Announcing the Canadian Opening of the Exhibit Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins: An Interview with Dr. Ellen Hall

Diane and I, in collaboration with the two amazing schools we have had the honour to journey with on our research, Richland Academy and Acorn School, are thrilled to announce that the Canadian iteration of Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins, a project of Hawkins Centers of Learning ( will be officially opened in Richmond Hill, at Richland Academy on October 25th and 26th 2013. Further information about the opening of the exhibit along with registration details for the opening conference will soon be available.

ImageAs we eagerly prepare the exhibit for its inaugural unveiling, we asked Ellen Hall, executive director of Boulder Journey School and founding board member of Hawkins Centers of Learning a few questions, about the exhibit and about the philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins, Messing About, and big ideas.

How does the concept of big ideas play a central role in the exhibit, Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins?

The exhibit is organized around four big ideas that emanate from the work of Frances and David Hawkins:

  • Eolithism – Begin with a child’s existing curiosity and content that engages her sense of wonder
  • I, Thou, It – Find a shared personal interest in this content and explore it with the child
  • Messing About – Approach this learning experience without an agenda using play, inquiry and discussion to guide the work
  • Teacher as Learner – Engage in investigations of materials to deepen understandings to provide support for the child’s understandings

Studies of a pond, light, rocks, and balance support the four ideas, making connections between theory and practice. The exhibit’s creators see further studies, which will be added to the exhibit by others who host it. The original four “big ideas” may be expanded as well to include other relevant aspects of the Hawkins’ philosophy.

Can you tell us the story of how you met Frances and David Hawkins?

I met Frances and David Hawkins, following my introduction to the schools for young children in Reggio Emilia, Italy. I had purchased 7 copies of the 2nd edition of the book, The Hundred Languages of Children (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998), and noted an emeritus professor from University of Colorado at Boulder, David Hawkins, had written the Remarks. The University operator provided his and Frances’ home phone number, and the conversation that followed led to a visit to Boulder Journey School the same day. Our study of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Education and the educational ideas espoused by Frances and David Hawkins has influenced the philosophical underpinnings and pedagogy of Boulder Journey School for almost two decades. (

How does the process of Messing About lead to learning about science and math?

Messing About is a concept introduced by David Hawkins in his book, The Informed Vision (1973). It refers to the three-phases of exploring a material, idea, or situation in order to bring familiarity, make meaning, and raise further questions:

Phase Ο : a time for unstructured, open-ended play while teachers observe the children’s work

Phase Δ : a time for differentiating work by identifying and pursuing multiple possibilities based on observations

Phase ☐: a time for unpacking and verbalizing theories that have developed through discussion among children and teachers

ImageThe process of Messing About can be applied to any discipline, including science and math. It is a process of teaching and learning through observation, reflection, and curriculum projection. It is based on the curiosities, inquires, hypotheses, experimentations, and theories of children and adults engaged in investigations of the physical and relational world.

What role does the Messing About room play in teacher’s professional learning at Boulder Journey School?

The Hawkins Room for Messing About with Materials and Ideas was conceived in 2007 as a place where adults would come to work with materials, both individually and in small groups. During the 2007-08 school year, teachers explored “rolling” to better understand children’s universal attraction to this idea. One of the most poignant realizations that emerged from this study was the difference between children’s explorations of concepts (i.e. categorizing things that roll in progressive grades of “rollability”) and adults’ creations of topics from concepts (i.e. making cars as a way of understanding the concept of rolling). The second school year’s study was drawing, selected because of the extensive use of drawing by young children to co-construct, represent, and express their ideas. Once the ideal of “teacher as learner” became an integral part of Boulder Journey School’s culture, the Hawkins Room for Messing About with Materials and Ideas was not needed. Currently, adults’ messing about exists as it relates to a specific investigation(s) taking place in a particular classroom or within the school.

What are some of the philosophical parallels between David Hawkins and Loris Malaguzzi?

One of the many parallels highlighted in the exhibit addresses the turning point that led each man (David Hawkins and Loris Malaguzzi) to the path of education:

Hawkins: When people come back from the test (of the atomic bomb) they were manic, joyous, delirious. I was upset by that reaction.

Following his work, along with other scientists, as historian of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, David Hawkins, devoted his life to the education of students, who would use their knowledge to foster a peaceful world, without nuclear encounters.

Malaguzzi: There are…choices that insinuate themselves into you and become apparent with a kind of obstinate lightness…But also World War II, or any war, in its tragic absurdity might have been the kind of experience that pushes a person toward the job of educating, as a way to start anew and live and work for the future.

Following World War II, parents in Reggio Emilia wanted to build schools where their children would learn to question, offer opinions, and participate in civic matters as citizens who would not permit fascism to overtake the country again.

Why is the education message conveyed by Frances and David Hawkins particularly vital today?

Our schools are failing our children, and concern about this fact is causing frustration and worry on the part of educators, families, and advocates. Participants in the Hawkins Centers of Learning exhibit project envision Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child as a catalyst that has the potential to change the educational discourse prevalent in our schools from standard instruction and high stakes testing to inquiry-based learning and teaching. Frances and David Hawkins, through their writings and work, illustrated how this approach to learning and teaching cultivates the innate wonder, curiosity and engagement that children exhibit from birth.

It is our hope that the idea of an exhibit that gives visibility to the work of a school community will inspire other learning communities to make the work of children and adults visible as forums for dialogue and change.


One thought on “Announcing the Canadian Opening of the Exhibit Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins: An Interview with Dr. Ellen Hall

  1. Pingback: The Curious Journey of 2 Teachers in K: #HawkinsLearning Edition | Igniting Creativity

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