The United Nations and a Pumpkin (by Wendy)


We should see science as a provider of our wishes. -Dr. Hayat Sindi, Leading Biotechnologist United Nations Speaker on Women and Science

I like a pumpkin when the seeds pop out. -Mira, Maple Street School, Age 2.5


It may seem like a pumpkin and the United Nations don’t have much in common.  They are not even both round and orange and full of seeds. One has much more security.

But for me last month, visiting the United Nations and hearing Dr. Hayat Sindi Speak about Women, Science and Our Globalised World and having children and teachers deeply explore the insides of the pumpkin I was reminded of Maple Street’s and my thoughts on education, investigation and wonder.

So yes, I am going to compare my visit to the United Nations to children and teachers deeply discovering the inside of a pumpkin because they both relate to stretching ourselves, wonder, problem solving, knowledge, creativity, community and creating a better world.

First I want to let you know that our whole community of teachers and parents were invited by parent Indira Keane.  Indira is one of the two members of the diversity committee and, though it was not a typical event, I agreed with her that “global food for thought” would be a way to stretch our community in thinking about diversity and learning.

And because we know parents and teachers are busy, I was the very only one who responded and it took a bit of push and grit to get there.  The afterschool teachers were worried the giant journey sticks I picked from the park were too big, so we set out yellow and orange paints and glitter to make the sticks enticing and started painting.  They were beautiful and the painting and wonder took hold, and then I answered a few Maple Street concerns and almost had to cancel to pick up my daughter as her dad was stuck at the Department of Buildings.

But it all worked like magic and like a witch on a broom, I flew through the subway to Manhattan through security, met Indira, saw some art and history from across the world, went to the potty,  and the next thing I knew I was sitting in a giant spinning leather chair across from Ban Ki-Moon. Yep, the Secretary General of the United Nations.  And the first thing I thought was these chairs are way way way bigger than Maple Street pre-school chairs and then I thought about and knew why I was there:

  1. I deeply believe in unique extraordinary experiences and
  2. The United Nations and Maple Street have some things in common.

So back to the pumpkin and Maple Street and extraordinary experiences.  Please stay with me as I know this can feel a little Alice in Wonderland or Cinderella or even Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater (with a rewrite of the wife part) , but it makes beautiful fun sense.

I have a quote in my office by Leo Lionni, a children’s book writer and author and one my favorite philosophers. He writes “…and even if it was nothing but an ordinary little pebble, she would say, ‘Isn’t it extraordinary?’”

In preschool the ordinary and the extraordinary are the same thing and that is what feels so mindful and spectacular at the same time.

Let me now take you inside a pumpkin with a group of 2-5 year olds and their grown-ups. Let’s begin with Lincoln, age 4,  who explained that the inside is wet and mushy.  “Mommy takes out the seeds and cooks the pumpkin.”

Lulu, age 3, then added, “It’s gooey and yummy when you cook it.”

Violet, age 3 chimed in, “It feels like fun cheese.”

And Zazie concluded, “I only use a spoon, I didn’t want to get my hands gooey, the pulp is yucky and it is science because we learn about pumpkins.”

So back to the United Nations, which of course is not gooey nor feels like fun cheese, but it was about science and empowerment.  Dr. Hayat Sindi spoke a lot about interdependence and science in a social context.

This is what was happening at the preschool level and at the United Nations. Dr. Sindi was talking about how women’s passion is the best for science – we could discover a cure for cancer, help for the aged, and robots for dangerous jobs.  Women, she said, keep science relevant.

At pre-school the same interdependence and community connection keeps science not only relevant, but full of wonder.  Rachel Carson, a science hero of mine speaks to this and to the exploration of the inside of a pumpkin when she says, “It is not half so important to know as to feel.”

I would add that when we feel the inside of a pumpkin we know it, and wonder more….this is the essence of pre-school.  It is discovery and play.  It is gooey and academic.  It is play and rigor.

In the forefront of early education are play and rigor.

Just recently, on October 21, 2014,  in the opinion pages of the New York Times Shael Polakow-Suransky and Nancy Nager wrote, “This is a false choice. We do not need to pick between play and academic rigor… While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.”

Our children felt the gooey pumpkin slime and tasted the hard seeds, and investigated.

Lulu said,  “There are seeds in it, they help it grow.”

Just like Lulu said, I felt like that at the United Nations, listening to Hayat Sindi, the seeds in it that make it grow.

I even looked up the mission of the United Nations and found this: “We work to build a better world by strengthening and improving the United Nations through the engagement of people who share a global mindset and support international cooperation–global citizens.”

Sounds a lot like Maple Street working together, only we are in a pumpkin and they are in the world.

Both ways create joyful thinkers, and passionate scientists in the context of cooperation and engagement.

Our teachers too commented on the pumpkin both experientially and using their knowledge of early childhood pedagogy.

Toti started by expressing, “I have never gotten my hands so deep in a pumpkin so slimy and smooth at the same time.”

Anne Marie added to this feeling by saying she noted the texture and the feel of moisture teaches her to recognize different slime and how it feels on her skin.

Jenn said, “In preschool experiments we are learning to be a scientist and how to develop experiments and how to develop your ability to explore the world.”

The teachers then began having a discussion, I heard words like “think about what you know” and “be investigative.”

When you do that, Peggy added, the children use their 5 senses, how it smells, listen to it, how it tastes…then they wonder about everything ordinary, what’s inside an orange, what’s inside a cantaloupe, what’s inside a tomato.  Lunch is learning, so is going to the grocery store – those things become science.

It resonated with what Dr. Hayat Sindi said when she talked about her childhood.  She said “I waded through dusty books, but I couldn’t find a woman who looked like me.”

She also said that mothers should not be struggling alone to bring up global citizens.

At Maple Street and in all early childhood, a pumpkin, some curious children, and some thoughtful teachers can make a lot of difference.

For me going to the United Nations and hearing Doctor Sindi, well, it did feel like the children exploring a pumpkin…and these reasons are central early childhood, cooperation and a better world.

  1. They both require intention, risks and spontaneity: It was a little scary going to the United Nations by myself, but not too scary, probably about as scary as sticking your hand inside a pumpkin for the first time.
  2. I thought about power and influence: What we do at pre-school in a pumpkin and in the world in the United Nations empowers us to work together, to discover, and to be innovative. Who has access to schools like Maple Street, the United Nations, science, wonder and exploring the world?
  3. Thinking deeper and wider: When we have unique extraordinary experiences we think deeper and wider.  We wonder more about the grocery store, the neighborhood and the world.
  4. Interdependence and Community: When we work together in pre-school and in science we generate ideas together and collaborate, both our ideas and our community become stronger and more enriched.
  5. Creating a better world: I am not quite sure how this works either through the United Nations or a Pumpkin but I do know that cooperation lends itself to cooperation as does kindness to kindness and somehow with micro and macro shifts, our practicing of living gets better and eventually so does our world…

So it is with the United Nations and the inside of a Pumpkin that I want to reflect on and say thanks to Maple Street for being a place where we all risk to put our hands literally and metaphorically inside the pulp, the goop, the riskiness of life, where it can be scary, interesting and full of wonder and  learning.

And finally, I hope that your children and you carry this hand in the goop, risky and new feeling into your Thanksgiving and holiday and winter so that Maple Street and all of us learn to turn what in a little slimy and uncomfortable or big and new into love, learning and wonder.

Wendy at the UN

Wendy at the UN