By Elyse Jacobs
With violence among children and youth seen as a global public health problem by the World Health Organization, teachers can play an important role in its prevention by helping develop social and emotional intelligence in young children.
On the Sandy Hill website there is information about the anti-violence trainings they provide. It includes a fact sheet about social isolation and the impact it has on young people potentially becoming victims of bullying or perpetuators of violence.
They are one of many groups, including the WHO, whose research shows that the preventative for social isolation is teaching skills of emotional and social intelligence. Teaching empathy, listening skills, inclusion, navigating conflict and collaboration are excellent vaccines against both verbal and physical aggression.
Daniel Goleman’s model of Emotional Intelligence includes self-awareness and self-management. Social intelligence fits into this model through a capacity for social awareness and relationship management which includes listening skills and empathy.
All through the year the classroom teachers at our school are finding ways to create opportunities for building EQ and Social Intelligence. Hats off to their tireless and effective efforts!
With my program, I am able to help develop and observe these capacities within small groups. I witness how the children apply these skills using the language of art.
As the end of the school year approaches, I am observing a group of 5-year-olds getting ready for their Spooky Show. I am fascinated by their preparation and interactions. It’s been over six weeks that the core group of eight boys has joined in a dramatic collaboration.
They began by making props and instruments and tickets. They created and filled notebooks with invented writing for a narrator, filled popcorn bags with pretend popcorn for the audience, and decorated the walls for their show about scary things. Fear is an ongoing part of life. A major form of navigating this emotion as children is often through play or in this case an actual play.
The children chose their roles: actor, musician or narrator (They called the narrator the conductor). Clearly following the model of their classroom play with the music specialist, they easily made their choices with very little disagreement.
Over the coming days, three times weekly, they rehearsed. And rehearsed. And rehearsed. They made additional props. And more props. And even more props. They taped scary drawings of ghosts and monsters to the wall as a backdrop. As each drawing is shown to the others, the children pretended to shudder, likely accessing some real fear in a child-sized bite.
The conductor sat under a desk working on his script that often went home with him for revisions and then was returned the next morning.
From my audience seat, I am in close proximity to the discussions between the conductor, actors and musicians as they get ready for the show.
Minutes before the end of class, there is usually an announcement by different children, “Scary Show starting in 1 minute.” Most often there is the response: “NO! I’m still working on something," followed by, “Scary Show in 5 minute!” Other children shout out not being ready as they continue to make props or practice on their horns made from paper tubes and other recyclables.
I’ve noted that it’s the children who have not been engaged in the props and scenery-making are the ones who call out for the show to begin. I neutrally stated what I’d noticed. Unprompted, the children discussed what to do. The idea for an X composed of large, colored popsicle sticks came about. Each time they cancelled the show until the next time, the conductor would hang up the X, all children chanting, “Scary Show is cancelled. Scary show is cancelled.”
Having agreed on this plan of action, I observed that none of the children seemed disappointed. Likely there was some relief as presenting their original show, even to an audience of one, can create some performance anxiety. Like the show itself, some were simply not ready. It soon became an ongoing part of their play with other Xs being made and hung on the wall just before class ended.
As Expressive Arts is a time for child-generated free creative expression, there was no need to meet a particular deadline, or even get beyond the process of getting ready for the show.
They may never perform the show for others but, more importantly, what they were able to accomplish was:
- Further develop their skills of co-operation and collaboration on a creative project
- Express their ideas
- Listen to each other
- Navigate creatively through their conflicting ideas
- Find great pleasure in making their ideas concrete
- Have lots of fun together
You likely have created many opportunities in your classroom for children to work collaboratively. If you’d like to add their original plays, beloved stories or written scripts they’ve previously worked with, here are a few suggestions:
- Designate a space in the room for the collaboration
- Begin with small groups of children. If those chosen haven’t collaborated previously limit the group to five children.
- Have available various open-ended materials that the children can use for simple sets, props, costumes. They can create magic with paper of all sizes, scissors, masking tape and markers.
- Depending on their familiarity with plays, your initial facilitation may be helpful. I like to stand back and observe until the children ask me for help or they have struggled for some time. When help is needed, have them sit down together, identify the problem and find solutions that work for all.
- Let the children decide when, or if, the group is ready to present to an audience.
Within the process of collaborative play social intelligence develops and thrives.
Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence, Bantam Books, 2006.