My son is in JK and attends a school that adheres to the TRIBE philosophy which, among other things, is about creating respectful and cooperative environments in school communities. As part of this program, children in JK and SK are placed in combined classes. The idea is that the younger kids receive the benefit of regular interaction both in a formal classroom setting as well as socially by making friends of their classmates. What’s really fascinating about this approach is that it is considered revolutionary in terms of a model for teaching and empowering students. But when I think back on my own childhood, the life lessons we learned “on the street” were exactly the same.Part of the TRIBE philosophy is based on studies finding that children who are asked to “pass along” what they learn are better able to comprehend and retain their lessons. So, in my son’s class, the older students get a boost by taking responsibility for helping their younger classmates. The younger students learn, from their peers, how to behave and how to learn. Both age groups work cooperatively together, develop respect for each other, and understand a wider range of differences and abilities because they are exposed to different age groups and levels of experience.
Well, isn’t that the exact same thing that we learned by playing on the street when we were kids? All the neighbour kids and their brothers and sisters of all ages played together, day after day. We helped each other to obtain the skills we needed to play baseball or hockey. The older kids got to pass on their knowledge and understanding by teaching the younger kids the rules for those games. And we learned how to negotiate when we didn’t always agree on what those rules should be. When we wanted to build a snow fort, we cooperated and worked as a team to get the job done. We learned to be responsible for each other by escorting our younger siblings to the park and bringing them home when it was time for lunch. We did all of this together as a group – as a tribe.
Obviously, this kind of informal socialization works. That fact is clearly recognized in the idea behind the TRIBE program at my son’s school. And, as parents (who more than likely grew up playing in our own neighbourhoods) we understand the value without needing the stats to back it up. So why can’t we just let our kids be kids – to play together and have some fun. Why are we so driven to institutionalize something that seems so very basic?
Mike Lanza, founder of Playborhood talks about this trend toward formalizing play in structured settings in a story about his son’s pre-school here. He makes the point that play is as important as academic excellence because of its social value. As parents, we owe it to our kids to give them every opportunity. And that includes letting them play – at school, at home and with all the other kids in the neighbourhood. The school is doing it’s part – it’s time we did ours!