THE VILLAGE OF ODIJK NEAR THE CITY OF UTRECHT THE NETHERLANDS. IT’S HALF PAST 9 ON A TUESDAY MORNING AND SCHOOLCHILDREN ENTER THEIR CLASSROOM. THEY SIT DOWN IN A CIRCLE. IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT CIRCLE IS BARBARA CONSULTANT AND PARTNER WITH &SAMHOUD. ‘GOOD MORNING CHILDREN. MY NAME IS BARBARA AND TODAY I AM HERE TO TALK WITH YOU ABOUT CONNECTION.’
Two hours later the same 25 schoolchildren leave the classroom to play outside with the Blue Ball of Connection they received as a ‘diploma’ having had the lesson. Barbara just completed the 143rd lesson in the &foundation school programme together with her colleague Jeroen. Since late 2010 &foundation offers a school lesson that inspires schoolchildren to connect. More than 3,000 children have been introduced to connection so far: what is connection? How do you connect with yourself and with others, and how does connection benefi t you? To adults it might sound a little bit abstract, but children understand the purpose of the lesson right away.
‘Why do you think we talk about connection using this blue ball?’ Barbara asks. ‘You can play with a ball by yourself but it’s more fun to play with a ball together’, a brown eyed girl answers.‘What does the symbol on the ball mean?’ Barbara continues, increasing the difficulty of the questions right away. ‘It is the &-sign, Miss’, answers a girl with blond ponytails. ‘Well, that is all very good. But what does connection mean?’ – the ultimate question is out before Barbara realizes. A boy called Noah says: ‘It means attaching things to each other, or to people.’ And then they all start shouting. ‘Working together.’ ‘To take care of someone.’ ‘To need each other.’ ‘Love.’ ‘Respect.’ ‘Okay, okay… that’s all very, very good. You understand very well what you are talking about’, Barbara replies, ‘Now, can anyone give an example of the positive eff ect of connection?’ A girl, Nicky, says: ‘connection means that when you are troubled you always have someone to turn to.’
After this introduction, the children follow an interactive programme that consists of group discussions, exercises, short films and a specially developed connection game. This board game is all about getting to know yourself and each other better. Children learn that connection with yourself means knowing what you want and knowing what you’re good at. Each child is asked to share what they think they’re good at. They learn that this is not an arrogant thing to say, but rather is helpful to know about each other so we know who to ask for help when needed. Most children mention their sporting prowess, but some of them mention characteristics like being helpful or curious. Children then learn how to connect with others, that it consists of three components: showing interest, being open and giving compliments and tips. Then all the children, including the teacher, give a compliment to someone else in the group, for everyone to hear. Everyone, including the teacher, also receives a compliment.
‘So children’, Barbara asks during the round-up, ‘what did you learn today?’ And one after the other replies: ‘I learned that I don’t have to feel ashamed when I want to play together with girls even though other boys sometimes laugh at me.’ ‘I learned that listening is fun too.’ ‘I learned that I must stop arguing all the time.’ ‘I learned that when someone wants to join our football game they can play along.’ ‘I learned not to judge other children.’
They all loved it and so did the teacher who said she would repeat the basic lessons of connection in the coming weeks using the workbook ‘About Connection’ of which the children and the teacher all received a copy. And Barbara and Jeroen? They drove back to the office to debrief with their colleagues. Another 25 children have learned the principles of connection and how to apply them.
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