Belonging. It’s a feeling… a feeling that has a powerful influence on everyone’s life. We all know when we feel that we belong, and we all know when we don’t feel that we belong. (And “all” definitely includes young children.)
That feeling of belonging is one of the most fundamental needs that subtly, but powerfully, influences all of us … and it has always influenced us, pretty much from Day 1 of our lives.
The instinct to belong is as natural as breathing. What we want and need to belong to can and does differ widely as we grow, which is a good thing and makes a lot of sense – right?! But …
… as young ones, just starting out in the new adventures of preschool, kindergarten and first grade, discovering shared values, feelings and instincts with classmates and peers is a powerful approach to building the healthiest kind of belonging. The kind of belonging that – very long term – can help to neutralize feelings of isolation that, research has shown, are one of the deep-rooted influences that, so heartbreakingly, result – later on – in school shootings and student suicides.
What kinds of values, feelings and instincts can young children discover that they share, so that ‘belonging’ is naturally built within the day-to-day dynamics of their class?
Here’s the answer to that question, and it’s an answer that can enrich every teachers’ class management … making class management much, much easier: Present groups of kids with appropriately challenging questions that evoke, that draw upon kids’ own hard-wired •empathy, kids’ own •ability to distinguish what’s fair and what’s not, and kids’ natural •instinct to ‘tell it like it is.’
When young children are provided with multiple opportunities to collaboratively discover solutions to challenges with which they’re all familiar, during times in which none of them (this is important, of course) … none of them is ever made to feel defensive – even when those familiar challenges are extremely, even exhaustingly, familiar … When young children are provided with multiple opportunities to collaboratively discover solutions they respond with solutions that invariably surprise and delight teachers.
Recent brain imaging research has demonstrated that when the brain contemplates and combines distinct pieces of information – for example: the ‘what, where, when, why and how’ of specific events, different areas of the brain are activated and connect. When different sensibilities and humane instincts are also activated and engaged within those same exercises, all of those areas of the brain connect and, with enough consistent repetition, become integrated. When that kind of healthy, creative and constructive brain activity is shared amongst peers, is it so difficult to appreciate how much more effective at building belonging that is as compared to passive or rote learning experiences?
When groups of children have consistent opportunities to analyze familiar challenges and problems, through a series of respectful and open-ended questions (yes … truly open-ended questions), they readily stay engaged and interested into the next level of open-ended questions (and again emphasizing: open-ended questions) that invite them to share ideas about possible solutions.
Typically, a class full of young children ,during these shared opportunities, is a class full of raised hands with answers and solutions that make sense to everyone. What’s incredibly sweet to experience, as a teacher, is that the kids who have some personal familiarity with a specific challenge or problem (you know, the kids who push, who rarely share, kids who constantly use their outside voices inside, or … you name it) … those kids actually listen and really take in their classmates’ answers and solutions. Because, for one reason, they’re not being TALKED TO, so they remain receptive, and for another reason, it’s their peers who are talking – which is much more interesting and relatable than grown-up’s lectures and instructions. Duh.
Back to the concept of building belonging, and I’ll repeat that I’m referring to healthy belonging. When healthy belonging is prioritized and creatively activated as the binding and strengthening influence for everything else that needs to happen in the classroom, everyone wins – including you, of course … short term, long term and even onto very long term.
Short term belonging happens within circle time shared discovery opportunities, with kids’ genuine engagement and collaborative contributions. Long term belonging shows up when kids bring their own collaborative solutions onto the playground, into the lunch room and into different learning activities of your classroom. Very long term belonging is what grows and takes roots over time, because that healthy belonging had a chance to get started as a formative and foundational influence from kids’ earliest ages.
Obviously, we shouldn’t expect significant results to stick with the snap of our fingers, or with one or two shared thinking circle times – but results do stick when young kids are consistently provided with opportunities to engage in this truly important and mutually respectful way.
The rightness of this kind of approach is validated by kids’ constructive engagement … aaaand by how much you get to learn about, and with, your young students.
Yes, there’s a learning curve – but it’s not steep, and if you’d like some support, please let us know. That’s WHY we’re here… for you, for your students.
Listen to the podcast (EPISODE 14) of this blog on iTunes, with this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/not-your-normal-social-emotional-learning