There’s a true sense of belonging with regard to young children when they are placed into small groups, rather than large ones. The difference between a classroom that has 30+ children compared to one with only 10 children is astounding. When kids can have enough time speaking to each other, and to their teacher without being interrupted or being short on time is an ideal situation. A true sense of belonging is discussed so little in traditional curriculums and classrooms. Yet, I feel is the missing link as to why some children score low on testing, develop anxieties at a young age, and begin to develop a deep rejection of schooling all together.
If you think back to your positive memories of your educational career, your hobbies and interests, what comes to mind? Do any of your fond memories include a place where you didn’t feel as though you belonged? Belonging and acceptance are at the heart of positive memories. Whether it was your dance team, your soccer coach or your love for your grade school class, I bet there was a feeling of inclusion. Partnered with a sense of belonging, comes the natural friendships and relationships that develop. If children no longer feel like an island in the middle of a classroom, and have peers who they can trust, then they can work positively in partners or a group setting and get more accomplished. From my experience, kids also learn better from their peers than being taught by a teacher. Again, think about a situation where you didn’t understand particular instructions you were given. What do most people do? Often times, they turn to their friend and ask them to explain. Why? Because it is someone that they trust and someone that is on the same level as them in some way. Whether it’s the first baking class you go to, or just the commonality that you are the only ones that are the same age in the room, you connect in a different way then with a teacher or facilitator. I don’t want to be misunderstood, teachers have a critical role in children’s education as well as day-to-day lives. It is also teachers that encourage and foster the relationships between peers that are so important and vital to children’s growth and development.
I often reflect back on my time in Finland where I spent my days in different classrooms. I observed a Grade 4 Language classroom where there were two teachers and 12 children sitting in a circle. The room was quiet, and calm. The kids took turns speaking to the group as a whole and would often make jokes and laugh with each other. I noticed the complete lack of inattentive children. There was a pure focus throughout the room, and few enough children that it would be difficult for a child to disengage from the activity that they were all participating in. There was an overwhelming sense of belonging that each child was part of this small group. It was then I realized what a difference it can make for a child, as well as a teacher to have smaller class sizes, and what the results would look like in reality.
This is where teacher-to-children ratios come into play. If I am the only teacher to support 30 children, it would be highly difficult to encourage and foster a sense of belonging with all students. There would be little time to discuss children’s feeling, and needs on a daily basis. When I have less than 10 children, the relationship is quite different. Each child will have time to tell a story about their weekend, or something special they did with their family or friends. We have time to both discuss the tasks at hand, as well as issues they have at school or at home. By daily addressing the child as a whole, rather than only having time to discuss particular subject areas, each child can develop a strong sense of community and acceptance. There are endless benefits to having fewer children in a classroom, which is why we believe in having low ratios. We understand and put emphasis on the importance of facilitating and assisting each child during every task. At Discovery, we believe in holding a ratio of less than 10 children to one facilitator for these very reasons. Social skills, confidence and mindfulness are equally as important as learning math, literacy and science, and are all pieces of the bigger puzzle.