Introduction Establishing Relationships in the Kindergarten Classroom.

By Terry Starko Logos Kindergarten Teacher St. Albert.

There are many factors that influence the following recording of the first few months in my kindergarten classroom of the first steps taken by the children and myself, as we establish working relationships in the classroom.  The largest influence comes from my study of the infant toddler centres in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  Called the Reggio approach by many, the documentation format followed in this work comes from there.  The classroom environment and social construction theory, that is developed in my classroom, comes from there, as well.  The next influence has to do with two areas of interest of mine.  One in the field of early literacy and the other in the area of brain research.  In the book "How The Brain Learns" by David A. Sousa the importance of emotion as a contributing factor to learning is emphasized.  Interests and emotions play a large part in learning.  Children need to feel secure, happy, safe, confident and empowered,  Working at establishing relationships with the children then is a crucial part of what we do in our classrooms.  Helping the parents understand its role and importance is also a big part of our work.  I begin then with the documentation of the framework of the classroom so that parents can have a better picture of what happens in the room.  Following that is the documentation that was provided to the parents as their children engaged in building relationships this September and October.

We Begin With The Framework Of Our Classroom:

In September, the most important work I can emphasize with the children is relationships.  For it is this network of connections that we build between the teacher, children, parent, and the school that will profoundly influence your child's social and academic learning. Our beginning steps are very important ones.  They will help to establish a feeling of trust and safety among the children.  I want the children to come to realize how much they will gain by working, sharing and learning from one another, the teachers, and the parents in our school.  Open houses, small group orientation are provided to help establish these very important relationships.

Already in place, the classroom environment was created to act as a third teacher in the classroom.  The tables and the centres all encourage social interactions.  Activities are open-ended and can support the diversity of interests and talents within this group of children.  The children will be able to choose centres that interest them and they will be able to explore the materials within those chosen centres.  Exploration of the new materials will be emphasized at this time and their discoveries shared with everyone.

We begin then with our first project, Nature Tales.  Through the sharing of each child's treasures, they will become 'visible' to one another.  We can get an immediate sense of shared interests and our diversity.  We also come to understand how our parents are also very much involved in our learning.  An overhead projector was set up in the classroom to help the children further explore their nature treasures, as they grouped them to make pictures which they traced onto large pieces of paper.  These became known as our 'Shadow Landscapes'.  The children will soon begin working together to create a habitat for their treasure.  I hope to be working with them and to be encouraging much talking and sharing among the groups.  I can then pick small groups to work with that share common interests.

Relationships between natural objects and the other toys are also being formed here.  Paints have been put out with many different sized brushes.  The coloured paper is there to encourage a group experimentation while individual papers are available for those children who wish to create their own pictures to take home.  I will be encouraging them to explore the thick and thin lines that they can create with the various sized brushes.  Other 'tools' like charcoal, oil pastels, water colour pencils will be added for them to try out as well.

Flexibility is also a part of the children's learning environment.  It allows them to move materials from one centre to another as needed.  In any given centre, the children may use the materials in new and surprising ways.  Flexibility allows us to explore further these surprises or interests that emerge in the children's work or in the invitations to learning such as the rocks and sunflowers that have been set up around the classroom.

I hope that after reading this document that you can better understand the seemingly invisible organization and structure behind the children's learning.  It is already in place, but flexible.  It exists in the design, materials and the two rules governing our classroom.  You must say, you can play; and we treat each other kindly.

   

I am now ready to document the Building Of Relationships in our classroom.

With the following introduction I introduce the work of the children and myself in building relationships:

I can tell you that the social relationships that your children are forming are crucial to their learning.  It is after all, not only the individual who learns but the group as well.  Each individual constructs their own learning but it is a social construction, learning supported by the group.  We become a school family; a learning family that makes use of individual strengths while supporting the learning needs of individuals and the group.  Together we know so much more.  The classroom environment, rules/agreements, and methods used must reflect then and encourage the development of our school family.  In effect we are becoming the "We who I am."

Learning then is living.  It is part struggle, part success, part frustration and joy.  We do not want to just discover what is already known, we want to also create new possibilities.  We problem solve, discuss issues we can agree or disagree with, as we widen our perceptions so that we can learn to accept and work with diversity and change.

We live in a democracy.  Our classroom must also reflect this.  A democracy demands much from the people it serves.  It requires debate, the making of choices, the need to be informed and involved.  It requires good citizenship.  This too we can model.  A family then, not a dictatorship.  An ebb and flow of energy, ideas, choices, excitement and disappointment, joy and success, tears and giggles.  A willingness to cooperate, trust give a best effort, disagree with but respect the thoughts and rights of other, to love God and give to others.  This is want we must encourage as we write our kindergarten story for this year.

We begin with discussions about our first agreement, "you must say, you can play."  Sounds cute, sounds easy but it is a most difficult agreement to live up to.  For it means everyone has equal access to the play.  Everyone has a choice to form those crucial relationships.  You cannot have clubs (only girls, or boys) and follow this rule.  You cannot have number restrictions on centres, either.  It means you must problem solve the sharing of space and materials.  You may have to adjust a story to include another brother or good guy.  The children must learn to say "Yes" with their bodies, face, gestures, as well as, their voice/tone.

Play acting, the construction of stories, buildings, and ideas expressed through many kinds of art media, contribute far more to your child's intellectual development than the mere memorization of skills or 'tools' as we call them.  So the children are given the tools (skills) and then they are asked to construct their knowledge while using them.  Their voices and purposes are clear.  Their ideas or interests, help to shape the curriculum.  The skills can be presented through any area of interest from snakes to space.  We call this working with an emergent curriculum.  Much organization and structure is required to support choices and decision making skills, although it is not always visible.  It is the foundation upon which the program is built.

How does theory translate to the classroom?  What does socially constructed learning look like?  After all we are talking about 4, 5, and 6 year olds.

The learning is very active, full of ideas and constructions about how their world works.  The children are already capable, with many strategies to help them navigate the kindergarten playing field.

Here then, in pictures and conversations is a glimpse of our struggles as we attempt both successfully and unsuccessfully, to become visible in a land of strangers.  To learn to trust, feel secure, and help each other as we build our school family.

 

ENGAGING IN THE PLAY:

PROTAGONISTS: E, B, C, and K

CONTEXT: The children must learn to navigate in a land of mostly strangers.  They need to try to engage with the other children so that friendships can be formed and a satisfactory level of comfort achieved.  This is not an easy task and sometimes it takes much perseverance.  Usually, the encounters are successful, but in the beginning other issues sometimes affect the outcome of an engagement.  Here is a sample of one such struggle.

C is trying to play with the girls in the house corner.  At first the girls very tentatively allow the interaction but with a minimal response.  This does not allow for a satisfactory engagement by C into their play. This was not meanness on the part of the girls.  Perhaps the conflicting idea here was a boy in the house corner as they did not have a story going that included a dad, brother, or male character.  C was allowed to eat food, but couldn't move from this story line.

 C. "I should eat my hamburger."  Does anyone know where the dishwasher is?"     

B. "There is no dishwasher, you have to wash them in the sink."                               

C washes his plate as the conversation continues.                                                                    

 

B. "Here's a hotdog."

K "I'm hungry, a hot dog."

B takes the hotdog rolling her eyes, she is not able to engage as she is trying to with her baby.

C. "I'm outa here."

B. is feeding her baby, "Hush my baby is going to sleep."                

C. Now moves to the sand table but a story is already in progress with two other girls.  Again he faces the dilemma of how to enter into this play,  He watches for a moment, notices me and decides not to engage.  He then moves to the block corner where he begins to play on his own.  The next day, his attempts are rewarded as he gains access to the play at the sand table.  C. tried many times but did not become discouraged.  This eventually led to better and more successful ways to engage in the play.  Each encounter could have resulted in discouragement and the child could have given up.  C. was able to take chance after chance, regroup and play on his own and then engage again the next day.  A timid child, C had enough perseverance and confidence to continue trying to make new friendships.

                                                            

             C. cannot engage at the sand table.          C. now chooses to play by himself.           C. Success the next day.

 

MY ROLE:

AS THE DAYS CONTINUE TO ADD UP, SO TOO DOES THE DEGREE OF INTERACTION IMPROVE.  AREAS ARE DEFINED AND A COMFORTABLE REPETITION OF FAVOURITE ACTIVITIES BEGINS TO OCCUR ON A DAILY BASIS.  THE MAKEUP OF THE GROUPS CAN OFTEN CHANGE BUT MORE AND MORE THE CHILDREN ARE MAKING DEEPER CONNECTIONS WITH SEVERAL CHILDREN.  IT IS MY TURN TO SUPPORT THESE INITIATIVES.  ONE WAY IS WITH OUR RULE, 'YOU MUST SAY, YOU CAN PLAY.' WE TALKED ABOUT REALLY MEANING THE "YES" THAT IS REQUIRED.  THIS ALLOWS EVERYONE ACCESS TO THE PLAY.

ANOTHER WAY IS TO WORK WITH SMALL GROUPS OF CHILDREN TO ALLOW THEM TO GET TO KNOW ONE ANOTHER IN A MORE COMFORTABLE SETTING.  THE CLASSROOM IS DESIGNED TO HELP THIS PROCESS. CHILDREN CAN WORK AT THE TABLES IN SMALL GROUPS.  SOME OF THE GROUPS I ASSIGN, SOME ARE FORMED BY THE CHILDREN THEMSELVES.

Clay was introduced for exploration and the groups were assigned this time by me.  I wanted to help children not engaging with the others to begin to take the risk of engagement in a more protected circumstance.

 

                  

 

Playing alone                                       Playing together        

Either way both sets of children are satisfied with their work, their creations.

 

       Working out sharing issues in the block corner.  Whenever possible allow the children to problem solve their own solutions.  They must learn how to negotiate space and how to share the materials.  Solutions can later be discussed with the group to reinforce the appropriate way they chose to solve the problem or come up with a better solution.

MODELING LISTENING TO AND LEARNING FROM ONE ANOTHER:

  The nature items the children brought in helped them to become more visible with the sharing of their treasures first with the entire group and then in a smaller group with me.  It was during the creation of the nature boxes that the first true bonds were formed.  Names were being used more often now as the children had more opportunities to learn them.  They were learning to listen to one another.  They need to realize that they can learn form one another, as well.

   Together the boys visit, share conversations as they construct their nature habitats.  I work with the children as recorder of the conversations.  I can repeat what is being said to extend an idea or encourage contributions. In this way I model listening and other strategies that I want the children to follow as they learn to work with and learn from one another.  My role is to use the classroom space and activities to extend invitations to engage in social play.

  I have to admit, each year I struggle with the snack table.  But each year, I see the value of it.  Used especially in the beginning of every year, this is the first true comfort zone for the children.  Often it is the first place they want to go to.  After all isn't it in the breaking of the bread that we do learn about one another? Eating food together invites friendship and conversation.  It is easy, no story to break into, just fun conversations about home, likes/dislikes, funny ideas to laugh at, etc.  The perfect way to feel a sense of belonging to a group.  That is why you get the demand from your child for a snack!

SOMETHING NEW;

Weeks have gone by.  Relationships and closer friendships are being formed.  As the children feel more comfortable they begin to share ideas, and create something new.  In a sense the children often invent ways to practice or experiment with new concepts being presented in class.  These endeavors do far more to extend the group's learning than I ever could.  C and R. find a way to practice shapes, adding the concept to a story being played out or, in this case, created.  A successful encounter for both children.

C. and R. have been working with clay for several days. Today they move beyond the exploration into play with the clay.  Together they talk about castles and gems.  They work on separate parts of the same story.  R. is making shape castles with the beads and clay.  Shapes coming from our work with them.  C. is making the people that would go in them.  This new idea we share with the other children.  In this way we extend the learning to the group.  We begin to share our experiences which then become part of our group knowledge.  Again we model and extend learning relationships.

 

R. "First we did the clay, then we thought we should have some jewels."         

C. "Then you thought you would like to make some castle things."

R. "I used shapes."                                                                                   

C. "And then I did the people!"                                                                                      

R. "We came up with a plan."

 

   "I am the planner."  says S. as the stories become more detailed and the relationships deepen.

The word 'plan' used in both stories is an important one to hear.  It means that the children are truly working together.  There is a new sense of ownership here.  One that involves more than one person.  This idea of the plan or planner comes up again when the children build Safety City.  An idea begun by SJ and then picked up by nearly everyone in the classroom.  This was the first sharing of an idea.  A great idea, brings with it anticipation and excitement.  The children knew they would soon be going to Safety City.  Using the hollow blocks as a road they build Safety City complete with road signs and walkways.  It grows beyond the block corner as more children become caught up in the play.  Again, ideas that have been discussed, and thought about, are being revisited or acted out in their construction of Safety City. Also the play is 'noiser' it involves the majority of the children in the classroom.

                                                                       Safety City

 

*PROBLEM SOLVING AND NEGOTIATING AGREEMENTS AND SAFETY RULES:

Relationships continue to grow in the classroom.  As they do, so too does conflict arise.  The children know they have a role to play in solving problems and working through misunderstandings.  By allowing this negotiation the children learn to become independent and the social learning/relationships continue to be strengthened. 

STEALING OR SHARING                                   

                      

 

It is the intent behind the action that determines the difference between a good action and an inappropriate one.  Sometimes it is merely the feeling that determines whether an action is deemed right or wrong.

M. and L. discover that it is perception that can differentiate between the two and that it is sometimes alright to say, I do not want to share.

M., L., and K. were having snack at the snack table.  L. and K. were sharing theirs quite content to eat, and visit and share with one another.  M. however, did not wish to share.  L. did not realize this and was simply continuing with the sharing and visiting already in progress when M. joined them.

M., however, had a different perception.  She felt that her food was being stolen. "Mrs. Starko, L. is stealing my snack."

I had an advantage here.  I knew L. would not purposely take food.  I went to talk with L. and with M.

"We were sharing our snacks." L. tells me.  Megan can you tell L. what you thought?"

Stealing or sharing?  The intent was sharing, the perception was stealing.  How can we solve this problem fairly?  It is important to make sure the solution is fair to both children.  Fairness rates very highly to the 5 year old.

Together the girls decide that it is okay to not want to share a snack.  That M. can express that.  She has the final say.  M. also came to understand that L. did not steal food.  She was thinking that they were sharing their snacks.

Problem solved - children have the right to express their needs and wants.  They will be respected.

Building Toronto: Negotiating Safety Rules!

C. began the construction of the city of Toronto in the block corner.  B. and L. joined in as they began to construct a series of tall buildings.  "This is Toronto - Toronto has really big buildings.  That's why I built them really big."

The boys had built three towers.  One was stacked with half hollow blocks, one was made from double blocks on the bottom and the third was double blocks all the way up.  Two were safer structures, the third was not as safe.

I was concerned about the height of the buildings.  Together we inspected them and made sure they were strong.

"How are we going to make sure this building is safe?"  I asked them.  "Which ones are the safest buildings?  E. is playing by the towers so my questions must address her safety as well.  " How can we make sure that E. is safe?  What does she need to know?  What can you tell her?" 

C. "This one is not the safest.  It is not the strongest, it can fall easy." This one is safer, it has strong blocks on the bottom."

"We need to stand when we are by the towers.  No one can shake them.  If you touch them they can fall down and fall on your head."

C. decides that this is the rule that will make the buildings safe.

He makes sure anyone who comes into the block corner knows the rules.  Later, I take down the weakest of the buildings just before clean-up time.  I monitored the area at all times but I felt it was important that the children were responsible for the safety of their constructions and had a say in the rules.

This is a sample of our work.  It is the most important work that we can do throughout the year because it has a very big impact on the academic learning that you hope will happen throughout the year.  It was presented here in documentation form as it was displayed for the parents to see and comment on.