How can we nurture collaboration through play? How can we grow collaborators through play?

These questions guided many learning experiences that involved Kindergarten students at South Oaks School learning about collaboration specifically through play.
The classroom teacher and I thought about how we could grow the collaboration skills of her students and decided play would be an authentic and purposeful context. We observed a few free play blocks with the intention to closely observe how the students were collaborating as a starting place. After careful observation we generated these questions to guide our planning:

I wonder how we can be more intentional about students working collaboratively in their play?
What does collaboration look like in Kindergarten?
How will we have students share their thinking about collaboration?

We wanted to introduce the word collaboration and have students start to think about what this word means and how it can help us. We used some time before a play block to ask students these questions:

How can we play together?
How do we need to be with each other when we are playing?
What does it mean to collaborate?
How does collaborating together help us when we play?

That is a lot of questions for the students to think about! We re visited these questions over many play periods and also used the questions as reflection tools when the children were finished playing. We would carefully observe the children as they were engaged in play and at the end of the play block during the class reflection we would invite a group of children to share how they collaborated when they played. We would use photos we took of the children playing as a support when they reflected on how they collaborated during their play. Over time, students were able to articulate if they were collaborating and also how they were collaborating with the following statements: We are taking turns making our plans. We are being nice to each other. We are sharing. We are sticking our plans together. This final thought of “sticking our plans together” became a way many of the students were making meaning of the word collaborating as sticking ideas together.

Through these experiences we learned that play is a powerful vehicle to nurture the competencies and we want to see students demonstrating their understanding of the competencies in a variety of ways. The thoughtful conversations with the students before, during and after their play was a driver in developing student understanding of collaboration.  By paying close attention to opportunities that arise in the classroom everyday we give students the chance to be aware of, reflect on and grow in their collaboration skills.

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