Today we had our first Friend Explore. Explore is a time we have daily in the Early K where students choose a part of the classroom they would like to explore through play; Friend Explore is an idea we are experimenting with – it is a time for students to focus on exploring new relationships as they explore the classroom together. Friend Explore looks different each time we have it, based on what we feel would be helpful to the class at the time. Currently, the early K is ready to branch out from the comfortable relationships they have formed to see and experience some of their classmates they have not taken the opportunity to get to know yet. We made student pairings and they chose randomly which area of the class they would begin to explore together.
Before we sent them off to work, we asked,
What does it look like to work together?
LB: It means you are friends.
AH: When it is so hard for you a friend can help you.
FD-L: When you help someone, like if you are hurt.
CG: Two people working together.
Teacher: Do we ever work together in here?
AH: Everytime! Right now!
H : You work together when you play. If you are playing something hard you can help your friends.
Each pair of children went to explore a material together and were asked to try and work together as they explored. They could decide together to change materials, but they had to stay with their partner. As the children played, the teachers supported the play and the relationships with questions and suggestions of what it could look like to share materials and ideas with another person and what it could look like to listen and respond.
CG and LH sit down at the loose part collage table. They begin to build and each is building her own creation. When I ask if they are working together they show me that a chain connects their two creations, but they are not talking or really noticing much of what the other one is doing.
After some time I come back to check in and they are still creating independently. I offer a wondering – can they use the materials and create something together. They begin to put the pieces away to clear their spaces for something new and LH says to me, I’m making a fairy house. I ask her to share that information with her partner. She does and CG responds saying, Fairy houses have a lot of nature. LH picks up a natural object and says: This is a mouse. CG looks at her for awhile not saying anything. I jump in to encourage the dialogue – CG, What do you think about a mouse? CG digs in a pile of things and pulls something out – and says, I found a mouse too. LH, based on what CG has shown her, looks at her own object and says: Then this is a tree.
They are looking at one another, tentatively sharing their inner ideas and beginning to create meaning together.
A few minutes later I come over again.
LH is showing something to CG and saying: This is a fishbowl.
She is sharing her ideas with this new friend independently now, without teacher support.
LH asks: C, Are you making yours like mine?
She is looking at her partner, using her name, and offering a connection!
LH turns to me with a problem she is having. How can I hang this piece? I begin to solve the problem for her and then think better of it. Why don’t you ask CG, maybe she has an idea, I suggest.
LH asks CG: C, is there anything I can hang this on?
CG says: Maybe you could bend it into a hook and hang it here (sees it won’t work) or ummm, you could lay it on the ground like me.
LH: Oh, then it could be a swimming pool!
They are excited, together. They have connected their ideas and supported one another in creating together.
LH reflecting on the whole experience said:
We just made it beautiful and then we had our idea to make it into a fairy house!
Friend Explore is one of the structures we are working with to create strong relationships in the classroom with the intention of building our community.
Strong relationships between all the students in the classroom do not happen automatically, the teachers at Opal work with a lot of intention to create structures and experiences to help these relationships grow. Having a relationship with someone, (knowing their name, having looked at them, talked with them, laughed with them) makes it more meaningful when they are asked to listen to a story or an idea a classmate is sharing.
When we talk about building community, we are asking students to be a part of a group of people where everyone matters, everyone is considered and everyone is known. In the school I grew up in, we shared information and answers aloud, not ideas. We were part of a class of course, and we had to respect each other, but we did it more out of a desire to follow the rules than because we had strong relationships with one another and cared about the ideas our classmates were sharing.
At Opal, the curriculum gets built with the students as the year goes on. The students learn that they, as a class, need to work together to feel comfortable so that they can take risks, share ideas, listen to one another and think together. They learn that everyone is different, has different ideas and understandings and that no one of them alone could ever create what the whole class ends up imagining and creating together. The students depend on one another for the work of the classroom to happen and for their own individual work to happen. As they get to know one another, they know who can support them with a story or a painting, a math problem, spelling a word, or solving an argument and they depend on each other to help everyone do their best.
Creating strong relationships and community is challenging work. It sits us outside of our comfort zone at times and it can be messy, but it is at the heart of the everything we do.