Friday, December 13, 2013

Strong and weak ties

A new boy joined the school and it has been great. Everyone now has a friend and it really matters.

Maybe because of that we have been thinking and talking about friendships and the optimal size of our group more in recent days.

Marjatta Kalliala, an educator in Finland, noted in one of her books that what matters most to young children are trustworthy grown-ups who can offer a lot of individual attention to them. Whereas closer to their teens it becomes even more important to be part of a diverse, stable community of other young people.

I once asked Riitta Olander, head teacher of the preschool E & E went to in Helsinki what she thought of this. She recited a simple formula: age of the child + 2 = the maximum number of other people they should be expected to interact with daily.

That seems to be true. Now that our children are aged five to six, a core group of four to five kids plus two teachers has been working out really well. It's enough to enable deep friendships, free group play, and more directed group activities like Simon Says and yoga without compromising on the ability to comfort a little one when things go wrong, have thoughtful conversations, and pair up for extended one-on-one sessions when math, writing, etc. requires it – and they frequently do.

Those are the "strong ties". But we all need "weak ties" too – people we don't know so well, who we engage with out in the world when we need to get something done.

In New York we team up with Brooklyn Apple Academy on field trips sometimes once, sometimes twice a week. This larger combined group of seven to eight kids has started to gel as the children become more familiar with each other and we develop routines as a group.

Then there are the afternoon classes, sports, park days and homeschooler community events on both coasts. The faces on the soccer field, at the pool and gym, in the park, science camp, or at robotics class are familiar even though we may not remember everyone's name.

The world is big and it moves fast, and a six year old is wandering out of his or her comfort zone a lot. It's ok though, when there's a close friendship and a safe home base to return to.

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