I always want to work in a place that allows for the creative genius in me and in children to be not only encouraged but also taken to another level in innovation. I am sure that children want to be in a place like this too.
In my previous classrooms I have focused mainly on encouraging the social skills of my students. I am not saying that I taught manners, although I did; nor am I telling you that I taught them to simply share, instead I am telling the story of how I taught these skills by teaching them how to collaborate, how to see each other as teammates, as wonderful thinkers, and creators of ideas. I did this though looking at our daily routines, and activities that caused friction. Places that often cause friction are transitions, bikes, play dough and painting. There are always other things, often when there is limited supply and the demand is high. Over the years I have tried different ways of doing things, I am very reflective about my work so I really looked at what these children are learning.
One example I often see is that teachers see play dough as a big problem for sharing. Some don’t even want to bother with it in their classrooms or they hide it away. This is often because there is always at least one child who wants ALL the play dough. I often see teachers take from that child and simply give it out to the others, or they divide up the play dough beforehand and make a limit of how many and how long. I was very reflective about this, and decided to think about what the children are learning from this method. The child with all the play dough learns that big people can take things away, that they are not respected and that they are not capable of sharing. There is often anger at the teacher and the other children, and frustration at having their ideas marginalized. The other children also loose out on the opportunity to learn. They don’t get a chance to learn how to speak up for themselves and ask for what they want, or to share in the creative mind of their classmate. They may also feel the anger from the other child and may withdrawal or become angry too. All the children feel a fracture in the community, and all go to an emotional place where learning can stop because the brain is busy regulating. When this is repeated regularly it is not only frustrating to the children but also to the teachers. Children also learn things such as there is not enough to go around, and that the stuff is more important than the ideas. I think anytime a teacher takes away the choice and initiative of a child they are taking away a chance for learning.
I started to think about what I could do instead. I decided that it is okay for that one child to have a lot of play dough. I decided that there was a better way to share the play dough. One of the things I do is to always have a LOT of play dough available at all times, the children can get it out during any free time (I make cooked play dough so it doesn’t have to be refrigerated and can stay on the shelf). I have it available for outside play too. Another thing I do is when this child is at the play dough table hoarding all the play dough I come and sit with him. I watch what he is making and then I talk to him about it, ask him questions. Questions are about his creation, his ideas, and his story. I encourage the other children to ask questions too. I then ask if I could have some play dough to make something that wonderful too, when he shares with me I get really happy and excited. I encourage other children to ask him as well. We all get really happy and excited about what he is making and what we want to make too. The hoarding usually only lasts for a few days, sometimes a few weeks for children with disabilities or emotional issues, but children love to share ideas, they just don’t want to have that choice to share taken away.
What have children learned from this new way of sharing play dough? They have learned to be inspired by others in the classroom. They have learned to encourage the creation of great things. They have learned to be patient and to put aside gratification for a moment while they find out what ideas this other person has. They learn that the person and the ideas are more important than the stuff. In wanting our children to share we often forget that it is not the stuff that is important but their ideas. Imagine telling a child that their ideas are not important, that what they are creating is worthless, that it is more important that they give out their stuff instead of creating with it. I think that is what we say when we take the stuff and give it away. Lets instead teach them a way to collaborate, to have their great ideas, and share their great ideas with us. Let us be excited by what they have discovered with the stuff.
In my classrooms, specialists, managers and other people who come in to observe or work often comment on how surprised they are that the children work together, collaborate and share so easily. This is the community that I build each year in my classrooms. If you were to observe you might see 8 to 10 children working away at the play dough table made for 6, I always say get a chair and ask for some play dough. Some children ask readily, and others need a little help, some children give freely and others give just the tiniest pinch, but they are working together and enjoying each other’s ideas. This the type of community that I create in my classrooms, and it makes my life easier, and it makes the future better.
|Montessori Classroom, where creative ideas are allowed to flow through out the child's education!|