At Wild Seeds ALC, we meet in small groups each morning to set intentions for the day, to carve out time for more intimate connection, and to explore and practice skills related to our core values. Young people were divided into small groups via a few different considerations: age/developmental needs, friend groups, and connection to small group facilitators being among the few.
I felt a deep sense of rightness and excitement when small groups shook out and I was gifted with the responsibility of facilitating the youngest group, which happens to be all five year olds and all people who are a younger sibling. I spent years as a preschool teacher, where I got to witness the daily magic of this age- how they are absorbing information from the world, what they notice and how they connect dots, how they share and care for the people around them, what skills are still building, and all the myriad things that pique their curiousity and excite them! I was- and am- so grateful to be part of creating and holding this space for them.
So, what are these five year olds talking about?
They are talking about their feelings! When we started the year, the feelings that came up the most were SAD, MAD, and HAPPY.
"I was so happy when my dad came to my house for dinner!"
"I was sad when my lunchbox didn't have a treat."
"I was MAD when they took my turn on the trampoline!"
As we've gotten more practice sharing space and talking with one another, more nuanced feelings are emerging, like LONELY and DISAPPOINTED. Recently, a young person reflected that they were disappointed that they didn't go on the playground trip. Another person immediately shared that they were disappointed that they didn't like the muffins we baked. In another conversation, one young person shared about having two feelings at the same time- SCARED and EXCITED and that set us off on a whole other set of conversations about having multiple feelings at once.
We recently read "Leonardo the Terrible Monster" by Mo Willems and I witnessed them have a nuanced conversation about why Sam is called a "scaredy-cat kid" and whether Sam was actually sad or mad or sad AND mad when he was crying. When we read "A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart" by Zetta Elliott, I jotted down all of the many responses they had to the book's beautiful prompts.
These five year olds really want to be talking about their feelings, sharing their feelings, trying out new language to describe their feelings, and creating dramatic play topics together that explore feelings through the characters they create.
They are talking about what care looks like. This topic has really revolved around two categories: the people who care for them and how they receive care from those people. We continue to spend a lot of time talking about our families- who is in them and how they interact with each other and it's clear that this group experiences a lot of care in their families. When most of the stories they were telling revolved around boo-boos, I asked them about instances where people care for them when they are experiencing big feelings. One young person responded," My feelings are big when I have a boo-boo! Sometimes I am scared!" I'd thought I was encouraging them to stretch how they were thinking about care, only to realize that I needed to stretch my understanding of the layers of experience in physical hurt!
The conversation has also turned to times when the people who usually care act in ways that hurt them- when parents yell at young people, when siblings don't hold agreements around sharing, when friends use an unkind tone. They explored their feelings both when this happens to them and when they act in uncaring ways towards people in their lives. I noticed how still their bodies were were when this topic came up. Usually, they are somersaulting, journaling, drawing on the walls, or playing legos while we are chatting. I think this topic- how we can hurt or be hurt by people who care about us- felt important and it led us to consider how we can feel our big feelings without hurting people and what we can do when someone is hurting us.
Last week, a young person from our group was out sick and we were having big SAD
feelings about it! We missed him! We wondered about what kind of care he was receiving. Is he just sleeping or laying on the couch doing screen time? Is he throwing up or taking medicine? The group felt called to DO something for their missing friend and so we filmed him a short video to send him, where we showed him special toys, sang him an original song, and did a silly joke/dance. I reflected that this seemed like a way to take care of someone even if you're not with them. The following week, another friend was out sick and they wrote her a letter and practiced signing their names. One young person said, "I want her to see my name so she knows I wrote this letter, too!"
They are talking about consent.
Another theme embedded in their play and conversations is consent.
"You have to ask me if you want to sit on my lap."
"He took my toy without asking and I wasn't done with it."
"No kicking for wrestling. That's my agreement."
"I want to make a new agreement."
I love to hear them negotiate agreements with one another. They are usually so engaged in the process, assuming the responsibility and using language the feels and sounds important to them! They are consistently USING (not just practicing for the future!) skills related to agreement making, consent-seeeking, and dialogue-centered approaches to caring for self and others and it is helping them play in ways they want to and with less conflict.
It recently came up in whole group that some people like to sit touching their friends and other people
want some space and that that can be decided between the two people- they can make a decision that they both consent to. My small group was rehashing this conversation about getting to decide if someone touches you and someone said, "Well, you can't decide to touch
private parts!" I said, "Ah, so there are some kinds of touching that you can't consent to. Should we talk about that?" They were really interested in sharing what they know about what a young person cannot consent to, so I drew a picture of a body and captured all of their ideas. They really started to hold a lot of nuance around consent.
They are playing together!
Our small group has evolved to include time spent in dramatic play, either with their bodies or using small, toy characters. And, play is where all of these themes intersect- feelings, care, consent- and are played out in different contexts and teased apart in their character's dialogues! I've observed their play around death and illness and injury coupled with rescue and caretaking and healing magic. Just today, I listened as they created houses for families where the parents have split up "but everyone is still a family to each other". One young person playing said, "that's like my family!" and went on to share how their family lives and relates. And often, their play explores a good/bad binary. Superheroes save the day! Irredeemable bad guys try to destroy the world! Recently, I've been asking them what makes a person bad, and how they got bad and whether they can ever become good. It's been interesting to hear them slow down and consider this question. They've remarked:
"You can just make mistakes and not be a whole bad guy."
"You can become a good guy if you apologize, but you stay bad if you never apologize."
"Nobody taked care of them. Nobody taught them good ways."
They are critically applying what they know about accountability and repair and how not receiving care can hurt a person. And, their play is currently still replicating the good/bad theme without the nuance they hold in conversations about it.
In my role, I'm staying a committed listener, information offer-er, booke reader, question-asker, photographyer, note-taker, and playmate when invited. I'm reminding them of the agreements we've made as a whole group and they've made as a mini-community. And, we're sometimes pausing our dramatic play and discussions to play and practice skills we need to share space with each other in caring ways. I'm learning so much from them and feeling really inspired by the wisdom they hold and the care/empathy they share, and their excitement to play and learn together!