As I was walking through the Gathering Room a few days ago, I encountered a preschool class carrying some artwork back to their classroom. These 4-year-olds stopped to show me their collages. As I was commenting on their creative use of materials, one child turned to another and said, “I love the smile you made on that picture.” To which the other child answered simply, “Thanks.”
This struck me at the moment, and it is still in my mind days later. I think it’s because this seemingly simple interaction was completely unprompted, genuine, and thoughtful. These young children were not trying to impress anyone, they were just interacting in a positive, caring way that was normal to them. I was delighted, since we intentionally and consciously teach the attributes of caring, appreciation, and respect. Here was a demonstration of those qualities in some of our youngest students.
In an environment where caring and respectful behavior is normal and expected, students feel safe enough to be the inquirers, communicators, and risk-takers that we want them to be. We know that stress impedes our ability to focus, process information, and remember what we have learned. Creating a caring environment frees students to focus on thoughtful pursuits, rather than having to worry about their emotional or physical safety. These two students unwittingly provided me with proof that our purposeful focus on respect and positive reinforcement not only helps children to feel safe, but also helps them to be good people who care for and appreciate each other…and that might just be the most important thing for young people to learn.