Monday, February 15, 2016

Greeting One Another

Last week, the parent of a two-year-old asked me, "When do they start playing together?"

As we looked around the outdoor space, there were couple dozen toddlers more or less toddling about on their own, engaged, active, interested, but largely operating as the independent "suns" (as parent educator Kate Kincaid used to call them) around which the rest of the universe revolves. This isn't necessarily the way two-year-olds play in a multi-age environment like we have in our summer program when we have 2-7 year-olds all together. Of course, in the summer they still tend to follow their own trajectory, but the sound and fury of older children often inspires them into experiments with cooperative play at a younger age than happens in a classroom of similarly aged children. Still, this period of what used to be called "parallel play" is a well-established phenomenon.

I hemmed and hawed a bit before answering, finally deciding to not get into the weeds about different kids having different temperaments, or the impact of having older siblings at home, or the aforementioned multi-age phenomenon, and instead gave her the simple answer for which she was looking: "It's starting to happen now for some of them, but for most, the strong urge to really play with the other kids will start kicking in around the middle of next year. By the time most kids are four or five, playing with friends will be the reason they come to school."

Indeed, this is why our 4-5's and kindergarten classes always start their days outdoors for at least a half hour, but usually longer. I think of it as "convening time." I used to plan a few activities, but found they were just distractions from the real curriculum of the first part of our day: greeting one another. If you don't give them this time, they'll invariably take it anyway, and usually in ways that seem disruptive and destructive. Much better is to acknowledge that this is a vital part of what they are here to do and give them the time and space in which to do it. There is no way I would ever try to proceed with anything involving 4-6 year olds without first giving them this opportunity.

Some days, a child will be late to school because of a doctor's appointment or something, and arrives once we've already come indoors. Invariably, that child suffers the rest of the day. It's touching actually, to watch her go about the classroom greeting classmates, saying "hi," wanting the impromptu, unstoppable even, physical contact that almost always comes with a proper hello, only to find that everyone else has already moved on. They're not rude, but rather just not as excited as they are when they first arrive. The child who arrives late quite often never fully connects with her classmates that day and therefore doesn't fully achieve the desirable state of being "herself with others."

I wonder where that feeling goes as we get older. Do we unlearn it or subvert it or is it just something that naturally ebbs out of us as we age? Sure, I sometimes get excited to see people, but nothing like the way the kids do, and more often than not the excitement just isn't there. I'm inspired by how these children come together, it being enough that they've come together. Maybe it's our adult sense of shame or embarrassment or propriety that stops us, I don't know, but this puppy dog pile up of love seems to be primarily the domain of 4-6 year olds and I'm just happy I get to stand in the middle of it as they convene.

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Nat G said...

We have this at work; every morning we spend some time catching up with each others lives and connecting.

As you say, it helps us be ourselves, with others.

Unknown said...

The child who arrives late quite often never fully connects with her classmates that day and therefore doesn't fully achieve the desirable state of being "herself with others."

5th Class Result 2016

Anonymous said...

I'm so grateful that you haven't lost your ability to wonder. I just love the things you notice in your students. So glad you talk about them here.