Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Naming Ourselves

I know a lot of teachers have foregone circle time in the name of giving children "choice." Not me; not us. 

These community meetings are vital to how we function as a community. This is the one opportunity during the day for us to come together to discuss matters of consequence to all of us, such as making agreements about how we want to treat one another, or planning what we're going to do together. It's when we get to share important news with one another, such as the name of our new baby or that we've decided to be a ghost for Halloween this year. Without these meetings in which we listen to one another, it's hard for me to imagine how we become the kind of community that fosters the sense fairness, compassion, and cohesion necessary for any good democracy to function.

I've heard teachers say that the children get bored or that they'd rather be doing something else. Certainly, a child will occasionally wander off in search of "greener pastures," but it's quite rare for any of them to get out of earshot because what we're discussing is just too important. A couple years ago River and Connor got in the habit of stealing off to the loft during circle time where they flipped through the pages of books, but it was quite clear they were listening intently from afar because the moment matters turned to subjects of significance, they were back in a flash to get in their two cents. A couple weeks ago, one of our three year olds thought he had a better idea only to find himself lured back by a debate over a proposed rule to which he had objections.

I've simply never found that most kids on most days would rather be doing something else. And I think that's simply because our circle time is, by-and-large, a child lead activity, or perhaps more precisely, a community lead activity. As the facilitator of these meetings, I rarely have any sort of plan when we sit down together. I usually start vamping a little, making jokes, singing silly songs, looking for a theme to get things going. Last week, for instance, the first child who entered the room from outdoors was wearing a Seattle Seahawks shirt. I shouted, "Go Seahawks!" to which the reply was, "Go Seahawks!" When the next child scampered in we did it again, "Go Seahawks!" adding a voice to our cheer with each subsequent child, until some asked, "What about the Mariners?"

So we started cheering, "Go Mariners!" until someone mentioned the Sounders. "Go Sounders!"

Then we added the Storm. "Go Storm!"

Someone asked if we had a hockey team. We're not an NHL city, but after some discussion, we remembered our junior team is called the Thunderbirds. "Go Thunderbirds!"

Then we got into the rich vein of university mascots. "What about the Huskies?" "Go Huskies!"

"Go Cougars!"

"Go Ducks!"

"Go Beavers!"

I said, "Those are the mascots of schools."

"We're a school."

"Do we have a mascot?" 

"We should." And we were off, with nearly every child offering up a suggestion:

Sneaky Beans
Medium Sneakies
Awesome Sneakies
Flower Princess Disneys
Police Stations
Five Feet
Rocket Ships
18 Feet
People Grown-Ups
Super Awesome Sneakies
Shark Fire Rockets
600 Feet

As you can see, we inspired each another with regard to things like "sneakies" and "feet." And I'm pretty sure that Abigail was attempting to say an actual word, but I couldn't understand her attempt, so I did what parent educator Dawn Carlson suggests, simply repeating exactly what I thought I heard her say in the hopes of either understanding or being corrected, but she laughingly agreed that "Katillidians" was better than what she was trying to say.

"Those are a lot of ideas," I said, "How are we going to just choose one?"

"Voting!" So we undertook a method with the ones receiving zero or only one vote were eliminated in the first round, which pared our list down to a manageable handful of finalists. To my relief, Flower Princess Disneys barely lost out to Tornados.

This was a meaningful, community process that took the better part of a half hour. The 4-5's class has now named itself: we're the Woodland Park Tornados. And as usual, not a single child felt compelled to get up and walk away. Circle time is just too important.

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Anonymous said...

Your circle time is exactly what circle time should be - a time for building community. Unfortunately, many teachers use circle time to "teach" the whole group concepts that many children have already learned... such as shapes or colors. No wonder children choose not to participate. Thank you for sharing your practice. I hope more people adopt this community- building approach to circle time!

Page Olson said...

Teacher Tom,

I have older children now that were once in a coop-preschool. At age 4 I pulled my oldest out of preschool because circle time was not a time of discussion or meeting to share ideas and knowledge facilitated by an adult. Circle time was a time for adult dictated and directed "organized learning". The children sat quietly, listened, raised their hands to be called on or were called on by the teacher, which many times lead to the child being humiliated or teased. Circle time when done for the benefit of the child is a necessary asset to the time in preschool. But circle time done from the misguided, although well intended, ideas of "how to prepare the child for..."does more damage than good.

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