In the wake of the terrible events in Parkland, Florida, we are all thinking about ways we can affect change and influence these young lives and the world for the better.  While many are making valiant efforts on the political and legal scene, it seems that we as educators and parents hold more power to create change than we may really know.

It may be more important now than ever to look into the research on play and how vital it is to human development and well-being.  Last month, we looked at Stuart Brown’s research on the childhood of Charles Whitman, the UT Tower shooter, and found that he had a major deficit of play. While it may seem totally disconnected to all of this tragedy, play may in fact be more important than many think. Allowing children the freedom to play (and less structured, contrived, dictated portions of the day) may hold more weight than many can really imagine. It’s something to really consider.

Further, it is human nature to seek connection–relationships with others.  In childhood, connection and relationships are made through play.  As the adults on the scene, maybe we notice one child who is playing on his or her own the majority of the time.  While this may not necessarily be a negative thing–after all, don’t we all need some time on our own!?–we should be observers.  We should pay attention to why a child is alone and if they are looking for connection.

In this article, “One Teacher has a Brilliant Trick to Combat Bullying, Loneliness” a teacher has a weekly tradition of checking in with the kids in her class to see who is connecting and who is not.  While this teacher works with older children, her presence of mind to check in with each child in a non-confrontational way and then do something to encourage connection is amazing.

As adults, we can all consider how the children we love and teach our connecting with others and why that’s so important.  And while alone time is also crucial, for some more so than others, we can all be observers and be mindful of each child’s desires to connect or not.  Are they trying to connect and unable?  And why?  And what can we do to facilitate connection without being too intrusive or disruptive of the natural rhythms the kids establish on their own.

I think there is room to consider how we can be helpful to children who are seeking to be a friend or who needs a friend and are missing the mark for some reason.  These small steps in early childhood definitely create the foundation for the rest of life.  We can–and in fact, do, whether we mean to or know it–shape that foundation and help a child build something strong to stand on as they walk through life.  And, by doing so, we are actually changing this world.  If more people realize how important children are and how much we affect them–maybe, just maybe–the world will become a safer, more peaceful place.

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