A few of you asked me to explain more about my practice of “Play Partners” in the classroom, so here goes:
This started one November when I taught PreSchool and suddenly realized Jonny still didn’t know Josie’s name. He was just four years old and really only cared about wheels and cheetahs and “that gurl” didn’t have any of those qualities. Despite us all spending the last three months in the same room together and even with plenty of variations of “let’s go around in a circle and say your name” activities, I realized interactions between children, even in a small room, were largely happenstance and random.
This is actually very fun to think about…how many times have you been in even a small gathering and somehow not interacted with every person? Sometimes an existing friendship is what prevents you from reaching out, you are shy, or you are just tired that day and don’t want to make the effort, even so, I find the phenomenon fascinating.
Ok, back to the point! Which is I realized part of my job as teacher, leader, facilitator of the classroom environment, was to insure that each and every child had an experience with each and every other child. The experience could be having difficulty agreeing on something to do together or fighting over a block, but they were at the very least having that opportunity with one another that wasn’t happenstance or random, but a guaranteed interaction that each child would get to be “Play Partners” with each student in the class.
The benefits of this simple classroom culture recipe are tremendous. First off it creates a sense of security. They have something/one to “hang their hat on”. Secondly, and most importantly it insures that new friendships are sown, old “cliques” or engrained friendships have a chance to spread their wings a bit and insures the classroom culture is one of fairness, friendship, security, acceptance and teamwork. This classroom structure dramatically affects the dynamic and tone by the third day.
Ok, so how do you do it? Well here’s the trick! There are tons of different ways and it really depends on your class numbers. For a large sized group, lets say 30 kids, you could divide them into two groups of 15 and assign them numbers 1-15 and the other group letters A-O and then pair up 1A, 2B, 3C and then rotate. I’ve created a visual turning wheel to help me. The Good Lord knows there’s an algorithm somewhere that can automatically tell me the pairings, but I haven’t quite wrestled that one to the ground yet, especially since class numbers change every year!
For smaller groups, you can use the same letter-number parings or just use numbers. Odd numbers of children in the class? Argh! I just have one “triplet” to keep the ratio 1:1 as much as possible. It’s important that each child really does get to be with everyone in the class, so keeping a table or record somewhere is handy. In off years, I’ve just used names and written them down in the back of my plan book.
From here, you can go into “Play Teams” as the year progresses. Putting 1,6,11,14 together can be fun as the numbers help group children in more interesting and varied combinations. Other times I don’t use the numbers and just place all the shy kids together or all of the bossy students in one group. This makes for a really good time 😀 and lots of learning as all the bossy leaders watch in frustration as other groups are busier rehearsing their play than fighting over who gets to be the mother.
I use Play Partners during both unstructured and structured class times, it often depends on how much the class “needs” them. Some children ask for them first thing in the morning. When they go out to recess, they “stick w their Play Partner”. It’s not cast in stone and they can wander into their own zones, but they know they have a buddy they can depend on that day. Even if they just hold hands and know each other’s name, it’s a valuable step towards a harmonious and happy classroom.