I hear two kids working in the blocks center.
"This is the wall that protects the house."
"And here are cameras to watch for bad guys."
"Look at this tall part here."
"What if we put this here? It's a door to escape."
I read and hear a lot about collaboration connected with education. We should be helping children work together and learn how to function in group situations. Kids should be able to solve problems and work together in projects.
I agree that this is a needed skill in our society today, that kids need to know how to work constructively with others toward a common goal. This is a “college and career ready” skill. Collaboration is one of the eight competencies that Dr. Ken Robinson discusses in the book Creative Schools.
But I’m not sure it’s something we need to teach them. From what I’ve seen in my classroom, young kids are ready to work together if we’ll just get out of the way.
“Will you play with me?”
“Can I help you?”
“Let’s go do _______ together!”
Children are naturally drawn to do things with others. Well…maybe not at 2 or 3 years old. But as they get a little older, they want to interact with their peers. They want to do things together. They want to share ideas and collaborate.
It’s we adults that can get in the way. “Do your own work. Don’t bother him. Only one child here.”
What can we do to encourage collaboration?
Provide activities that encourage cooperative work. Large murals, lots of blocks in a smaller space, dramatic play setups – all require children to work together to create or play or do. Plan the space and the materials for multiple children to do the activity at the same time.
Don’t step in to resolve a situation. Be uncomfortable with a little struggle. If lots of children want to use blocks at the same time, let them work out what to do. It may be that everyone only has a few blocks. Or it may be that the group may construct one thing all together. Allow children to solve the problem themselves, as much as possible. Be available to offer questions to help their thinking. (And to intervene if needed.) But let the struggle happen. And let their solutions prevail (even if it’s not what you would have chosen).
Be flexible with activities. Sometimes I want to limit activities to only a few kids to make things more manageable. But if I let a few more kids join an activity (as they choose), they often will work collaboratively to make things happen. They can divide roles, allocate resources, and collaborate. Again, I may need to help them think through the situation, but with a little practice they can work through it. And an activity that I thought could work with only 1-2 kids can grow to encompass 5-6 kids in a different way. But I must allow that to happen and not impose my own limits.
Incorporate kids in classroom tasks. As we clean up our room, I will ask children to do different tasks. Some of those tasks need more than one child to do them. We put our bin of blocks in the cabinet at the end of our classroom time. At least two children must carry the bin to move it. And usually a third one needs to open the door of the cabinet. This is a collaborative task. Washing tables, stacking chairs, gathering resources – these are all tasks we must do each week. And we work together – teachers and children – to get them done. How can you involve kids in these types of tasks?
Ask for help. This is related to the one above. I often ask for children to help me do something. It may be to pick up something I’ve dropped. It may be cleanup tasks (as above). It may be to help me remember something from the story or something we’ve learned. Asking for help tells kids that we are expecting them to work with us. That helps create a collaborative mindset.
Kids are social creatures. They want to interact with one another and do things together. More practice helps them do it more regularly. As they get older, they do it more naturally, too.
What ways have you helped young children work together constructively?