Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You May Not Know the End

A few weeks ago I wandered by the easel. I saw a child working on her painting. Intrigued, I stopped and watched for a few minutes (and snapped a photo).

My attention was required elsewhere (or I just wanted to see what other kids were doing) and so I left the artist to her work. A while later, she called to me that her painting was done and she left the easel to wash her hands. I went to move her painting to the drying area. When I saw it, I had to snap another photo.

This completed painting looks nothing like I imagined it would when I saw her working. The outcome was completely different from what I expected, from what I could see during the process.

As I reviewed my photos again and discovered the during/after paintings, a new "rule" popped into my mind.

Just because we see the beginning...or what it looks like during the process...doesn't mean we know what the end will be.

I have discovered this time and time again in kids' play/work and in their thinking. Often they surprise me with where they end up. What I thought would be a house or a table setting or an arrangement of 10 objects turns into something else completely. Just because I saw the beginning or the middle didn't mean that I knew the end result.

The same is true about the kids themselves. Many times we adults like labels. And so often we are quick to use them. We see a kid who is quiet or more solitary and tag him as shy or a loner. We think that he may have trouble later making friends and end up as a lonely hoarder in an apartment somewhere. We see a kid who is bouncy and active and label her inattentive or "one that won't sit still." We think she may become an athlete but will have trouble in academics. The angry kid will become a dropout and probably commit a crime at a young age. The one who recognizes letters is so smart and will probably excel with advanced degrees. And so forth.

But we're just seeing the beginning, the early years. We don't know the end. The child is still in process, still developing and growing. So much can happen to those rough edges or early skills. We cannot predict achievement (or lack of it) by seeing what kids do now. Sure, these years are important foundations in their lives. But we cannot know how a child will turn out by the way he acts today.

I have some great kids in my classroom. They come in all different personalities and with all kinds of interests. They learn in so many different ways and excel with different skills.

And I need to nurture and listen and comfort and welcome. I need to look and marvel and suggest and help. I need to enjoy the beginning, supplement the process, and let the end take care of itself.


  1. Wow, this is exactly what happened to me yesterday in my home daycare. We were doing aboriginal dot painting over an outline of a kangaroo in our Australia Day celebration, it all started as I imagined, and ended with the pages covered completely in black paint and the kids very proud of their creations!

  2. This is something that it took me a long time to understand, partly because I fist worked in a centre where product that one could display for the parents to see was valued over process.

    It occurs to me that perhaps more displays of photos like yours- a series that shows the whole process, not just the final product- could be one way to demonstrate to parents that EC learning isn't about product, and if their child doesn't bring home 'pretty pictures' it doesn't necessarily mean what they think it does. Food for thought!