1, 2, 3
All my friends are here with me….
This simple song has been a part of nearly week, if not day, I’ve spent with children for many, many years. It’s simple, yet welcoming, comforting, and optimistic.
How lucky are any of us on any day to be surrounded by friends? As most adults know, friends don’t come – nor stay – easily. It’s an intricate process of give and take, yin and yang, lessons and laughs. Ideally, each friend offers something and gains something in a climate of mutual respect and care.
That’s big stuff. Especially in early childhood. But that’s where it all starts.
Child development specialists like Louise Bates Ames, Chip Wood and Nancy Carlsson Paige remind us that research and reality show us that three- to six- year-olds are concrete thinkers who have yet to view their world logically. Ideas are based on what they see in that moment, not an understanding that a conflict doesn’t mean the end of a friendship. Children this age view the world eccentrically – it’s all from their point of view.
Friends experience conflict and conflict is, by definition, is a road block. With the careful signals and tools to navigate, teachers can help children begin to express their needs, momentarily take the point of view of another human being and resolve conflicts. It’s here that the primitive stages of cooperative play emerge, usually when the interests of children intersect. But when they collide, that egocentric nature overrides an interest in playing with others. A multitude of positive social experiences will help children slowly think outside themselves to develop a repertoire of prosocial skills that invite and invigorate cooperative work and play. It’s a process that takes years to unfold, but lays the foundation for healthy relationships, positive school experiences and rich endeavors outside the classroom.
As I work with three- and four- year-olds to model conflict resolution skills or social skills, my mind flashes to the future. These wee ones are building a repertoire of social and personal skills that will shape them down the road. I hope that their small group of friends is providing them fertile ground for sowing the seeds of confidence, reasoning, friendship and joy.
And then I think about how lucky I am to be here with these little friends, watching them become bigger friends.
Check back next week for some snapshots on friendship over the years. If you’re looking for a compelling new read on early childhood, check out my current favorite child development book, Taking Childhood Back by Nancy Carlsson Paige as well as the seminal work by the Gesell Institute or Chip Wood.