Partner Explore: Connecting with Materials, Ideas and Each Other

Partner Explore: Connecting with Materials, Ideas and Each Other


Recently, as the children have been getting more familiar with the routines and setting of school, they are becoming more comfortable with one another, too. As a result, they are revealing deeper expressions of who they are while testing the strengths and limits of their newfound friendships. This is a natural and important next phase for building trust and a sense of belonging, and it’s a time when they move into more complex negotiating and problem solving. To support this stage and greater risk-taking in each of them, we introduced a structure which we call Partner Explore.

Partner Explore offers everyone in the community the opportunity to play with another member of the community. It challenges each partner to practice listening, communicating their thinking, being flexible, and using the strategy of “snapping ideas together.”


These questions seem to be at the forefront of many children’s minds: How much of my vulnerability can I reveal? When I do, who will be there and how will they support me? What are other children’s vulnerabilities? What challenges will this new relationship be able to hold and sustain? What will feed our friendship? How do I belong, and how does this change or remain constant throughout the day or over time? What can I do if I am uncertain about my place among others?

Last week, we supported the children by creating intentional pairings and small group experiences to build on their growing sense of self in relationship to one another. Our hope is to encourage them to continue to be curious and remain open to many possibilities and partnerships. This is integral to building a strong foundation for learning together in the coming year.


Children as Collaborators: No child lives or learns in isolation. A child is always in search of relationships. Children learn and become themselves through interaction and relationships with other people, ideas, objects and symbols.

— Guiding Principles, Opal School Family Handbook

An excerpt from our Reflection Meeting after our first Partner Explore:

A.R.: I discovered that I didn’t really like M.B. before and I now I do because I didn’t really know him before. I took a chance and made friends with him.
M.B. (smiling): Me too!
Z.V.: Just like Bunny and Bird! [Referring to the book Will You Be My Friend? by Nancy Tafuri]
L.O.: When I was at the Magnatiles, I builded a double frog house with H.H. It was fun to work together. I builded a little double frog house and H.H. helped me build it and a big storm came and it keep falling down over and over again and then I made a double frog house even bigger like a tower and it went all the way up to the top of the tower and we were making it together out of big squares.
H.H.: I made friends with L.O. I didn’t know that she was making a small frog house.
M.G.: I discovered with R.W. that building with color blocks was so fun and when we were done we drew each other, we drew me and R.W.
R.W.: I didn’t know that tinfoil could stick together with cardboard and tape. M.G. put cardboard on the bottom and tape on top and I discovered that it sticks.
Sometimes collaboration is a little hard. Sometimes you think you can do it but you can’t and you need help so you have to ask for help. It can be hard. It’s fun but it’s also hard because you need to snap ideas together. You need to do some thinking and learning.
— Lydia, age 4
I’m curious: 
How are you supporting children to connect with each other?
How do you inspire collaboration in your developing communities?
What do you find to be fun and hard when you’re collaborating?


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  • It’s hard when two children are working together, say with Magnatiles and they each have their own strong ideas and plans. (I work with 3year olds). If one child forces the other to adopt their plan, the other child is less interested and often leaves the area. If they each build separate structures then they are not really collaborators, just playing parallel. I am having trouble guiding them in collaboration.

    Sharyl Reply
    • Thanks for connecting your story to Tara’s, Sharyl.
      I think that the Partner Explore structure is invites collaboration, but that doesn’t always happen. What I read in the transcript is that Tara’s team provoked the children’s reflection regarding the experiences of collaboration, parallel play, and unresolved conflict during the engagement. It’s still early in the year: I’m looking forward to reading what these children have to say about this question over the year.
      What do the children you work with have to say about this?
      Thanks again for adding your voice!

      Matt Karlsen Reply
  • Thank you for this window!
    I love thinking about Partner Explore. While reading this post I was considering my own questions when I’m making decisions for Partner Explore:
    -What is the role of time in supporting this collaboration?
    -Have the children already had a chance to explore the materials being offered?
    -What are the qualities of different materials that might support collaboration and the sharing of ideas?
    -What about the space they are woking supports connection? Can I make that better?
    -Is there a struggle inherent in the materials that might support “figuring it out” together or relying on the other for support?
    -What is the role of the scale of the materials? Does that offer the need for more than 2 hands… will they then find themselves needing the support of one another?
    -What is my role as a teacher and how might I set the children up, through their sharing and traces of work, beforehand to support the spirit of and excitement in collaboration?
    -How does the documentation of collaboration live in our space? What does it share?
    -How might we make room to share all the emotions, work, joy, and relationships that live within collaboration in order to support all of us to take the risk at snapping ideas together?

    Lauren Adams Reply

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