that when I see these cues, she needs to rest. When we are fully engaged with our environments, the newness and the mental and physical challenges are exhausting.

Rest is essential in the midst of those processes.

How often do we recognize cues and let our students rest in the midst of challenging learning?

Resting is part of the learning process, as is fuel. After her rest she ate lunch and we talked about what we had done in the morning. A robin landed on the grass and caught her eye. We sat and watched it hop around the yard for a solid three minutes.

How well do we reflect with our students before moving on? How often do we encourage our students to notice, pause, and discover something that is not in our plans that day? 

We ventured outside for another hour, blowing bubbles, watching the wind move things – pinwheels, wind chimes, tree branches; testing structures to see if they’d hold us up, experimenting with movement. When she needed a break to think and process, she took it. When she was ready to go again, she went. 

How does the learning environment I provide for my students give space for their pace? 

Late in the afternoon, when most of our playing had slowed, we had a video call with my parents. We talked to them about what we’d been doing all day: what we’d seen, heard, and explored. They, the doting grandparents they are, engaged in this conversation and asked questions while also sharing their own experiences. A significant part of today’s learning was that it was shared, reflected on and valued as important to my daughter’s growth and development.

How well do I provide opportunities for my students to share their learning and connect with their families and communities, while acknowledging their personal growth?

During my leave this year, I’ve become more deeply aware of what Jesus is saying to his followers about how we should welcome children. In faith, this means to believe as children do. In education, how do we honour children as learners for what they bring to our learning communities? How do we hold space for natural curiosity and engagement in the midst of curricular expectation?

Children, from day one, are people of God’s story. Their years before formalised education are full of deeper learning that shapes them. How do we carry the natural learning process into our formalised classrooms in a way that builds on the deeper learning already begun in childhood? 

*This is not to say that an educator needs to have children for this type of interaction or understanding. This is a reflection on my personal experience. 


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