The Experience of Wonder

ginko biloba leaf

How can we investigate wonder?

I think that a direct, personal experience is the best starting point. So I went to my favourite public garden near home, where I love to walk or sit in a bench. I was ready to wonder looking at nature, as it often happens to me in that place; ready to catch pictures to share with you and to carefully observe all the process. 

But that morning nothing happened, even if nature was beautiful as usual… nothing . I was a bit disappointed and suspected that intentionality was an obstacle: maybe one can’t look for wonder. If you look for it, you can’t find it.

So the new plan was to retrace some of my past walks and to find out if there were some recurring elements, a kind of  list of clues, that characterizes those experiences of wonder. In other words the underlying question is: does a common denominator of the wonder-experience exist?

The first clue is easy and confirms my suspect about intentionality. I didn’t expect anything, I did not look for anything. Something just suddenly happened or I suddenly noticed something.

The second -ever present- clue is an inner empty space, needed for let wonder come in. My head was not busy or full of thoughts. Sometimes I was just too tired for thinking… sometimes it was Sunday or a daily break from work. Anyhow, I would generally call this quality a receptive, sensitive, welcoming emptyness.

Third clue: wonder happens through details and tiny things. It is delicate, it plays hide and seek and does not like haste or noises.

Clue number four: it is revealed through the senses, so it is mostly an aesthetic experience, not intellectual.

I could also state that it is connected to beauty, but the word “beauty” is too complex and general, difficult to define… What does it concretely mean? So a more useful question is probably about the recurring aesthetics qualities or topics that I associate to beauty.

I found at least three ones:

  • The wind or the movement of the air
  • A special kind of light (very warm but not too strong) that interacts with some surfaces, creating shadows and transparencies
  • And of course leaves. Not “any” leaf but “that” leaf, in that moment and place, seen from a precise point of view and through “that” light.

I wonder (in the sense that I ask myself) if everyone -like me- has got some specific aesthetics qualities typical of their own perception of wonder. Maybe these personal aesthetics elements are somehow connected to our roots, to the physical places where we come from or even to our very first encounters with the world.

Fifth clue:  I felt immersed in what I was looking at as if bounderies become less definied and for a split second, my ego disappeared.  I was not Roberta Pucci, atelierista, from Reggio Emilia, etc… but just my perception, an insightful, not-personal awareness. Also, the daily, usual perception of time changed for a little while, like a small oasis where time stands still.

This kind of feeling is as involving as fragile;  it can easily desappear, specially if I want to catch it by taking a picture or a video.

So here is the clue number six: taking pictures can be an obstacle for keeping a state of wonder.

Why? I think because -for taking a picture, for example of a leaf – I need to place myself “out” of the relation with that leaf, to take an external point of view, so coming back in my shoes, getting out of the connection and looking at the leaf from outside.

This makes me think to some educational context and some teachers that overwhelm children with questions or take a lot of pictures when noticing that children are deeply involved or attracted by something… Please let’s be careful and help children to take care of their precious moments of wonder. Yes, wonder can be the beginning of a meaningful learning… but it’s itself like oxygen for our soul and not only a pedagogical tool. 

Finally, a last question: where does wonder happen? Usually in nature, in my case, but perhaps there are some typical wondering-places for each of us?

Is wonder potentially everywhere, but it depends on our state of mind if we can access to it?

Can the extraordinary be hidden in the ordinary?

How can these clues and a deeper understanding of our direct experience help us to acknowledge, support and preserve the wondering experiences of children?

I would like to know to know what is your experience, hopefully adding others clues to this map.

Well, we are coming to the end of this short walk… thank you for joining. I wish you to enjoy the experience of wonder and take care of it. With open eyes and heart, but without looking for it!

You can watch the video of my Wonder Exploration clicking here.

Thanks to Suzanne Axelsson for inviting me to think about this topic. Also, in the guide Wonder of the Facebook Group The Original Learning Approach you will find other interesting reflections about it.

Natural Diary

natural diary

Welcome dear nature’s lover. Nothing easier than explaining you how to do a natural diary… since you already know. In other words, there are no rules and everyone can do it in her own way. First, choose a notebook along with some stationery and go outdoors, in your garden, in a courtyard, on a terrace. Otherwise, sit next to a flowerpot or in front of a window where you can see the sky, maybe a tree.

Please choose carefully your notebook and the other stuff, as they will somehow influence you. Pencil, pen, markers? Chalks, highlighters, colored pencils? What about sheets? White, colored, striped, checkered? Each texture differently effect us, each tool produces a different expressive nuance. You can also change stationery from time to time, inspired by the mood of that moment. And having only a few of them available is not an excuse: you can start even with a common notebook and a pencil!

What is in the pages of the natural diary? Words, drawings, leaves, petals, spots, signs. The shape of a cloud. The refrain of a song. The trajectory of an insect. A memory. A photo, printed, pasted and retouched. A collection of traced shadows. Any free association of images or words born in this short time, free from daily commitments.

Try to take a while for your diary every day, without necessarily following a chronological order of the pages. In other words, you can go back and forth as you wish or leave a blank page, like when the color passes through the other side of the sheet and leaves a mark that you don’t like (maybe, after some time, you will like to transform it…).

The writing of the natural diary occurs in a special “suspended” time, when your eyes and mind can rest, without looking for anything. Things will come, big or tiny, maybe just a word or a small sign. It is an excuse to legitimize oneself to be not productive or functional, at least for a few minutes.

The human being feels isolated in the cosmos, since he is no longer embedded in nature and has lost his emotional “unconscious identity” with natural phenomena. These, in turn, have gradually lost their symbolic meanings. Thunder is no longer the voice of an angry divinity, rivers are no longer the house of the spirits, nor trees the vital principle of man (…). No voice reaches people from stones, plants or animals any more, nor does the human beings turn to them sure of being heard. The contact with nature is lost, thus the profound emotional energy that this symbolic contact released has failed.

Carl G. Jung, “Man and His Symbols”

The natural diary is a kind of small gesture of reconciliation with nature, and maybe with ourselves as well. I will periodically publish some pages of my diary on robertapuccilab Instagram profile. You are very welcome to share pages of yours with the hashtag #naturaldiaryfornatureloversonly – so that we can find each other. It will be a silent contemplation, without any comments in addition to the words of the diary, but with mutual acceptance and gratitude.



Investigating nature with 100 languages

As every human being, you already own the “hundred languages” Malaguzzi was talking about. This does not mean you need hundred materials or tools, but that you have hundred possibilities to enter in a relation with the world, starting from your wonder and using what you already have. Don’t think of a final product, as a realistic drawing of a flower or a leaf: just try to be in a relation with that flower or that leaf.

For example, have you ever really observed the colors of a flower you like? Are you able to count and name all of them? It is not as easy as it sounds. The “green” (as every other color’s name) includes such a large number of different hues that there are not enough words to identify and name them. Moreover, outside the color changes over time: through the seasons, during the day, and looking more closely, even at the same moment: just changing point of view, or because a cloud suddenly moves in front of the sun.

So what is the “true” color of the flower I am looking at?

And what if a child noticed the shaded colors of a petal, how – as educators – can we support this interest and make it develop? Of course, giving value to his observation, eventually making some questions. Adults and children are dialoguing and wondering together, it’s not an interview with the teacher writing the child’s answers for the documentation. This also means that they can just silently observe. Infact, making questions to children is not a good thing itself. A question could be asked too early or effects too much the answer. For example, what if a teacher asks the reason why colors change along with light before the child has noticed it?

Then, which materials could we offer to children and how, in order to deeper the investigation of chromatic shades? There isn’t only one right way – it depends on the context, the school organization, the age and the number of children, and so on. Anyhow, if we just invite children to choose some markers, it will be a very poor answer compared to the endless possibilities of overlapping and mixing colors (“of the hundred they steal ninety-nine”…).

Why don’t ask children what materials they think would be better in order to explore shades? Then, try to follow and support the process. Maybe children will choose markers but soon realize there are not enough chromatic tones… so their research will probably lead to water colors or gouche, as water is a crucial element for mixing colors (somehow closed to the nature of the shade’s phenomenon). I think it would be very different if the teacher offered water colors since the beginning.
What is the exact spot where a color ends and another begins? If we cannot clearly define the boundaries between different colors, we say there is a “shade”. So, what exactly is a shade?

According to the artist Paul Klee, a shade is a type of “order” typical of the natural world, that develops through a continuous process of “growing” and “decreasing” (crescendo and diminuendo), where the opposites flow into one another. On the other hand, the artificial order is poorer but perceptible through a kind of organization divided into measurable steps.

Klee made a deep research about plant forms and about how natural shapes develop. He was used to write his thoughts in a notebook, that later he used for teaching to his students at the Bauhaus school (all these notebooks have been printed in Italian in two beautiful books, I hope theys exist in English too).

For example, how does the leaf-shape form? According to Klee, the ribs are lines of constructive energy and the final shape depends on these forces: the outline is formed where the linear irradiation stops. From this perspective, the outside shape results as an effect of a inner, primary force (or cause). But many other answers and theories are possible from different perspectives.

The biologist and mathematician D’Arcy W. Thompson, in his book “On Growth and Form”, ventures into a search for algebraic formulas that regulate the growth of natural forms. From another point of view, the Italian designer Bruno Munari approaches every natural thing as a perfect example of good design and every natural shape as built according to laws of constructive economy. In his tiny book, “Good design”, he describes in technical details an orange, a pea pod and a rose, as perfect objects in which the absolute coherence of form, color, use, consumption is found.

What is the right explanation? There is not only one, nor even a unique way to look for it. As well as there are many languages ​​to look for an answer, many answers are needed to get closer to the truth. Moreover, an holistic approach – that holds together many dimensions – characterizes the spontaneous playing of children and their learning processes. Of course, I do not cites these theories for encouraging to agree with them or use them with children, but as examples of what rich and various processes can develop from every personal research. Have you ever tried your own one?

In light of this, why do exist some recurring proposals that are usually associated to the Reggio approach and the Hundred languages, like drawing the shadow of an object or a flower placed at the center of a table? Maybe, do we need ready-made answers because we do not trust “enough” that an interesting process will flourish from children?

Why drawing the shadow – among the hundred and hundred possibilities of exploring it? During my walks and researches into nature, the encounter with shadows had nothing to do with drawing. Once, it seemed to me that the leaves shadows of some branches were writing a code, an alphabet of different balances of full and empy spaces within the same shape. I was mainly interested in the visual rhythm created by the continuously changing interaction between leaves, light, air and my point of view. The process was leading me to play with some leaves-pentagrams…

What about the child originally interested in the petal’s shades? Maybe, he would continue to wonder about colors even through shadows: where does the color go when a shadow covers it? And what color is the shadow?

I think that the first-hand experience of a creative process is strictly connected with the capacity to trust others’ processes and let them flourish. What is your personal experience with the “hundred languages”? What are your favourite ones?

That shadow or that flower is unique, however many dimensions are there – scientific, aesthetic, philosophical, emotional, narrative – and they are all connected. The atelier is a place where these exploration paths can be developed thanks to materials and tools it offers.

That flower is one, the reality is one, but in the meantime it is reflected in hundred mirrors, one for each expressive languages and also one for each person. Isn’t it amazing?

Enjoy your nature exploration!

The leaf, the light and I

autumn leaves

I would like to take you in a short walk through a small, wild garden.

What are we looking for?

Just let eyes freely lead you, without thinking, and – maybe – beauty will appear.

Why “maybe”? Wasn’t beauty already there (in a flower, a leaf, a tree) before we came?

Yes, in a way… But the aesthetic experience can only happen during a meeting: between a flower (a leaf, a tree) and somebody who looks at it. The aesthetic experience is a special kind of relationship. Let’s look it closer.

While walking, some leaves attracted me. It was not a generic or naturalistic interest, but a specific imagine that has appeared and caught my eyes because of a certain color, a shadow, a texture of ribs. It is not “any” leaf but “that” leaf, in that moment and place, seen from a precise point of view. Light helps to create that unique picture, affecting its colors and shadows. Thus, through the light, a special connection has established between me and the leaf.

Have we found it or was it waiting for us?

Maybe both, in a kind of synchrony. There is a potential beauty that needs both waiting and intentionality for revealing itself. An empty and receptive space is necessary to make something new come in.

Can we preserve it? Do we give us enough “empty” time?

I think everyone can feel the sensation of being intensely connected to something while looking at it. This is an aesthetic experience. It happens “hic et nunc”, here and now. A small oasis where time stands still.

So why just don’t pick that flower to bring home and put it in a vase?
Because it is an experience of connection, not of possession.
Where does it happen?
Almost everywhere. This is why I took you in a small garden, a few steps from home, and not in a National Museum.

Can we take a picture of it?
This is a central point: photography can be a tool, not a goal. If our objective is catching a beautiful picture to hang on, the camera will be an obstacle for living this kind of experience.
No products, no thinking process… So what’s the point?
A short, intense meeting with beauty: the leaf, the light and I.
Enjoy your walk.