We put a lot of emphasis on social emotional learning in the Sea Lion classroom: we introduce a life skill each month, we have our “Kind and Caring Friends” motto and school song, we encourage self-help skills and work with the children to build an arsenal of tools for problem solving in social situations, but there are other day-to-day ways in which we work to cultivate positive relationships and support social emotional learning in the Sea Lion classroom. Here are a few examples from this month:
On Fridays when we have the mornings free (when there is no holiday cooking, quick cooking, or other to-do!), we start our mornings with something we call “LEGO Pals.” The Sea Lions work in pairs to plan and then build a collaborative LEGO creation in response to a prompt. In the past, they’ve built in response to “a home for Stewey the Sea Lion,” “something that takes you from one place to another,” and “a Thanksgiving Parade float” (we soon discovered that we should have explained what a float was, but they managed to have fun regardless). Before we start each LEGO Pals session, we talk as a class about what it looks like to work as a team, what kind of language we can use to invite others’ ideas and build upon them, what happens when we disagree, etc. We are very intentional here about partnering the children in a way that encourages them to get outside of their comfort zone and work with a friend they might not know very well. We hope that, by offering an opportunity to work creatively together, this activity will empower new friendships and expose the children to new play styles. Working with a new friend can be challenging, especially when interests differ vastly; when we sense that a team is struggling to work together, we sit in with the pair and allow each child a turn to share where they are in the building process. We encourage them to talk through the challenge out loud so each can hear the other in order to come to a compromise. After 5 minutes of planning and 15 minutes of building, we regroup as a class to share our creations. Here, we document the children’s descriptions of their projects and photograph their work. The Sea Lions take great pride in their LEGO pal creations and enjoy having the accompanying narratives read back to them over and over again. We’ve found that this activity shakes up the classroom dynamic in a positive way and allows some room for children to make new or reinvigorate old connections with classmates.
The Transition from Morning Meeting to Open Play
Morning meeting is our time to come together as a group to share ideas, stories, opinions, to problem solve, and to support that week’s Featured Friend. Each child is invited to share a highlight from their weekend, or something they’re looking forward to the following weekend. We use this space and time as a classroom forum for figuring out common issues, like what kinds of adjustments need to be made to the writing center so it doesn’t feel as noisy, or how we can make cleanup faster and more organized. It’s a space where every child has equal say, where there are no wrong ideas, and where each child is encouraged to use their toolbox of problem solving skills.
At the end of morning meeting, we talk about what is available in the classroom for our open play time. Each Sea Lion chooses where he or she would like to spend the first part of their morning and are encouraged to stick with their chosen activity for a while before moving on. In this way, the children are building a sense of accountability, purpose, and perseverance. By verbalizing to a teacher and the class what activity they’ve selected, we see that they are more likely to stick with and take ownership of the activity, even when it gets challenging. New friendships are often made in these spaces where children are driven not by who is playing in a given area, but the nature of the play and how they want to contribute to it. Here’s what some of that play and collaboration has looked like this month:
Connect Four and memory are games that are always available to the class during open play, and we recently introduced Mancala as a third option. These organized tabletop (or rug) games call upon the children to use patience and self regulation while waiting their turn (there is a LOT of waiting in a game of memory with 5 players!) as well as patience while and persistence when learning the rules of a new game. The Sea Lions were eager and quick learners when it came to Mancala, and as each game progressed, a group of onlookers would form in support of both players. Navigating the winner/loser aspect of these games is tricky as well, but the children have, on their own, adopted a flexible, team-oriented, “let’s try again” attitude, and when we see this, we make sure to celebrate it.
Caring for Our Greater School Community
We learned recently that Mike, a beloved member of our church and school community, has taken a health-related leave of absence. The Sea Lions rallied to make get well soon cards for Mike, working all morning on writing words and adding decorations to cards. The decorations centered around what the children thought Mike might enjoy looking at when he receives the cards, knowing he appreciates art and was once a teacher himself. A practice in empathy and care for our greater community, the Sea Lions pooled their collaborative efforts and talents to create something beautiful for someone who brings a lot of joy to our Calvary community.
This is wonderful! What lucky kids!