The Pre-K kids are really taking control of the 3-5’s Circle Time in this year. I don’t think I’ve ever had a group of 4-year-olds work so hard to set their own agenda, in a positive way, for these community meetings. Typically, the first month is all about re-introducing a few of our foundational songs and teaching the younger children the habit of raising hands. Yes, there are always a few older kids digging down into their share of our institutional memory to call out for some piece of esoteria from the prior year, but this group is really taking it to a new level.
Due to popular demand, I’ve had to introduce 3 songs I was saving for later in the fall. The enthusiasm for rule-making is already waning. And yesterday, both Katherine and Thomas, independently of one another, requested that we start giving “compliments,” weeks, if not months ahead of my schedule.
Year-in, year-out compliments are among the most requested Circle Time activities. This is how it works.
I’ll say: “I see Katherine has her hand up. What would you like to say?”
Katherine: “I want to give a compliment.”
TT: “Katherine wants to make someone feel good. Who would you like to make feel good?”
Katherine will then look Ella in the eye and say, “I like your dress.” Ella will smile and they hug.
I’ll then usually say something like, “I see Ella is smiling, that’s how I know she feels good,” or “Katherine is super powerful. She can make people feel happy.”
We have a set of 500 plastic chain links. For each compliment I add another link to the chain. Yesterday, we added about a dozen links. I made a big show out of standing on my stool to hang our little rainbow chain from one of our hooks on the ceiling. As the year progresses, the chain will get longer and we’ll stretch it to another hook, then another, until, sometime near the end of the school year, we will be completely encircled in compliments.
We generally define “compliment” as anything one child says to another with the intent of creating good feelings. For instance, “I want to play with you,” counts as a compliment. As does, “I love you.”
It can get a bit tedious at times, waiting for each child to have his or her turn, but it’s touching as well. Most of all I’m moved by the hug that has become the traditional follow-up. It emerged during my first year teaching, and the children revive it year-after-year without any prompting from me. Every time I see one of those little faces squeezed between a friend’s shoulder and neck, it’s a reminder of all the thousands of hugs children have given one another on our blue rug with the overt intent of making someone else feel happy.
I’ll be the first to admit that the compliments themselves are a bit manufactured and often quite shallow, but those hugs are real: spontaneous links in a chain of love that encircles us through all the years that I’ve played with the children of Woodland Park.