Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Building Awareness around Actions and Reactions

Turn-based and collaborative play has recently become more of a focus for Cohort 7 during our time in the classroom.  This is often instigated by very intentional sharing between two or more children.  For example, AJ often collects trains to bring near where CS is sitting, sometimes placing them right in his hand or lap.  She then finds a few trains for herself and sits down next to CS; soon, they are working together to combine their pieces, building a long train which they often take turns driving back and forth.  MH does this with animals, bringing them one by one to a nearby friend until they have a good collection to play with together.  These interactions are numerous in our classroom, with every child taking pleasure in offering well-loved materials to their friends.

Sometimes collaborative play takes the form of spontaneous games in which someone devises a sequence of actions, and then steps aside allowing for the next person to repeat.  For example, last week LC, LT, and AJ played a game in which they covered the drum with a silk, sat down on top of it, and then stood back up taking the silk with them.  They each took turns doing this and eventually started proposing variations on this:  Can two kids sit down on the drum at once?  What if we try to pull the silk out from under someone as they're sitting?  These proposals were met with mixed reactions, and negotiations ensued.  

This kind of play offers so many opportunities for the children to work on slowing down their actions and pausing to listen and understand where their peers are coming from.  My goal throughout these interactions is always to remain a supportive presence without necessarily intervening unless it seems like the situation is escalating in an unsafe way.  If and when it seems necessary for me to intervene, I calmly narrate what is happening: "LT would really like to sit on the drum at the same time as you.  Does it work for you?"  Sometimes this is enough -- the initial protest might have been due to a misinterpretation in which someone thought they were being pushed off.  Other times, the question "Does it work for you?" is met with a resounding "No!" and I help to express the need for space.  
No matter the outcome, these exchanges are rich opportunities for refining our communication with each other and building trust in each other's intentions, as well as our own capacity to voice needs.  The ways that the children elicit feedback from their peers are expanding and becoming more complex. Together, we are building an awareness of others' emotional reactions to the actions we take.  I wrote about this some time ago in my post on validating "No!" and "Mine!" as safe, effective responses for children.

May I help you build?  
Can I knock this down?  
Want to play with me?  

These are all examples of the ways we are building upon some of our foundational forms of communication (e.g. "No", "Mine", and "I need space") to include more nuanced requests of others.  Not every child in Cohort 7 is using all of this language quite yet, meaning that the children are often using body language and facial expressions as primary ways to navigate these requests.  All of this is made possible by the authentic regard the children have for each other; everyday they demonstrate a level of compassion and empathy that allows them to anticipate needs and engage in complex communication that helps everyone to feel supported and heard.  By allowing space for these kinds of interactions, we are showing children that we trust them to self-advocate and to make safe choices for themselves and others -- and that everyone's needs are valid and worthy of our respect.

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