The only times during our Kindergarten day that we expect all the children to convene together besides meal times is at mat times. In length according to their ages it is the time during which we come together and practice being in a group, raising our voices together, engaging in discussion, making decisions, telling stories. We learn valuable social skills like taking turns talking, listening to the other children, sitting in a way that doesn’t block the views of other kids, keeping our hands to ourselves.
There are some childcare or daycare centres who don’t have mat time or treat their times as optional, allowing those who chose not to participate to engage in their own pursuits elsewhere. Here at the Kids Club we believe that something important about community building, about democracy, about respect even, will be lost when some opt out. Maybe think of times as community meetings and without them, without full participation, something vital about the children and their group of friends will never be discovered: children may always opt out of an activity, but we don’t want to give children the opportunity opt out of themselves.
“Haere mai ki te whaariki” It means for us “It’s mat time. You have the whole day to play with toys. Now is when we share our time.”
Besides mat time being active teaching time, ideal to share new ideas, get information about a certain focus or project,introduce new songs – mat time has lot more function.
The teacher facilitating mat time keeps things moving, of course, to keep the teaching engaging, to make sure everyone gets a turn, to avoid lecturing, to keep in mind that this is the children’s mat time, all without making it difficult for those who need to think with their entire bodies in motion, which is why there is usually a lot of “up and down” involved in a typical mat time.
From the time the children start at our kindergartens they get mat times. Not that they “behave” perfectly, of course, but then again I’ve rarely been in an adult meeting when there isn’t some cutting up, some shouting out, some speaking out of turn, some getting up to go to the bathroom, to get a drink or a bite, to take a call, or to pace the hallway. We are sure that our children know what we’re doing is an important part of who we are, not necessarily only intellectually, but at a deeper level, having internalized both the joy and importance of all of us doing something, anything, together.
Best of all is when you begin to see the children during the rest of the day, when the toys are all “open,” when we aren’t “expected” to take turns or raise hands, when we aren’t on the actual mat area, but rather out there in the wider world of the whole kindergarten, they gather around and engage productively together. You see them using the skills we’ve been practicing at mat time, coming together around something they all care about, or are curious about, taking turns, making space for one another, sometimes even spontaneously raising hands. This is how democracy is supposed to work. This is how community is built.
And this is why we do mat time. Not because we need children to practice being in meetings, but rather because there are certain skills required to build a democratic community, skills based in fairness and empathy.
Article inspired and adapted from Teacher Tom’s Blog