The teachers have been discussing quite a bit lately how many children desire to work with a friend in the classroom, but are rarely successful. For weeks now, we feel like we have been putting out fires with no clear message or rationale for doing so. Two children will choose a work together and it turns into playing with the materials, sitting at the rug and chatting or even rough play. For many children, it's difficult for them to be successful with a work while doing it with a friend. Occasionally, there will be two children who will work well together, but more times than not (our experience lately anyway) has been it's not been successful. We've even noticed for some children that the thought of maybe working with a friend at any time consumes them to the point of not being able to choose a work, or hovering around the friend who isn't available, waiting for them to be finished so they can invite them to work.
So, today, in the pre-primary classroom, we decided to take a stand to protect children's work cycle and ability to focus and concentrate. We talked with the children and told them that the teachers have noticed lately that many children are having a hard time concentrating/focusing because of so many works with friends happening that aren't successful-we're seeing a lot of rough play with the materials and just silly behavior that is interrupting those working in the classroom. We told them that for the next several days, everyone will be practicing working independently. Today was the first day and it was lovely. Many children have been missing the opportunity to work alone and build their attention and focus because all they can think about is working with a friend. Now that the option has been taken off the table, it seemed, for many, to be helpful.
One of my Montessori mentors asks the question (knowing there isn't a right or wrong answer) "can 4 and 5 year olds work successfully with one another?" I have seen some that can certainly work well together and I believe they can develop the skills to be successful working with others, but before that can happen, children need to learn to work alone. Maria Montessori spoke about it like this: Think of an orchestra-people can't show up one day and play an instrument and expect it to sound beautiful. Each musician needs to practice, perfect and learn their instrument well before being ready to join the orchestra. It's the same thing with children-they need to learn how to work independently, concentrate and focus before they're ready to work well with a friend.
Working independently doesn't take away from social opportunities. In our classroom, social skills are developed and practiced all day long. Children are interacting and talking with one another often-as they walk through the classroom, they may stop and chat with a friend. They may need to give a child a message or reminder that can happen at any time. As they navigate themselves through the classroom, there are opportunities for interactions as well-asking a friend to move their rug or body, reminding a friend to put a work away, or greeting and singing on line. In our classroom, children are developing their social skills in a prepared/safe environment within the context of work where we provide intentional coaching and support as they learn language and grace and courtesy skills to interact with one another now and in the future.
Ask your child about the message they received today about independent work-it would be a good follow up and opportunity for a great conversation.