I continue to observe that in children’s imaginary experiences there may be a 50- 50 possibility that the existence of something is real.
Until the children decide, both outcomes are in existence. The real and not real are still often the same thing. But whose reality is real and how do we know?
The Nothing Box
An enquiry with 3 and 4 year olds arising from their roleplay
Context- The children had received a letter from the Good Witch asking the children to make the flying house into a good place for Dorothy to live. Everybody was very happy that the Wicked Witch had been squashed.
The children set about the task of emptying the role play house and took dustpans, brushes, brooms and cloths inside to clean it. During the course of this activity I overheard one child say to another;
“There. It’s all nice and empty now. Not even a speck of dust”
This made me curious to find out whether the children thought that nothing can be something?
At the start of the next session I read out examples of the children’s earlier tidying up role play including the statement about the speck of dust and asked them to remember that sentence.
We sat in a circle and I showed the children a sturdy black box and asked the children to examine it carefully as they passed it round the circle. (The box was empty with clear panels around the four faces and a solid lid with a clasp.)
I then asked them whether it was empty ?
All confirmed that it was indeed empty and it contained “nothing”
I then told them that I would put “something” in it
The following dialogue took place……
Me-Here is a speck of dust, can you see it?
(All children except one said no)
- There’s nothing in there
Me- So can I say there is nothing in there but a speck of dust then?
- No because you didn’t put anything in it
Me – so are you saying that a speck of dust is nothing or are you saying the dust is not in there?
(All children except one answered that I didn’t put anything in there)
Me- Not even a speck of dust? How do you know that?
- Because we didn’t see it
- Yes, we cant see anything
Me- I think Ruby said she could see it .What can you tell me about it?
- It was red
- I think it’s gone now Ruby
- It might have been magicked away
- Or it might have went on a broomstick to fly away?
Me- I wonder if anyone has got something that they can put in my box that isn’t “something”? Maybe something that we can’t see?
- Yes a witch hat
- My witch hat
Me- If I put that in my box will we be able to see it?
- Try it
- We cant see it though
Me- it’s not in the box yet. Now can you see it?
Me-Is there anyone who can’t see it?
- I can’t
- My eyes don’t see it from far away
- I am waking my eyes up to see if I can see it
Me-Can you see it with your eyes closed?
(The children close their eyes)
Me- With your eyes closed tell me whether the hat is in the box? Stand up if you think the hat is in the box?
Me- Lots of you think there is. Now sit down and close your eyes tight again.
(At this point I removed the hat from the box and hid it)
Me- Open your eyes and see. Is there a hat in the box?
- It’s magic
- It’s gone
- My hat’s gone
- No. I think you took it out and you tricked us
Me- I think I can see a hat in there. It is purple and black.
- It has gold on it too
Me- Can you see the gold then?
- Put the hat back in
- You’ve taken it out
Me- Why do you think I have taken it? Don’t you believe me? What’s happened to it?
- But you shaked it out
Me- Do you know that ? Did you see me do that?
Me- How do you know then?
- Cos we had our eyes closed
Me- So how do you know if you had your eyes closed?
- We guessed it
Me-So is a guess the same as thinking or knowing?
- It’s ‘cos we thinked it
- Did the witch took it out? And my wand? but my wand is still here
- Or the flying monkey?
Me- Is the monkey still here?
- No he is hiding in the witch’s house and layed down and hided on the floor
Me- How do we know if he is still here?
- We can check by looking in the house
Me- Daisy would you go and check please?
- Nothing there
- Maybe he’s invisible?
Me- Jessica can you just go and check and see if he is being invisible in there?
- Jessica- yes he’s there and he’s invisible
Me- How do we know?
- He has dust on him but he’s powered away
Me- Oh look, there he is, sitting right there on the rug. Does anyone dare stroke him?
- He tickled me
Me- Is anyone else brave enough?
(Several children join in pretending to stroke an imaginary flying monkey in various places around the carpet area)
Me- Oh has he moved? I thought he was over there?
- Yes he flied with his wings
Did anyone see that?
- I did
- So did I
Me- Shall I pick him up and put him in my box? He’s a bit wriggly I will have to squash him down
Can you see him?
- No he’s invisible
- He’s not a real monkey
- He’s a pretend one
- Oh he’s escaped
- Yes he will escape
- He got out now
Me-What’s in the box now then?
(We passed the box around and the children were encouraged to say what they saw)
- Monkey is in there
- Oh he’s popped out into my hand
- I’ll put him back in
- I can see a girl monkey
- I saw some flowers
- I can see two monkeys
- I can see a flying one trying to get out
- I think the wind blowed him away
- I can see an elephant
- I saw a dragon
- I saw a Wild Thing
- I saw a lion
- It was a …
- I saw a lion cub- wasn’t it?
- What a big one?
- A crocodile
- I saw people
- And I see a little baby crocodile
Me-That’s strange because when I showed you this box you all said there was nothing in there
Is there something in there that isn’t real?
- No ‘cos it’s invisible
- It’s pretend
- No. It’s just my (ima) ‘gination
Me- Could we see it? Is that something in there? Or nothing? I wonder is imagination something or nothing?
- No I think it’s still nothing because it’s in only my head
- I can see butterflies
Me- But are they something butterflies or nothing butterflies?
- They are nothing butterflies but we can see them in our brains.
Developing the Enquiry.
What do you think? Please ask your children or suggest your own ideas and questions in the comment box.
- What is an imagination?
- Can it really be true to say that some people have “No Imagination?”
- Can we say that an image of something in our head is real?
- If we represent something from our imagination in a visual form does it then become real?
- When we pretend something do we know for certain it is only pretend?
- Can you imagine something that is actually real if you have never seen or experienced it?
- Are children’s imaginations different from grown-up’s imaginations?
- Can you define everything?
- Can you define nothing?