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Teaching thematically

Integrated thematic units are considered best practice at Rainbow. Thematic lessons are layered in both discipline and in learning domain. Layering in this way encourages theme engagement from many angles and through many lenses. This allows a student to connect with the material through their preferred learning domain while nurturing a  lasting relationship with the material. For example, what is taught in science may be incorporated into the social studies topic, written about in language arts, or read through literature. This method nurtures learning that is both circular and interconnected.

First grade is currently studying Africa. A recent centering lesson was layered in mindfulness and contemplative ritual, kinesthetic learning, teamwork and critical thinking. It was also rooted in the geography, natural history and culture of Africa.

The centering begins, like all RCS centerings, with a prompt to, “still your minds, bodies and voices and at the sound of each chime, take three audible deep breaths.” Josie, the teacher, then asked the class Mindful Mediation Leader to offer a word or intention that we can hold in our hearts. “African animals” was offered and Josie struck a match and said, “may we honor African animals as our teachers.”

These rituals served to shift the class energy inward resulting in a moment of silence and stillness. Josie then showed a picture of the Efé children of the Zaire, Ituri Forest and asked contemplative questions.

“What do you see, think and wonder about this picture?”

The Osani Circle Game

Josie explained that these children were playing a game called The Osani Circle Game. This prompted a conversation about circles. She stated that circles and cycles are seen everywhere. They are symbols of connection and wholeness. They are considered incredibly strong. Josie asked, “Can we name some circles or cycles?”

She went on to describe that the players of the game harness the strength of the circle by physically creating a circle with their feet and bodies. Each person then takes a turn naming a circular object, concepts or cycles such as apples, belly buttons, pies, time, the water cycle, butterfly cycle, the seasons. The goal being to hold the circle throughout the game while, without hesitation, naming circular objects.

In an effort to anchor the kids in teamwork, set the tone for the game and harness the power of the circle, Josie started by sending a “squeeze around the circle.” She then led them to create a human mandala. Finally, she guided them through a closed-eyed medication that allowed them to picture the circles all around us.

The kids named things like the butterfly cycle, the Sun, the belly of a bear, our noses, etc… More importantly they had fun while learning in a rich and integrated way- from learning about Efé children, to physically and collaboratively recreating the circle, to thinking fast and maintaining concentration throughout the game.

However, it was the unwritten curriculum that spoke volumes- the wisdom of the circle. The circle as a powerful symbol has been referred to since the beginning of time. It is celebrated in many religions and cultures as divine. It holds archetypal influence in story and myth and is represented by so many natural phenomena. Consider the Tibetan mandala, the Native American medicine wheel, the wedding ring, the Hero’s Journey, the Sun or Moon cycle. This centering ended with a closing verse that integrated some important circular objects found in our lives.

Informing your practice

If children are deeply and comprehensively connecting to the Circle, then they are more likely to return to it later in life as a teacher or guide, a tool, a strategy, an anchor or a healing source. I ask you to consider how circles show up in your life, to pay attention to their influence, and to invite them in as teachers.

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