This week we are featuring another excerpt from our newest book Nancy MacPhee Bower’s Adventure, Play, Peace: Insights and Activities for Social Emotional Learning and Community Building With Young Children.
What makes experiential learning such a powerful tool? Obviously, the experience itself may be powerful on its own. And, adding opportunities to reflect on an experience can take the learning to a new level. Reflection is an opportunity to be honest about the moment. It is better to acknowledge feelings and frustrations than to let them go unnamed and unaddressed. Reflection or processing is about looking at what happened in more detail. Reflection happens when we take time to:
• digest what has happened,
• simply acknowledge an experience,
• name a feeling,
• be still,
• be together without doing,
• voice a thought,
• identify something we learned,
• process an event—come back to peace after a conflict, deal with frustration, analyze a complex problem, pause to appreciate a special moment.
Opportunities to reflect will occur as surprises, like most important learning. An event that triggers strong emotions will reap more learning when we take the time to process it. The time to process might be immediately after the situation occurs. Or, it may be important to wait until emotions have had a chance to settle. When you choose to wait, the message to the children can be: Let’s work this out after lunch when we have some quiet time. What happened is important so let’s make sure we do this.
How does reflection fit into a play experience? Here are a few ideas:
• Take a break when there are feelings and conflicts to be addressed.
• Take a moment after the experience to discuss thoughts, feelings and ideas.
• Invite each child to share what is on his or her mind, related to a particular experience or not, depending on your goal.
• Gather later, after the experience to reflect.
• Begin a new experience remembering what happened in a previous experience, letting that be the learning focus for the day.
• Reflect with one child or a small group.
• Reflect with the entire group.
Though processing and reflection are valuable tools, we don’t have to do this all the time. Having a variety of processing activities will keep the experience interesting. It is important that processing doesn’t feel like a chore to you or the children. At the same time, we need to be careful that we don’t dismiss the need for processing when all appears to be well. For example, after doing creative construction with buddies, we did a check-in so that children could share what they did with their partners. All had seemed calm and happy throughout the session, and I expected the conversation to be very positive. As we went around the circle we heard stories of great pride in the structures each team had built. When we got to Michael, he tucked his head into his knees and refused to talk. With gentle questioning, he let us know that he never got to use his ideas. Everything was done the way Annie wanted to do it. This was the beginning of a very educational conversation with the entire group. Other children completely understood how Michael felt.
Holding a natural object can stimulate quiet reflection. One after-school program that I worked with couldn’t get enough of activities like this one. I expected that they would want to get to the running games and the group challenges. The children, however, lingered in our reflection time so consistently that I finally realized this was a need to which they were intuitively paying attention.
Space: small, room for all to sit in a circle
Props: stones, one for each child and yourself
How to Play
• Sit in a circle. Make sure that everyone is comfortable and that they can see each other.
• Show the children the stones before giving them out. Explain that in nature, everything is unique and has its very own beauty. These stones may look alike, but as you look more closely, you’ll see that they have features that make them special. When you get your stone, hold it carefully, take a good look at it, and try not to drop it. And while you hold it, think about the question that I ask. Take your time to wonder what your answer might be. Everyone who wants to share his or her answer will have a turn.
• Have the children choose an object. Then ask the group a question. Possible questions could include the following:
What did you do today that was kind?
What do you love about this group?
What was your favorite part of adventure play/the day?
What is special about you?
How did you help the group or another person?
• When it’s your turn, tell us what you have to say and then put your stone into the basket. Set up a way to determine whose turn it is. I can call on you when you are ready (sitting calmly and listening to the person sharing). Or you can make your way around the circle. Or the person sharing can choose the next person to share.
Instead of stones, choose from a variety of things from nature: shells, sea glass, leaves, etc.