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Supporting a Friend

Children in Opal 1 entered the room Monday morning with smiles and squeals of delight as they began reconnecting with friends after a week off of school for Spring Break. They were so happy to see each other, to talk, and tell stories of their many adventures that happened away from school. They were glad to be back.

What a beautiful image to imagine, and even more so to actually witness. But what happens when Wednesday gets here, and the novelty of being together again is worn off? What happens when someone didn’t sleep well the night before, and is missing the time they got to spend with family during the break, and is just having a generally rotten day? Then what? What happens to those strong, trusting relationships that we have worked so hard all year to create?

Well, these factors were all true for one child this week. We’ll call him Child 1. This is his story:

At Story Workshop on this particular day Child 1 seemed to think that there just weren’t enough blocks in the block area. He wanted to collaborate on a story with his friends, but he didn’t really want his friends to have ideas different from his own. It seemed to him, they were working against him. And when we went outside to play, he was trying to build a dam while all of the other children were trying to pour enough water down the waterfall to break anything in its path. He fervently continued to build the dam higher and higher as water kept sweeping parts of it away. To really top things off, as we were lining up to go inside, another class came out and had different plans for the waterfall. They immediately took down the dam he had worked so hard on.

To say the least, it was a rough morning. As we were coming in from PE Child 1 was crying and very upset about the waterfall and the broken dam. By this time (and it wasn't even lunchtime yet), I was beginning to feel that I had exhausted all of my problem solving strategies to support Child 1. What were we going to do?  I decided I couldn't do this alone. I called an emergency class meeting (something we’ve never done this year) and sat the kids down together in a circle.

I started by saying to them that a member of our community seemed to be having a particularly rough day and I thought that maybe that person could use our support.

Without hearing me say any specifics or names, Child 1 spoke up and through tears declared to the whole community that I must be talking about him.

Child 1: Yes, because I'm really sad because I worked so hard on the dam and it just kept getting broken and my mom isn't here today and I'm sad and all I want is to see my mom!

I told child 1 that I couldn't get his mom here now, but I thought that his community would do their best to support him.

I asked the children to give a signal to show if they were willing. Immediately all thumbs around the circle went up.

Then I asked the children to imagine what support might look like for Child 1. They had many ideas:
Child 2: Maybe we could give him a hug.
Child 3: Or we could sit in the library and read a book together.
Child 4: Or ask him to do something.
Child 5: I could sit next to him at lunch.
Child 6: We could ask if he wanted us to draw with him in his journal.
Child 4: I will ask if he wants to play with me.
Child 7: We could tell him and joke and get him to laugh.
Teacher: Wow, you came up with so many amazing strategies for supporting your friend! Let's ask Child 1 now what strategy might feel the best for him right now.
Child 1: Well when I feel like this (child 1 put his thumb down) I'm the most sad and I just need some space. But then when I feel a little better (child 1 puts his thumb to the side) then support is something with a friend that’s quiet like reading a book or something.
Child 5: I know, we could go listen to a book with the headphones, I'll go with you.
Child 1: Ok. 
Child 2: Look, he's starting to smile!

Wow! So this is what it looks like! This is the proof that all our hard work together is really paying off and that we really are a strong, caring community that are at the ready to support a friend in need. That all the members of the community take responsibility for everyone, that no one person (not even the teacher) could ever do this alone. That we are able to care even in times when things don't seem easy, and sometimes even impossible. Here is a goal we have for all Opal students:

Develop an understanding and curiosity about multiple points of view.  Have value and empathy for experiences and perspectives different from one’s own.

I can’t imagine any evidence that could show this growth more clearly than the ways this group of children went about supporting their friend today. I’d say we are on our way!