Thursday morning’s purposeful play for Kindergarten students at St. Stephen Elementary School (SSES) is a little different than usual. For the past semester, Grade 11 and 12 students from St. Stephen High School have been visiting once a week to interact and play with these young learners.
Orchestrated by SSHS’s child studies teacher, Lesley Anne Cammack, and the SSES Kindergarten teacher, Kim Weeks, this collaborative project is having a massive impact on both groups of students.
There is no forced interaction in this program. The Kindergarten students can choose whether they want to stay in the classroom and play at the stations there, or to play in the gym. High school students arrive, and go to a station and simply begin to play. Kindergarten students do the same, and the interactions that follow are genuine and heart-warming.
With a focus on helping students learn to communicate and express themselves, Weeks has found it challenging to offer her students individual guidance during their purposeful play time because there are simply too many students to have close engagement with each one for a prolonged period of time. She knows how important this is, and is beyond pleased these high school students are helping her out, and offering her students extended one-on-one interactions a single teacher is unable to provide.
The elementary students look forward to these visits. They are making friends with their older counterparts and forging informal mentorships. Through dynamic play and mimicking the healthy social behaviours of young adults they greatly admire, these children are learning how to be respectful, verbally expressive, and regulate their emotions. With freedom to spend their time with whoever they like and with half a dozen activity options, this period is not about imposing learning on either age group of students, but instead is allowing them to experience development through practice, authentic interactions, and self-awareness through the eyes of their mentor/learners.
For all the older peers offer, they are gaining in return. Many students of Cammack’s child studies class have selected the course as an introduction to childcare as a career path, others simply registered as an elective, however the requirements are the same for all, and the enthusiasm is just as impartial. As the high school students work with their young counterparts, they are practicing self-awareness, careful of the language they use, and the ideas they impart.
With a range of personalities, Cammack wondered how some would adjust to the classroom setting with the kindergarten children, and she was blown away. Students who are often shy and quiet are stepping out of their shell and building relationships through tactile play. While others who seemed stand-offish are happily jumping into silly games and conversations.
Having found such success with this program, Cammack is intending on creating even greater connection next year. Her child studies class will then be an early childhood education course, encompassing more job-ready skills for those pursuing early childhood education as a career path. Next year, a toy-building project will allow her students to present their prototypes to the kindergarten students and gain first-hand knowledge of the effectiveness of their design.
Each student, both young and old, in Week’s classroom today is behaving respectfully, sharing ideas, and engaged in their learning. What better way to bridge the cycle of secondary education than establishing genuine connections between all tiers of leaning?