Serendipity is defined as a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”. It was
coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 in reference to the Persian fairy tale, The Three
Princes of Serendip. The princes were always making discoveries by accident.
Serendipity is a common occurrence in science and has led to such discoveries as
Penicillin and the microwave oven. I see serendipity, accidental learning and children
and staff making new discoveries every day in my setting. I think serendipity should
be recognised, encouraged and supported.
Chance learning opportunities happen all the time in my setting. When you have a
rich, varied and exciting environment where discovery and testing of ideas is
encouraged then learning will naturally take place. It may not always be the learning
that you expect though. As I am sure every childcare professional has experienced
when planning activities, children will follow their own learning pathways and ideas.
Adult led activities play an important role in how children learn but in my opinion
child initiated learning and free play offers more varied and extensive learning
The advantage of children having free/creative play time is that they can stumble
across new ideas and learning. These accidental discoveries in the adult world have
led to inventions such as artificial sweeteners, sticky notes, etc. In children it is
essential that we allow children the opportunity to explore, discover and test. We
need an environment and resources that encourages this as well as having an ethos
and a way of being that puts discovery and learning at the centre of everything that we
do. The environment and resources will lead to accidental discoveries but the ethos
and way of being will lead to the children having the confidence and knowledge to
know what to do with their new discovery.
The best way to create an environment where the children feel comfortable and
confident to make new discoveries is by allowing each member of staff to test new
ideas, try new things and discover for themselves. This creates an atmosphere where
everyone feels free to discovery, learn and test ideas. In my setting each member of
staff is encouraged to think of possible new ways of doing things, share them and test
them out. Since adopting this approach we have made massive improvements and the
staff are creative, inspired and motivated.
When the staff have a mindset that sees endless possibilities, solutions and ways of
doing things they will encourage and facilitate this way of thinking. This will lead to
the children playing and learning creatively and seeing beyond the obvious e.g. “it
looks like a phone, therefore I could use it as a phone or a camera, tablet, microphone,
scanner, etc, etc”. This way of thinking will lead to an increase in serendipity,
accidental discoveries and more and varied learning opportunities.