Two-and-a-half-year-old River stands looking upward, open-mouthed, delight shining in her eyes. This is River’s first visit to Ripley’s Aquarium. This underwater ecosystem is a world that, to River, is brand new. Inside her glassed-in viewing area River stays dry. She breathes. She watches. Tropical fish, jellyfish, and marine life surround her.
River is mesmerized by the vibrant colours and the spectacular gliding and darting movements of each unique marine creature. She reaches and points, her face alive with the newness, the strangeness, and beauty enveloping her.
In the blurry distance, River spies movement of a different kind – movement that, though measured and gentle, does not undulate, nor flash eye-catching colour. Swimming in this great expanse of water, with long-limbed kicking and reaching strokes, River sees a diver. Bubbles float up from his face mask. Tubes, an air tank, special gear, and flippers on his feet mask his humanity.
The diver spots River’s intense gaze and swims toward her. River raises her right hand to the glass as if to touch him. From the other side of the glass, the diver raises his left hand to meet hers.
River’s silent hand action shouts from the depth of her small frame. Her grandmother and family members nearby witness the power of River’s silent expression. River’s hand, offered in a gesture of openness and welcome, says “I want to be part of your world.” River is seeking connection and relationship with the deeply mysterious world she is just beginning to discover.
This is not a moment River wants to know what we call people in wet suits. Nor is this a moment when River wants to be told how this diver can breathe underwater. Nor does she need to know why bubbles follow the diver wherever he swims. Those questions and many others would likely come later.
This experience would be memorable to River because she had been seen. Her curiosity had been observed and valued; her gestures listened to by the diver on the other side of the glass. These were the elements of that experience that made it powerful for River. From that place of being seen and heard, River would then be ready to ask questions, and explore new ideas.
Curiosity emanates from the centre of children’s very being. From birth, children are driven by a desire to understand who they are in relationship to the world in which they live. Being curious and seeking relationships is the birthplace of learning. It is the birthright of every child.