Teamwork and the Need to Belong
The other end of the equation in helping children to grow up with a healthy sense of who they are and what life is about, is creating many opportunities for children to feel they belong. The first place children experience this sense of belonging is in the family. Once they come to school, it is time to extend their community to include other children and teachers. A basic need for all humans is to feel and know that they belong. Much of the violence in this world is around a feeling of being disconnected, rejected, not wanted or wanting what someone else has. Even in children, when they fight it is usually over a toy or hurt feelings. And many of the unfortunate and increasing incidents of school shootings are around rejection of peers. So, how can we help children know they are connected, not just by telling them, but by making it a reality?
We spend a great deal of time creating personal relationships with every child so that we can understand their individual needs. We give each child the time they need to find their place in our school and to let them feel safe to bond with the other students and the staff. We know that if we wait, watch and learn, we will be able to help every child to feel at home, and part of an extended family.
We constantly work with communication to help children express their feelings and needs, their opinions and what is important to them. We teach children to listen to each other, that communication is a two way street.
We have projects that are group oriented as a part of our daily curriculum. Children learn to share, to wait, to take turns, to do things together and to help others to have the projects turn out well. An example is baking bread. They all take turns stirring in the ingredients and kneading the dough. Then they get their own piece to make a loaf. After it is baked, they get to share it with the other children who weren’t baking for snack time. We have built houses together, done large murals, made mush soup and mud pies, washed chairs, and clean up is a daily ritual of team work.
We want children to feel that their contributions are valued and that responsibility is part of belonging to a family or community. We have watched a certain confidence come just from children doing simple tasks. They put on their clothes, wash their cups, put their shoes away, clean up their toys and messes, make and put away their nap beds. We know how much children are capable of doing, and we don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. This actually empowers them to feel capable, strong, and valued. When we feel valued, we contribute. It doesn’t require so much praise as just the opportunity to do what one is capable of and feel internally good about it. This is crucial to self esteem, because it comes from the child knowing he is giving, not from being praised by others and losing touch with that deep spiritual knowledge that life is a great circle of giving and receiving.
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