One aspect of nature is, of course, human nature. Particular to our species is an ability to alter our natural world in unparalleled ways. It is one of the things that defines us: a need to alter and ‘improve’ our environment. In its most basic manifestation, this can be observed in the way we construct our man-made physical world.
In the Dragonfly class, we began our year exploring the use of indigenous natural resources to build homes. What does every home have? What things do we need vs. want in our homes? What things lie behind the walls of homes? This eventually expanded to our looking at our classroom space as well. Knowing that four-year olds are developing a strong sense of identity, we wove the concepts of belonging and identity into our explorations of the spaces we inhabit.
Early childhood settings are complex spaces populated by broadly diverse groups of people, including teachers, students and their families. Relationships among these people play a key role in building a child’s identity. Children’s sense of who they are is shaped by their characteristics, their behavior and their understanding of themselves, within their family unit and the other groups to which they belong. Belonging is about having a secure relationship with or a connection with a particular group of people. When children feel a sense of belonging and sense of pride in their families, their peers, and their communities, they can be emotionally strong, self-assured, and able to deal with challenges and difficulties. This creates an important foundation for their learning in which children will be able to express their rights and show an understanding and regard for the identity, rights and views of others.
The children created small handcrafted models of our classroom environment. As they created each piece, they discussed how they related to the item, whether it was used by a singular child or a group. They explored the group dynamics in our class and became more thoughtful in their interactions. They have used concepts of construction, shape, scale, function and representation to reconstruct the space they inhabit every day. This recreation of their space and sanctuary has also allowed for the development of a sharper eye and more awareness of the world God has created and their sense of belonging within the Synagogue and outside in the natural world.