What does friendship look like in the first weeks of Preschool?
“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the first few weeks of school we have witnessed the children’s joy, wonder, curiosity and strong desire to be in relationship with their classmates and teachers. Immediately we noticed children finding ways to connect through common interests and mutual experiences, such as…
At the easel, two children painting were overheard saying, “You like the color red? So do I!”
In the dramatic play area some children playing “family” were heard sharing, “I have a baby sister.” To which the another child replied, ” I have a baby brother at my house.”
At snack or lunch, “Look! We both have apples!” or “I can help you open that.”
We have also seen and heard many invitations, “Do you wanna play with me?” and questions offering connection “What are you making? Can I see?”
We’ve seen and heard joyful exchanges of smiles, silly giggles, and offers of comfort when someone is hurt or sad, “Are you O.K.? Do you need an ice pack?”
All of these gestures and so many more are the beginnings of children connecting to one another and planting the seed of growing our caring learning community where everyone belongs and is an integral part of it.
As we witnessed these many gestures, we also “heard” the children’s unspoken questions about friendship and belonging, expressed in their facial expressions, gestures, movements and responses to the environment. Questions such as:
- What is a friend?
- How do I make a friend? Where do I begin?
- Will I have a friend?
- Can I enjoy being with friends and still miss my family?
- Are they still my friend when they are playing with someone else?
- What do I do when my friend and I have different ideas on how to play?
We know that each child comes to school with their own understanding of what a friend is and how you make one, based on their previous experiences. Preschool offers the opportunity for these individual working theories about friendship to come together to create a new shared understanding of what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to make and be a friend in our preschool community. Some children have had many experiences with being a part of a community beyond their family community, but for others, this is their very first experience. So where do we as the teachers begin in our role to support the children?
As always, we begin with the children. We know that children learn best from and with each other. Our role as Teacher-Researchers is to:
- provide an environment that is inviting, engaging, and offers many possibilties for connection and collaboration
- pay attention to what we see and hear and reflect together on how best to support the children
- shine a light and reflect back to the children their experiences as a way to deepen everyone’s understanding of this notion of being a friend in our learning community
- listen for new ideas and questions, both spoken and unspoken
- offer opportunities to reflect as a whole group on the ever-growing meaning that we are all making of friendship
Here are some windows into what we have seen, heard and discussed in these recent first weeks…
In the first days of school, we noticed that on occasion some children were feeling shy to play with others. We decided that a book could help us to begin to talk about this in a safe way. A resource that we often use early in the school year is the book, Will You Be My Friend? A Bird and Bunny Story by Nancy Tafuri.
Books offer a relevant, enagaging yet safe way to introduce an idea that the children can connect to and make meaning of their own experiences in relationship to the story. We saw that this book could offer the children a way to talk about what everyone might be feeling in school as we all were trying to make new friends. In the story Bird is feeling too shy to take Bunny up on his attempts to be friends until finally Bird decides to take a chance and fly down to stay in Bunny’s home since Bird’s home is all wet from the rain.
When we read this book to the children, at the moment in the story when Bird decides to take a chance, the children all squealed with delight. They were so happy that Bird took that chance and that Bird and Bunny became friends.
A few days later, we wanted to see what ideas the children might offer to someone that wanted to make a friend, so we introduced them to a new puppet friend, Turtle.
Turtle explained to the children that he wanted to make friends with Blue Jay, but that he was feeling too shy and didn’t know what to do. Turtle asked the children if they had any ideas for him. Here is an excerpt from that discussion:
TF: “Maybe he can think a little bit to make friends. He can read a book or do a puzzle.”
IT: “Turtle could ask what Blue Jay’s name is.”
GG: “Turtle could ask, ‘Would you be my friend?”
ARS: “Ask him if he likes flowers.”
Teacher: Anything else that we might try?
GG: “We just take a chance.”
Teacher: What does that sound like inside your head? What are you telling yourself?”
GG: “You can do this!”
Spontaneoulsly the whole class begins to chant to Turtle “You can do this!”. Turtle then gathers his courage and takes a chance and says to Blue Jay, “Hi I’m Turtle. What is your name?” “I’m Blue Jay.” Turtle – “Would you like to play with me Blue Jay? Do you like flowers?” Blue Jay – “Oh yes, that sounds fun. Here, climb on my back and I’ll fly you over to the flowers.”
The idea of taking a chance has been one that we continue to use and reflect on together. A week or so after Turtle took a chance to make friends with Blue Jay, we asked the children if they had been taking any chances to make a new friend. Here is an excerpt from that meeting…
Sharing a loved story and coming together around a mutual interest