When children come to the classroom and tell their stories to each other and are heard, magic happens. Children bond. Barriers dissolve. Connections are made. Trust increases. Knowledge is transmitted. Wisdom is shared. A common language is birthed. And a deep sense of interdependence is felt. That’s why, in days of old, our ancestors stood around the fire and shared their stories with each other. Survival depended on it and so did the emotional well-being of the tribe.
People of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures can communicate through storytelling. When thinking of the unique connection between storytelling and culture, we must first look at the elements that define culture. Culture can be defined as a shared pattern of behaviors and interactions. It is the shared knowledge and schemes created by a set of people for perceiving, interpreting, expressing and responding to the social realities around them. Families have traditions from their cultural heritage. Classrooms, too, have a culture that develops and influences behavior. The children in our class were observed sharing their family cultures and traditions with each other. The intersection of family and classroom culture was an intriguing space to us. One venue for researching this junction is the welcome in the morning when families arrive.
In our school, we noticed that each family included a hug as part of their routine. Hugging is understood by all languages and cultures Hugs bring about a sense of security beyond what spoken language can accomplish. A hug communicates support, security, affection, unity, and belonging. A hug shows compassion. A hug brings delight. A hug charms the senses. A hug touches the soul.
Transitioning from home to school is one of the most emotional points of the day for children. Focusing on this passage is an opportunity to explore the feelings it generates.
We asked the children, “What is a hug?”
“Hugging is something that you put your arms around and the other person is hugging you.”
“Somebody needs to be happy to hug you. You are happy too.”
When looking at pictures of themselves hugging their parents, each child gave their hug a distinct name because “they are all different.”
Since the beginning of the year, different materials were offered to the children. They became more familiar with the languages of these materials and chose clay and sewing as the two languages to interpret the body positions they observed in the hug pictures. Hypotheses were created and tested regarding the re-creation of the photographs and our understanding of clay and sewing, as well as our subject matter, was expanded. Throughout this exploration, the children were given the opportunity to learn by constructing theories, analyzing them through peer feedback and joint experimentation, then re-calibrating their theories and testing them anew. Their ideas and the depth of their thinking animated our days.