At the end of each school year, I ask my students to reflect and write about their favorite part of kindergarten. The most common answers? Literacy and math centers and learning about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In today’s academically rigorous curriculum, the first thing to be sacrificed is socialization and play.
Ironically, during and after kindergarten, students are expected to be able to work in collaborative learning groups. What did Dr. King teach us? Acceptance, peaceful interactions, and learning to live and work together among many others. These four lessons are those most important for students when learning how to interact and work in groups, which is why many kindergarten and early childhood teachers are asking why socialization is no longer an emphasis of the curriculum. The range of social skills, particularly in urban areas, of students entering kindergarten is rather wide. Some students have had preschool and daycare experiences prior to entering school, while others enter with the social skills of an average three year old.
It is almost inconceivable to me why socialization, especially play, is the first to be taken from the curriculum. How can we expect our students to learn and work together in collaborative groups during literacy and math centers when they lack the necessary social skills to be able to do so? Through collaborative groups students learn to become problem solvers, self-regulators, higher level thinkers, and leaders. As educators it is our job to provide an environment which allows students to practice these skills.
It never ceases to amaze me how captivated students become when learning about Dr. King. Each year I use his lessons as the basis for teaching students peaceful conflict resolution. These peaceful strategies, such as sharing, using words rather than violence, being helpful, and accepting each other, are the basis of learning to work together in collaborative groups.
What is even more inspiring is how I eventually overhear students making comments from “That’s not peaceful! You need to use your words!” to “He has sensitive hearing. You need to work more quietly!” in defense of an autistic student who becomes easily bothered by noise. The students take these lessons seriously and they become predominant throughout the classroom.
In planning for instruction at REAL, I believe that it is important for teachers to allow time for collaborative learning, discovery play, and peaceful socialization. These are critical parts of the curriculum, especially in early childhood. Our youngest students are at a developmental stage where they actually need these allowances in the school day.
Below are some writing samples from students in response to the assignment, “Martin Luther King Jr. was a peaceful man. What will you do to be peaceful?”