Around six, children start to transition to what Montessori calls the 2nd Plane of Development. Current brain research says the child’s brain makes huge changes between 5-7 and this is what Montessori was observing as well. At this age, children just begin to become truly social creatures - forming consistent friendships, solid friend groups, and caring much more deeply about their social standing. As peers and socializing suddenly open up to them, they go through a period of exploration, with one main goal: How can I belong? From birth to five (ish) they were interested in how they could belong within the family; now it’s “how can I belong with my peers?” These explorations are normal and healthy, and as with everything we want to guide them in a positive direction, without stealing their discoveries from them.
What they’re trying to figure out:
If I’m not with my friends what am I missing out on? What’s more important the adults’ opinion, or my friends’? Will rule breaking and boundary crossing earn me a place among my friends? Is there room for everyone? How many best friends can you have? Should I secure my spot by excluding others? Is it okay to disagree with your friends? Do I have to do everything my friends say or do?
What adults can do to help at home:
Solidify their belonging at home. If kids are feeling distant from family, they’re more likely to disproportionally seek acceptance among their friends.
Spend special time together; give new responsibilities and privileges; ask for their help.
Talk frankly about what friendship means and give examples from your life. They really have no clue how to be friends with someone - sharing examples of how you disagreed with a friend, or a time you felt left out and what you did about it can help a lot.
Brainstorm concrete ways to help their friends out and be kind to one another. Children especially love written lists, these lists feel very official and important to them. We often use abstract terms with young children, such as kindness, without taking time to be concrete. If someone is practicing kindness, she might…(give a hug, say good morning, help clean up, etc.)
Encourage positive socialization by:
• Having play dates with good friends
• Playing games with a set of rules to give a clear-cut structure for how to play together • Work together on a defined project, like baking or a craft • Attend outside lesson with peers of the same age
How do adults support socialization in the classroom?
As teachers, we are holding two beliefs: 1) that humans learn by exploration, and they need hands-on chances to try, fail, and try again, and 2) our responsibility is to protect their physical and emotional safety. In all our interactions we are trying to balance letting them explore with keeping them safe. In this balance we:
1) Observe - we need to see what’s really going on, and why. What are they doing, when does it happen, what outside factors are present, what skills are missing? What is a one-time occurrence and what is a pattern?
2) Interrupt them as little as possible in the moment - this lets them try things on their own, and try things in front of us. We find that when adults step in and correct all behavior immediately children stop trying things around us. For example, a child may experiment with calling his friend a name and the his friend may ignore them. If we come in at that moment and start lecturing on what the kind thing to do would have been we are very unlikely to make a difference in that child’s behavior and it is very likely that this child will continue his exploration, only next time in a whisper, without us being able to know how we can support either child. We will however note the support that both children need and give this support through teaching them what TO do (see section below).
Additionally, if it is an emotional moment, children, and all humans, are not able to learn at that time. They need to be calm before they can learn something new. We always ensure that, once they are both calm, children get a chance to talk about their conflicts before they move onto other activities
There are two moments that we always step in: 1) with any physical violence, or 2) when one child is upset by what another child has done or said, in order to facilitate the child talking to the person who upset her, see below for more details.
3) Empower - teach children what to do if their feelings are hurt. If someone was just called stupid and we observe that they are upset, we’re not going to leave them on their own. We are going to help them have a peace stone conversation and express how sad or mad they are feeling and why they are feeling that way. We find these messages are much more powerful coming from a peer than from an adult, and help the children learn the impact of their words. Additionally, it builds skills in standing up for one’s self. The reality is that an adult will not always be there, and we want our children to be able to stand up for themselves in appropriate ways, especially as they get ready for elementary school.
4) Teach them what TO do - rather than telling them what not to do, we look for what need is going unmet, and then teach them a better way to meet it. We respond to patterns of behavior and individual social needs through grace and courtesies, one on one help with all staff members, and involving parents.
For example, if someone is often calling her friends stupid when she is mad we will give lessons on “what to do when you’re mad at a friend”, which is to get a teacher’s help and have a peace stone conversation. We will have groups to demonstrate how words can hurt us just like someone pushing us can hurt us. We may help her write a letter to a particular peer, if the issue seems to be focused mostly on interacting with one person. If a certain friendship isn’t aiding her best, the adults will guide her toward different friendships.
At school we encourage positive social interactions by focusing on group academic work with kindergarteners. We don’t want to set up a false dichotomy between “academics” and “socialization” - we want them to happen together. We also actively groom kindergarteners to be leaders in the classroom, pairing them with younger students for certain activities, asking for their help setting up lunch, and sending younger children to them to ask for their help.
Celebrating a Milestone:
Ultimately, socialization is a huge milestone worth celebrating, just like learning to walk! And, like walking, at the beginning they don’t quite know how to be safe and effective with their new skill. We aim to guide and inspire without stifling.