The Power of Perhaps

I had an amazing time in a school the other day with some Year two pupils. We were exploring the Great Fire of London using Mantle of the Expert and we managed to run a successful day with both classes together (yes that is right, about 50 children in one session!) As I was training teachers and another practitioner it meant I was being super aware!

(child pulls out a dirty, worn, white top from the box that has been excavated on the building site on Pudding Lane)

“It’s knickers”

“Perhaps…?” (I offer this up to the group, open ended, high voice, open eyes and a questioning expression on my face.)

“It could be Samuel Pepys?”

“Or the maids?”

“Which maid?

This discussion continues for a while. No child is looking at me for the “answer”. No child asks me what the answer is despite knowing that the box was placed there by myself and we are not on Pudding Lane but at a school in Nelson! Gentle discussion between the children starts but the focus in NOT on what ii IS but what it COULD BE.

Rather than asking for the children to “guess what is in my head” style questions (which I still see a lot of!) or even to submit what they think might be the ‘right’ answer I was really pushing the children to use a ‘perhaps’ etc before offering their ideas. It is such a safe way for everyone to participate as they can’t all say what it ‘is’ (whatever the context) but they can all say what they imagine it to be. It encourages the children to embed the practice of offering ideas, discussing and, yes dare I say it, dismissing some ideas and refining others. “Perhaps’ almost distances the child from the statement in that they don’t have to commit to it. They can ponder and muse and change their minds!

It hadn’t occured to me before now but what an amazing amount of freedom is given to children with the use of these terms. Rather than one fixed answer it allows them to question, wonder and importantly offer ideas up for debate and rejection. It allows things to hang in the air and creates an environment where we are all figuring out things together. It makes the offering of ideas and suggestions because it ‘could be’ and each one of these is framed with a question mark.  Freedom and inquiry happening because of the insertion and placement of “perhaps…”

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