Trust and Challenge: More from Adventure, Play, Peace

In this week we are offering another great lesson from our newest book Nancy MacPhee Bower’s Adventure, Play, Peace: Insights and Activities for Social and Emotional Learning and Community Building With Young Children.

The level of trust in a community takes decidedly more time and energy as each individual has a relationship with every other person in the community. Each of these relationships needs to be attended to and nurtured. Picture trust as a well that you can continue pouring more and more water into. As each relationship grows stronger, the well rises a little. Our actions and reactions can raise or lower the level of water in this well. The level of trust is high when children treat each other with kindness even when the teacher is not there to facilitate every action.

Children will thrive in an environment that is full of trust. Trust and challenge go hand in hand. When a foundation of trust exists, children will feel comfortable challenging themselves. When children feel safe, they can
• branch out and try new behaviors;
• say what they think;
• express their feelings, knowing that they will be affirmed;
• be creative;
• feel honored for being just who they are.

Trust begins with us—the parents, teachers and caregivers. We are the ones who create an understanding of how things work in this community. Children are expert observers. Any interaction that you have with one child will be observed by other children. Even when children do not witness every interaction, they can sense a trusting atmosphere with a sort of internal radar. Likewise, children can sense the opposite—an unsafe or unkind environment—with that same internal radar. We build trust when we

• use behaviors as opportunities to educate rather than opportunities to punish;
• take time to let feelings be expressed;
• support children as they attempt a challenge;
• encourage children to make decisions and be as independent as they can be (appropriate to their development, of course);
• create safe and clear boundaries for children.

Children will bond to their parents and teachers if we invite this comforting and safe connection. When children feel a strong sense of trust in these relationships, they might branch out and connect with other adults and children. Trust will grow slowly in one-to-one connections.

Play can be a wonderful entry into a trusting relationship. Young children can be uncomfortable with someone who is new to them. Sometimes simply rolling or tossing a ball to the child can be that first, friendly opening to the relationship. This becomes a conversation without words. It is easy. There is no pressure. We are connected but still have some physical distance. Play is a great connector of people.

Filling the well of trust within our families and communities is the essence of our work. This work requires us to pay attention to the words and actions of each member with an eye for what we all want our community to be like.

Sticky Buddies
All ages seem to have fun with Sticky Buddies, toddlers to adults. I believe this game’s popularity is largely based on the fun sound of unsticking.

Space: minimal

How to Play
• Do a random matching game to create buddies (see Buddy Games on page 35).
• Demonstrate with a child or fellow teacher. Imagine that there is a giant clump of super glue right between your elbow and your buddy’s elbow. That is called sticky elbows. Dramatizing the sticking together is a critical part of the fun. Test that super glue and you’ll see just how difficult it is to separate. If we really focus on unsticking, we could just get ourselves apart.
• Now with the unsticking there is a very special sound (like masking tape being pulled off the roll), sucking air in and across your tongue. Demonstrate how to unstick by counting, One, two, three, schlwerk (the unsticking sound).
• Now let’s all do the unsticking together. Check that super glue. Is it really working? Okay, let’s unstick. One, two, three, schluoukg (also the unsticking sound)”!
• Move on to sticky knees, sticky toes, shoulders, backs, wrists, etc.
• If the group wants an added challenge, stick two body parts together at the same time, then three or four body parts.

The way to be safe in this game is to be careful as you unstick so that arms and bodies don’t clash. Sometimes children are so enthusiastic about unsticking that they move into a body roll or arms and legs go flailing. I avoid doing sticky heads, cheeks, noses for health reasons. When the children suggest one of these, I just tell them we don’t do that body part so that we don’t share colds. They get it.

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