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Cultivating a Caring, Collaborative Community

“If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – the Dalai Lama

A group huddle during a brainstorming session for a charity lemonade stand.

A group huddle during a brainstorming session for a charity lemonade stand.

When children enter their Elementary years, they become distinctly social creatures. The vibrant period between six and twelve years old is a time of increasingly-important friendships and building relationships beyond the family and the home. The opinions of one’s own peers become very important, and in conjunction with this, the children’s moral compass – their sense of justice – is simultaneously being carefully calibrated.

As such, the Elementary years are a crucial time for the child to build key life skills in communication, conflict resolution, compromise, and collaboration.  Perhaps even more importantly, this is a critical time for children to begin to learn the value of compassion.

The early portion of the first term is focused on community-building: boundaries are explored and determined, and the seeds for a friendly and collaborative class are sown. The children played an active part in determining the expectations to which they are held (and to which they hold one another) by working together to formulate the class constitution. This collection of rights and responsibilities was generated by the children themselves, and is ultimately signed by every child in class.

COMMUNICATION AND CONFLICT-RESOLUTION

A student shares his thoughts during the class meeting.

A student shares his thoughts during the class meeting.

The class meeting is conducted on a weekly basis. During this meeting, the children learn to listen to their peers, and to offer and accept praise with grace and courtesy as they publicly share their thank-yous and compliments.  They also learn how to honestly and respectfully acknowledge their own mistakes and to offer apologies to their classmates.  The rest of the meeting is spent discussing classroom issues that have been jotted down by the children in our “classroom concerns” journal.  Individual students are able to express concerns about issues that affect the majority of the class, and the children brainstorm to find collective, effective solutions to their problems.

COLLABORATION AND COOPERATION

Two students work together on the checkerboard.

Two students work together on the checkerboard.

Collaborative learning is an enriching and essential part of the classroom culture.  The children frequently work in pairs or in small groups, simultaneously applying and developing social skills alongside academic concepts.  They learn to take turns, value each other’s strengths, support each other’s weaknesses, and work together towards a common goal.

 

 

 

Two students work together to wipe a spill in the kitchen area.

Two students work together to wipe a spill in the kitchen area.

Cooperation is not limited to classroom work or lessons.  Solving practical problems as a community can offer learning opportunities that are just as rich and valuable as any academic lesson in the classroom.  The children all have jobs in the classroom and work together to keep it clean, organized and functional for all of the young citizens sharing it.  They learn to help each other when assistance is needed, to respond to conflicts with care and constructiveness, and to actively play their valuable role in cultivating a peaceful and effective classroom community.

 

Making pumpkin pies as part of a cultural celebration.

Making pumpkin pies as part of a cultural celebration.

COMPASSION AND CARE

Empathy and compassion are facilitated by the structure of the classroom and even the curriculum.  Intellectually, children are presented information that is comprehensive and vast: They learn about the universe first through the Great Lesson, and then become more and more specialized in their inquiry.  Cross-curricular learning reinforces knowledge that we are small parts of an immense and vast whole, and that we each have an important purpose in that deeply connected universe.

Brainstorming for a volunteer charity project.

Brainstorming for a volunteer charity project.

Philanthropic projects are encouraged, and Elementary children naturally want to reach out beyond their classroom into the world.  Students have the opportunity to brainstorm and plan charity projects – learning fantastic organization skills in the process – that enable them to contribute and give to others who are in need.  We currently have a few projects being planned by groups of children in class; they are all completely voluntary, and the children are so excited to be able to actively give to causes that are close to their hearts.  Watch out for some charity projects soon!

In the Lower Elementary classroom, we are not only cultivating inquisitive, motivated students – we are also cultivating responsible, kind and confident people of character. Life skills in collaboration, communication and compassion will not merely complement a child’s academic skills or talents; they are integral to a person’s ability to become a successful and happy human being.

 

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