Central to emotionally tight communities is that they are stable; extend beyond time and space; consist of shared focus and tight relationships; and are built on values of trust, equality, care, and playfulness.
The School Game
The following text illustrates an emotionally tight community between two children, Mari and Geir.
In the middle of the room is a large sofa. A lot of activities are going on in the large room in the preschool department. Mari and Geir are sitting on the sofa. The adults sit at different tables spread out across the room. Several groupings of children are spread out across the room, playing. The children move back and forth between the tables and other activities. In between the two children on the sofa there is a backpack, some books, and a teddy bear. The children are focusing on each other; they talk, they look at each other, they mirror each other’s initiatives playing with the sack. The other children approach them, sometimes taking a seat on the sofa, sometimes just stopping and watching them, and then leave to play elsewhere. Mari and Geir seem not to register the other children. They are totally absorbed in each other, building up their play, eagerly chatting with each other (inaudibly).
After a while, Mari initiates putting the toys in the sack. ‘I can pack’, she says. Quickly, she puts the teddy bear and some books in the bag. ‘Yes, these are your homework’, confirms Geir, with a supporting tone of voice, while he also put books in the backpack. Geir looks at the sack. ‘I can help you to put it on’, he says. He lifts the backpack and places it on Mari’s back. Then he crawls down from the sofa, sits close beside her, and fastens a strap around her body. ‘I can accompany you to school’, he says, friendly. ‘Yes’, says Mari and smiles. Together they walk across the room. Eventually they stop to adjust the backpack and the straps, helping each other.
Now Mari closes her eyes and turns her face towards the ceiling (acting as though she cannot see). ‘I can accompany you, so you don’t have to walk (alone?)’ says Geir. He grabs a strap of the backpack and leads her across the floor. Mari takes his hand. They walk hand in hand into the locker room. There is no one there. Playfully, they tease each other, throwing drawing papers, holding and pulling each other while laughing.
The above illustrates how the children are totally absorbed in their community, fully concentrated on building up their play. A strong and distinct “we” appears as a sign for this community. The children share an understanding of what to do in the play and how to do it. They follow, support, and extend each other’s expressions and actions. They express shared joy and fun. When Mari describes what she intends to do (‘I can pack’), Geir supports and extends her idea: ‘Yes, these are your homework’. This mode of communication continues throughout the play.
The children also defend their community against peers and educators:
When another child Judith enters the locker room and asks if she can join, Mari quickly turns around towards her, saying firmly, ‘no, we are playing the school game’, and quickly turns back towards Geir. Judith quickly leaves the locker room. After a while, Mari says: ‘Let’s go home’. ‘Yes’, Geir responds. ‘School has ended now’, he continues. The children continue to playfully pull each other and laugh while moving out of the locker room. Entering the large room, they are encountered by an educator asking them if they denied Judith joining in their play. ‘We said yes’, Mari and Geir respond quickly. ‘You did not listen to us’, continues Geir, looking at Judith. Now the educator offers some suggestions for playing together, but the children do not accept these. ‘We are playing the school game’, says Geir in a low tone of voice, looking down at the floor. Mari and Geir stand still and quiet for a while. Then they walk close together, away from the sofa. Judith remains sitting on the sofa looking in a book.
Our interpretation of this interaction is that Mari and Geir take for granted their position as the owners of the play and the community. From this follows their right to determine the community’s borders and its conditions for joining. It appears that they do not expect others to join. Judith is given (and takes) a position as an outsider with no right to join. She asks for permission to enter but is refused. The content of playing at going to school also restrict possibilities for Judith to be part of the community.
The community offers Mari and Geir many possibilities for shared identification: they acknowledge each other through the play and share meaning about what is going on. They both use bodily expressions to emphasize their closeness: they hold each other and remain physically close to one another. Through dialogic communication and continuous encounters, together they create a narrative about identification, their community, and their belonging.
The borders that Geir and Mari create for their community are not only based on their playing “school”, but also on their relational history; they are relatives. Their community is rooted in their strong relationship and a common lived experience of togetherness. This history/bond is visible in the trust and safety they express towards each other in other situations, as well, and it creates a community in which it can be difficult for any other child to be included.
The values communicated relate to safeguarding Mari and Geir’s community and supporting each other within it. They express (ethical) values like trust, equality, and care for one another as fundamental to their community. Mari and Geir’s power lies in this solid/closed border, which creates a distinct division between “us” and “you/them”. This ethical border is defined when Judith asks to enter/play with them.