Sitting Quietly and Looking

As a family, we started listening to Anthony Doerr’s fantastic novel, All the Light We Cannot See, on our holiday drives. Now every time we get in the car, the kids demand it.

There’s one early scene that stuck with me and reminded me of the work I do (no spoilers, I promise). Werner, an orphan with an aptitude for electronics, has become the mining town’s go-to person for radio repair. At one point, he is sitting before a massive radio, staring at it, thinking through possibilities, and tracking the course of electricity through the box. He eventually identifies the problem and fixes it, much to the delight of his patron, who claims his success came from simply staring at the radio.

Lately I’ve been working on rebuilding my daughter’s closet. I seem to spend much of the time simply standing before the closet, sometimes with a notebook, sometimes with scrap paper, sometimes with nothing. I probably have spent hours just looking at the space, turning options over in my head, identifying potential problems, coming up with design ideas. It might look like I’m doing nothing but without that time, I’d be unable to move forward.

How do we make time and space for kids to do this in school? How do we create classrooms or work spaces that are free from tedium — no worksheets or unnecessary work — and where social pressures recede — most humans (not just teens) will fill space with talk, especially when the task is hard. It’s easier with engagement, I know: Werner loves the radio just as I like working on the house, which is another issue, but I still want to spend some time this year thinking about ways to make the quiet, thinking, staring into space time part of my classroom.

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