The Elements of Serendipity


While sitting in my office I glanced over at the walls. Hanging near my desk is a framed drawing. It is a gift from the children at one of the programs I worked at many years ago. As I looked at the drawing it brought back memories of all the wonderful projects and explorations we experienced and created with the children in that program. As I sat a few more minutes reflecting on the work and that time in life, a question came into my consciousness. 

What was the ingredient that made all of the projects and interesting outcomes come alive during that period of time? 

My theory is that the secret ingredient was serendipity.

There are many definitions of serendipity. Simply defined, it is luck. But luck is not what was occurring during that creative period. I found another definition that said serendipity is, “Finding good things without looking for them.”This definition is closer to the feeling I remember, but then I found the one definition that hit the mark. It calls serendipity, “Finding valuable things not sought for.” The reason I like this definition is because I believe luck does not come to us randomly, but luck finds us because we engage in deliberate actions that create conditions for interesting ideas, experiences, and serendipity to occur.

What elements create an environment for serendipity to bloom in our work with children?

Element #1 - Being Open to Not Knowing 

The practice of learning is about having questions and the journey to find more information. There exists no final answers only inquiry and more questions that keep the journey moving forward. The journey of questioning, investigating, and discovery follows a crooked path. There are twists and turns along the way but if we embrace uncertainty, stay the course, and invest in the journey serendipity will make an appearance. 

We do know is that to be with children is to work one-third with certainty and two-thirds with uncertainty and the new.” Loris Malaguzzi

Element #2 - No Expected Outcomes

When the children have questions for exploration our natural tendency is to imagine how the inquiry could proceed. Our role as educators is to try and suspend our expectations, be open to the journey and the unexpected outcomes. If we can suspend our expectations the resulting investigation and discoveries will create moments of surprise and serendipity. 

“Creativity seems to express itself through cognitive, affective, and imaginative processes. These come together and support the skills for predicting and arriving at unexpected solutions.” Loris Malaguzzi

Element #3 - Savor the Present and Be Present in the Moment

True life only exists in one space, the moment we are in. The past is gone and the future is undetermined. Our willingness to be present with the children and the experience opens up the avenues for serendipity to breathe into our work and take it to a new level of discovery.

Element #4 - Sharing Possibilities with Others

In community is where the possibilities of learning are nurtured. Nothing blossoms in isolation. The blossoming in the natural world and the educational world requires care and attention. The relationship between children and educators creates a caring environment where shared ideas and experiences formulate a rich soil where discoveries are made.

“Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode.” Loris Malaguzzi.