One of the enduring understandings we hope for children to grow while at Opal is perspective taking. We hope that children will develop an understanding and curiosity about multiple points of view and that they will value and have empathy for experiences and perspectives different from their own.
We work towards these goals every day, sometimes through curriculum such as group problem solving work or project work, but often in individual moments as children go through their day and find themselves bumping up against the ideas and perspectives of someone else. Opportunities such as "I was there in line and you got in front of me," or, "That's not where I wanted that block to go!" or, "I don't want to be chased today," are among the many moments that given importance and support can become the basis for a deep understanding of oneself and others and the differences (and similarities) that can lie therein. These situations in many schools are seen as burdensome, a waste of time and children are redirected or shushed rather than supported to delve into the emotions and perspectives that lie inside of themselves. The belief that these moments are not only important but crucial to a child's complete development is one of the pieces that makes Opal school the incredibly special place it is.
With adult support, we see children growing habits such as:
- thinking flexibly – being willing to change their mind and consider a variety of possibilities,
- connection – connecting with others ideas, emotions and needs
- empathy and listening – accurately detecting cues from others around them, naming theirs and others' emotions.
I ran across this interaction in my journal the other day
Child 1: Can you like me in the game?
Child 2: yes.
Child 1: Can I be your kitty in the game?
Child 2: Well, I don't really have a kitty in the game. You can be my friend though.
Child 1: OK
These children have come so far to have this simple, yet complex, interaction. These two children are not best buddies which adds high stakes to something that might feel simple where a strong positive history was involved. The courage of child 1 to ask for what she wants and to put herself in a vulnerable position, the care of child 2 in her immediate inclusion and then the listening to one another and flexibility in thinking that both girls demonstrate show growth in knowledge and understanding about themselves and other.
In Early K this year, these ideas are directly related to the project work that has emerged. We are caretaking, thinking about others- Boris and our ladybugs, and wormy is a new friend we are excited about. We are having discussions about what these other creatures in our world want and need and noticing how we feel about that.
Our journey with the ladybugs has brought many opportunities for empathy and perspective taking. KK, a boy in our class, noticed that because of the way we had made the ladybugs home, many of them were dying, even though that was clearly not our intention. He was very concerned and brought this up many times over two days, so we stopped what we were doing and planned a science talk about what we should do about the ladybugs and their home.
These are some excerpts from the science talk:
KK: They are dying because of the tape. The tape is killing them because of how sticky it is. They will just die and we don't want that.
SM: They keep falling from the roof because they keep climbing up the roof.
MW: Buy a different house that is really big with a real roof.
HV-N: I think we should just let them free.
HF: I don't like that idea.
BK: everyday, let one free.
LS: Let's take off the tape and get a new top.
SB: Take some out and let them free so they can breathe and have fresh air.
EH: We shouldn't let them go because it is nice to look at all of them.
BK: They really like that house (that we made them), I think they actually like it, but we should let them go to make new friends.
KK: They want to get out and they want to be free.
VD-B: They will be happier outside.
In the end, we agreed to give the ladybugs a choice. We would take them outside and take the top off their house, save as many from the horrible sticky tape as we could and let those who wanted to be free go. We hoped some would stay, but we rejoiced in all the ladybugs and the knowledge that we were doing something for them, even though it might have felt sad for some of us. We were making hard decisions, we were being real caretakers – taking on the perspective of the ladybugs, connecting with them emotionally, listening to them and being flexible about changing our thinking and decisions as new information became available to us.
As teachers, our intention is to support the students to practice these ways of being and to help transfer these growing skills to our interactions with one another and the people in our lives. Let us know what evidence you see. We would love to hear what happened with the lady bugs that came home and to know if you see evidence of perspective taking with pets, people or anything else outside of school.