The art skills of older children grow as fast as they do. As their art gets more complex, the children need each other to help execute their work. Encouraging them to help each other -- as another way to connect and a tool of peace -- is an ongoing practice in the Expressive Arts room.
“I need someone to help me hold this while I tape. Who can help?” requested a five-year-old boy. One child came to help him.
“I need more help,” said the boy as he balanced his artwork precariously. Another child came to help.
“And more and more help,” he lamented as child after child left their own work to come help.
We, as teachers, often advocate for cooperation. We also encourage our children to become deeply engaged in their exploration. With the intense focus they develop, it can be challenging for children to stop and help another. I am always on the lookout for new ways of encouraging both perspectives.
Sometimes it's as simple as repeating one child's request, "Is there anyone who can help?" At times silence follows the question. Sometime I model helping. Other times I restrain from offering in case the children's response is not immediate. I've overheard children coming forward several minutes later saying, "I’ve finished making my art. Now I can help you!"
As teachers, we can also gently coach the child in need of help? • Can you ask again? • What if you used someone’s name before asking? • Are you able to ask in a different way? • Are you able to do a little more by yourself? • Could you wait until someone is free to help you?
We could use this as a teaching moment asking, "How does it feel to ask for help and have no one come?" Encouraging empathy and compassion may be as important as our jumping in to help a child in need. Sometimes this is the missing piece needed for a child to put down their own work and help a friend.
Having a visual on the theme of cooperation in the classroom encourages children to cooperate. This poster from the Quaker Center in London is a favorite. I have it on the wall with a rug beside it.
When conflict arises between the children, one tool to use is to ask them to sit on the rug and figure out together what the pictures tell us. This can often be enough to shift the children from their individual perspectives to one of working together to find out a solution.
Cooperation is better than conflict. I'd be interested in how other teachers encourage this in their classrooms and schools.