Teaching collaboration to build a stronger community
Human nature dictates that a child’s first instinct is to satisfy his or her own needs before developing an awareness of the needs of those around them. It isn’t until roughly the age of three that children are developmentally prepared to start thinking about and sharing with others. At this point, in a healthy environment, a child’s perception begins to slowly mature as they observe the concept of collaboration being modeled in front of them by family members. This constant spirit of sharing and support helps to root the idea of collaboration as a value within children, consequently enabling them to grow to become responsible and contributing members of society.
However, children exposed to violence, trauma, or otherwise oppressive environments at a young age tend to retreat back into themselves and become more selfish in order to ensure their basic needs are fulfilled. Further, ongoing exposure to traumatic events triggers the release of stress hormones, which in young children, can be harmful not only to a child’s physical well-being, but can also have a lasting impact on a child’s emotional development. There is ‘a concern is that these changes may affect the way traumatized children and adolescents respond to danger and future stresses in their lives.’ Children growing up in such environments are at risk of not fully advancing through the normal stages of development. This can have lasting consequences not only on their own mental and physical well-being, but also on the health and efficacy of the community to which they belong, as children never learn how to build trust and work together in order make positive contributions to their community
Given that many of TYO’s beneficiaries come from the UNRWA administered refugee camps in Nablus, most have been exposed to the harsh realities of a tense political situation in which night military raids are common and arrests of family members- including at times young siblings- are ongoing. As such, TYO’s psychosocial curriculum aims to addresses the developmental needs of children that most often go unmet in homes because of the complex environment in which they are growing up. Week 4 of the Core Child Program thus focuses on communication and collaboration.
Teachers in the Core Child Program report that this tends to be a challenging week as they are met with resistance from children to the idea of sharing. One activity during the week places children in small groups in which they collaborate to develop imagined communities. They work together to create and environment, establish which characters are present in the environment, and create roles for each of the characters. Initially children were reluctant to work together- which came across both through words – ‘this is mine’- and actions. However, by mid-week, children showed some improvement in their willingness to collaborate. By the end of the week, children proudly showed off their creations. It is this sense of pride in accomplishment obtained through group work that helps to slowly build the value of collaboration.
While lasting behavioral changes can not be made in a week alone, as teachers continue to build on the concepts and reward positive behavior, it is the goal that by the end of the session children will have incorporated these lessons and make positive gains towards their cognitive, emotional, and physical development.
- Shireen Issa, Core Child Teacher and Jessica Dargiel, Deputy Director