When I picked up my 7-year-old daughter from school on Friday I asked about her day, expecting to hear about what she’d had for lunch. Instead, she began to tell me a lovely little tale that she titled “The mystery of the missing bench.”

At lunchtime, my daughter and her friend noticed something strange. One of the benches in the playground had disappeared. This inquisitive pair took it upon themselves to spend the rest of lunchtime investigating what had happened to the bench.

First, they checked around the playground and field, but the bench was nowhere to be seen. Next, they asked their classmates and other children if they knew what had happened to the bench. Had anyone seen it that morning? Had it been there the day before? Had it been moved, borrowed, broken or even… STOLEN?! Still drawing a blank, they attempted to find clues around the playground for where the bench might have gone. They recruited help, resulting in their investigative team growing from 2 to 6, all working together to solve the mystery.

As lunch came to an end, someone asked an older pupil about the bench, who told them that the caretaker had sold it. As far as the children were concerned, that was the mystery of where the bench had gone solved, but some questions remained unanswered, so the group discussion continued. Why would the caretaker sell the bench? Would he buy a new one? Where would they eat their snack now? They concluded that they’d speak to their class rep about requesting a new bench for the playground at the next school council meeting.

This story really made me smile, but it also got me thinking. I have no idea what happened to that bench, but the simple act of removing it resulted in a fantastic, entirely child-led investigation, bursting with communication opportunities.

Where possible we – parents and educators – should be giving children natural reasons to talk and extend their language. Surprise is a fantastic way to do this. This might mean adding something unusual to a setting, and as we saw above, taking something away can be equally powerful! Humans are programmed to find patterns to make sense of the world. When something unusual happens, appears, or changes we find it hard to ignore.

How could you include a surprise element in your setting this week and get your little detectives talking?

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