Early Elementary Social Curriculum
An important part of what we do in Early Elementary classrooms is teach our students social skills that will help them be successful in school and throughout their lives. We do this through a variety of activities and structures throughout the year.
One of the first things we do at the beginning of the year is to begin to establish a safe, caring, supportive classroom community. We do this by helping students to get to know each other better through partner work and games, sharing our interests through the “Me Bag”, and taking turns being the Very Important Person. We discuss and celebrate similarities and differences in families, ethnic backgrounds, and traditions.
In the first few weeks of school, we establish “table groups”. Each table group is made up of a diverse group of students of different ages, abilities, and gender. The students will sit with this table group for most of the school year, and we emphasize the importance of helping each other and working as a team. The first activity they do is to choose a name for their table, related to the year’s theme. Later, they do a group project to teach the rest of the class about the topic they named their table after. During work times (math, reading and writing workshop), students are taught how to help and encourage each other in order to improve the learning of all of the students at the table.
In addition to the choices and hands-on activities built into our academic activities, every day our students have “choice time” in the classroom. During this time the students have the opportunity to play at all of the different centers in the room and to interact with one another. This provides them the time for play that is so critical for this period of child development. As students play, teachers support their play-based learning by providing materials, asking open-ended questions, and helping students work out disagreements.
At Honey Creek, we use a conflict resolution technique called “S-O-S”. Students are taught how to use it in the classroom and teachers help them work through the process until they are able to do it independently in most cases. If there is a conflict, students work through these steps:
S = Story: each child takes a turn to explain their side of the story (without interruptions) to the other child. They are asked to look at the other person, and to use a kind voice, a calm face, and “I Statements”. For example, “I felt sad when you broke the Lego car I built.” “I felt mad because you take those pieces every day and I wanted to use them.”
O = Options: Both children propose options for solving the problem. For example, “You could use them tomorrow.” “You could let me have them now.” “I could give you the piece you want the most and use a different piece on my car.”
S = Solution: They settle on a mutually agreeable solution. “Okay, you can give me that one piece that I really want.”
You Can’t Say You Can’t Play
In Early Elementary we want all students to feel included. We have instituted a rule, “you can’t say you can’t play” based on the book by Vivian Paley, an early childhood educator at the University of Chicago Lab School. This means that if a child wishes to join a group of children who are already playing, the group must find a way to incorporate that child into their game. We remind the children that while we can choose who we wish to invite to our home, at school we don’t have a choice about being together, and we remind them that there are times that they will want to join a group and be included too. If a child wishes to play alone, that is perfectly acceptable.
Throughout the year, we add other activities as needed to reinforce the kind of classroom community we wish to maintain. One such activity is “filling the bucket” in which students do kind things for each other, write what they do on a piece of paper, and try to fill a bucket. We also use “Honesty Circles” as a way to resolve classroom issues. This is a whole group discussion in which students can safely express their concerns with teacher and peer support. Our social curriculum also meets Maturation goals for kindergarten and first grade students.