In many learning communities there is a time of day where all of the members come together. Depending on the program, this time together has different names like circle time, group meeting, or a gathering. Often the gathering occurs more than once a day. What makes a good gathering? What are the elements that make the gathering an experience that builds the learning community?
Thinking about my experiences, observations, and through research I have come up with several essential elements that make this time of coming together productive and beneficial for children and teachers alike. Keep in mind these elements are coming from the perspective of a school-age provider, and can be adapted to different ages and different communities of people.
How we lead the group is what we are promoting in the community. Our presence as the leader of the gathering informs the children about grace and courtesy towards teachers, community members, and each other If we focus only on rules, being quiet, sitting still, and overall compliance then we are sending the message that these attributes are the most important aspect of our community and what being a member of the community is all about.
Teachers lead children speak. The role of the teacher is a facilitator to lead the group of children in their discussion. We are part the discussion but during the dialogue our voice should be less prominent than the voices of children. Our role is to gently guide the children in expressing themselves as various topics are under discussion.
Children get to be themselves. During every gathering, children will be in different states of movement physically and verbally. Some children will sit very quietly and observe while others will move the entire time possibly standing up or lying down. This does not mean active children are not engaged in the gathering they are being themselves and contributing in a way they feel comfortable.
Children talk about issues and form agreements. The daily workings of the learning community are often talked about during our gathering. Children want to clarify past agreements and propose new agreements to other community members about the use of space and materials. Teachers at this time may bring up a social issue that is affecting the group, and open a discussion featuring the children’s perspective of the subject.
Children share their work, techniques, and new ideas. The gathering is a time for children to talk with peers about their current work and share the thinking that is motivating their investigation. Often this is a collaborative effort with several children talking about how they see they same investigation. Another part of this time is children sharing their creative work and telling the story about the creative process. This time is usually filled will many questions and comments between the children and often inspires new investigations and project work.
Children share stories with each other. During the gathering children like to share stories about their lives, to the other children. It could be about a social outing like visiting family, a play date, or a birthday party. Other times the children will share their adventures from vacations, school, and the neighborhood. This is where the children learn more about each other and more about their lives outside of school. These stories help form deeper relationships as children realize other children have similar experiences and problems as they do away from school.
Time to bond as a community by sharing books and songs. Children and teachers take turns reading and leading songs to bring the community together. Teachers share songs they know from childhood. Children share songs they know from camp or school. It is always a fun time of sharing one voice and connecting with music. Reading books to the children is a daily activity and the stories we share relate to the current interests of the children.
The most important aspect of choosing any of these activities as part of a gathering is the implementation. The gathering needs to be gentle and teaching. As educators, we are responsive to what is happening in the classroom. We need to remember the important part of being together lives in the current moment. There are teaching moments during a gathering but we can approach them with a playful, timely, and appropriate instruction that nurtures learning and group cohesion.
The gathering is a conversation amongst the learning community that is filled with possibilities for the work in the classroom. It is one of the most difficult skills to master and is a continuous work in progress, but when it all comes together it is a wonderful expression of where the children are, have traveled, and wish to go.