Any seasoned preschool teacher who sees this picture knows what a socially complex dynamic is going on here. Kids have to figure out how to get space for themselves without dominating someone's space, deciding who will be next to whom, primitive relationships being made through physical proximity and probably silliness (and the bigger question, who will push who first?). But their desire to be in close physical proximity and connect with peers motivates them to utilize social skills and keep a harmonious environment.
In a typically developing child, a desire to connect with others emerges naturally, as naturally as crawling and talking. (I may be posting more on this later as I begin to read Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships for a class I'm taking). We saw this interest emerge as soon as the children, many of them still toddlers, started at Beansprouts. Whether it was interest in interaction or interest in what others were using, a social awareness began to take the lead in children's development.
Without a desire for friendships, what else would motivate us to build the skills that will eventually allow us to successfully function in a world full of other people? Social development leads the way for very practical life skills. Even academics.
Children designing the set for a puppet show...simple, on-the-fly activity, but great for building language and social skills (and using extra cardboard!).I keep noting to parents and other teachers, "This is the most literacy-smart group of kids I've ever had!" They are constantly keeping us on our toes and we've had to step it up to feed their strong interest in letters and words. Sure, we have a language-rich environment, through stories, narrations by children, songs and games that trigger parts of the brain that build language. But the pre-reading skills that have emerged in this particular group have arisen out of their interest in each other. They point out the first letter in each others' names, they have been able to recognize each others' names for a while now, and have even asked us to write down all the kids names so they could copy them. We finally just posted them on the wall near the art table so they could reference them as needed.
Creating spaces that allow children to work together fosters social connections. I've heard that rectangular tables are more conducive to kids' socializing because they allow them to be closer and face each other. Circular tables, while they feel more spacious, spread kids out further, making it harder to connect.
We never made reading and writing or learning letters our own agenda. All we had to do was wait for our cue. This is the essence of a child-led curriculum. When the brain is ready, it will seek information to fulfill that readiness, and an attentive teacher will respond by offering activities rich in literacy or math or science or whatever academic stimulation the brain is hungry for. In this way we help the brain make neural connections on a path that has established its own momentum, allowing children to learn much more efficiently than rote learning via flash cards or computer games. While social development paves the way for learning, the teacher's role is to feed the subsequent desire to learn.
However, look how beautifull they are using this round table! Leslie gave them mirrors to give another dimension of book-reading.