3 Ways to Wonder About a Sound

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A toddler hearing an unfamiliar sound:
Stops everything.
Looks around for the source of the sound.
Points excitedly to the source of the sound when she finds it.
Asks the nearest adult, “What dat? What dat?”
Continues asking until the adult answers: “A truck.” “The
microwave beeping.” “A flute.” “My stomach growling.”

Adult hearing an unfamiliar sound:
Thinks, “Huh. I wonder what that is.”
Forgets about it.

Have you ever walked outside with a toddler when they suddenly stop, look up, point, and shout, “Airplane!” – and you realize that you didn’t even register the sound – it was just background noise?

To me, the interesting thing is, how do we “develop” from relentlessly curious learners into “focused” adults who barely notice the sounds of the world around them?

Curiosity and close observation are natural qualities in young children, but somewhere along the line, we learn to “pay attention” to what adults are saying, usually) and forget how to wonder and notice and be intrigued.

What if we actually developed this wonder and curiosity and observation? We’d not only learn more and acquire more knowledge. Our experience of life would be unthinkably richer and deeper.

So here we are, teaching young children. To keep their minds open and engaged and their ears fresh and adventurous, we need to actively encourage careful and curious listening. We need to encourage wonder.

Here are three ways we can wonder about sounds with young children:

1. We can wonder about what objects or materials made the sound. Was it something soft or hard? Close or far away? Inside or outside our body? Big or small? Light or heavy? One thing, or lots of little things? Smooth or scratchy?

2. What kind of action or force produced the sound? A person singing? An animal running? The wind blowing? A car revving up? Was something hit, shaken, scratched, blown into, rubbed, dropped, scraped, ripped, plucked, strummed, squeezed?

3. How does the sound make you feel? Surprised? Scared? Calm? Happy? Excited? Sleepy? Does it remind you of anything? A song, a story, a person, a movie, an event, a dream?

Wondering out loud, as a group, stimulates more wonder, as one idea touches off another. More connections are made – between thoughts and between people. Wondering leads to learning, to investigating, to creating – in directions you may not have even considered.

Wondering takes time, and maybe that’s why we all seem to wonder less as we get busier and busier acquiring knowledge. And it takes up space in the mind, and maybe that’s why we wonder less as we fill more and more of that space with screen time. But all true inquiry and learning, whether scientific or creative, starts with wondering.

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