The Story of Friction
Over the weekend I held two presentations for educators in Turkey (the marvels of digital connections) and as I talked something struck me about many of the activities and experiences that I plan for young children - that I don't design for harmony but for friction. The harmony evolves from the children being able to experience the friction safely and to practice the self regulation and social skills they need for their own well-being and the well-being of our learning community.
Friction is often seen as conflict, like Shakespeare's Hamlet "Therein lies the rub..." where the rub/friction is seen as an impediment or hinderance - of course conflict certainly can be both of those. But friction is also a creative force, like rubbing two sticks together to create fire.
As a play-responsive educator I Observe how the children are playing and what is interfering with their play flow. Sometimes is arguments, the inability to self-regulate, or a lack of theory of mind. I respond to this by setting up play opportunities and also planning activities that will allow the children to practice these skills.
It is not enough to talk about how to be friends, or listen to stories about empathy and how to problem solve a quarrel - the children need to feel the heat of the friction and learn how it feels to self regulate. Where in their body they need to reach for strength to control their limbs or their reactions so that a compromise can be reached. Learning about is not the same as getting to know. The Together Paintings were all about risk. About a space for frictions to be safely encountered. I would design them often in slightly different ways to expose the children to new possibilities and to discover new strategies, as well as providing ample time to do the same kind of Together Painting over and over again to practice and practice until it became second nature to wait turns, be patient, understand the impatience of others, dare to say no, understand consent and much more. Mastering all these skills freed up more time to play and be creative in things that the children enjoyed, instead of being limited by negative friction. Friction is a part of life. We are constantly interacting with each other. Our very togetherness is friction. It can slow us down to keep us safe, or create traction, or sparks of creativity.
Most educational institutions (early years, schools etc) strive to eliminate as much friction as possible, but to use a bit of Shakespeare - therein lies the rub - this is actually depriving the children of safe ways to practice the social, emotional and cognitive skills they need. If the adults are always fixing the problems, or designing activities for harmony, then how will the children know how to self regulate when they are in affect? Designing for friction means I am purposely exposing the children to micro frictions that are within their capability - yes, they are intended to stretch them, but not intended to overwhelm them. These small frictions then become the growing ground of creative solutions to social problem solving.
It actually contributes towards helping children being able to prevent themselves going into affect, because they know how it feels, and have tried strategies that work and can start putting them into effect before it gets overwhelming.
The result was there was more joy, and more time for the children's own autonomous play, less need for me to "rescue" them when it became too much, and there was more time for learning, because my role with the children was less about policing and more about positive interactions.