In one corner of the room, two children look for pieces to complete a puzzle. At the horseshoe-shaped table, students huddle around a teacher and work on an art project together. In another area, students learn about geometric shapes as they construct a tower.
Early elementary classrooms are full of opportunities for children to work and play together. Teachers often organize children into small groups to provide an intimate academic and peer experience.
During free time, children create their own groups and participate in activities that build skills like problem-solving, communication, cooperation, active listening, creative thinking and leadership.
Cathy Skinner, who teaches a multi-age fourth- and fifth-grade class at Redfield Elementary School in Scottsdale, knows that good collaborators are made, not born. “Collaborative skills need to be explicitly taught to children,” says Skinner.
The best way to teach collaborative skills is to use them, Skinner says. “Model how to accept a compliment. Model how to respond positively to a put-down. Then talk about it.”
Parents can also:
- Encourage children to interact with siblings or friends by putting on a play or playing board games in teams. Be available to make suggestions as children practice negotiation skills.
- Acknowledge and support children when they work well together.
- Promote communication and active listening. If children are having difficulty working together, take time to talk about different perspectives. Encourage them to discuss their feelings and listen to one another.
- Talk about “stepping into someone else’s shoes” to teach empathy.
- Talk with children the value of a having a positive attitude, encouraging other group members and including friends in groups.
When collaborative skills are honed at home, children can apply them to all areas of life.
“Children today are headed into a future where we don’t know what to expect, but collaboration will be a key to their success,” says Skinner. “They will need to know how to be leaders, organizers, idea generators, helpers and encouragers.”