How our people make our pedagogy happen in our place every day

It’s easy to look at all the educational research and philosophy and say “We’re going to build confidence through making!” or “We must care for the whole child.” It’s much harder to actually do that, every day, with real kids in space, time, and gravity! This section is about how we put our theory into practice. You could call it our praxis!

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Create a safe space

This is true everywhere: we shape our environment, and our environment shapes us. As the one responsible for assembling folks in your space, it’s really really important to get intentional about the environment you’re creating. This includes all the stuff we talked about in Place, but it’s also about doing what you need to do so that people in your space are comfortable being themselves, being seen, failing, trying again, and growing.

<aside> ⚙️ Heads Up: A lot of this is about putting into practice theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Montessori’s carpets, and Steiner’s pattern building. See more about all those things in Pedagogy .


To put it plainly: you need to be intentional about not being oppressive. How can your space be one of liberation for hearts, minds, and creative force? Just because the education you experienced as a child worked for you, don't assume it'll work for everyone else. This starts with clearly and constantly communicating, in both your words and your actions (body language, facial expressions, oh my!), that everyone in your space can shape the environment, not just the people “in charge.” Your space should be a place where visitors can leave their mark, and where people are precious, but the materials are not. Encourage teachers and students to be accountable to each other and the space collectively. This reinforces everyone's agency.

Getting this right takes time, and there isn’t a magic formula for it. But there are three things that we do pretty much every day at Assemble to practice creating a safe and caring environment.

1/ Icebreakers

A big part of Assembling is bringing together people who don’t normally interact, and anytime people are meeting for the first time, it’s not going to feel super comfortable right away. Icebreakers help get everyone feeling good about being together. You might also call them community building activities.

<aside> ⚗️ Try This: There are so many different icebreakers! Here are a few of our favorites:

🤞🏼 Two truths and a lie: each person says three things about themselves, and one of them is not true. Everyone else has to guess which thing is a lie. This is a subtle way to think about projected identities.

🕺🏾 Dance your name: Say your name doing a dance/hand move for each syllable. Have everyone also repeat back that person’s name and the dance with them.

🍭 Snack Alias: If you were a vending machine food what would you be? This one can get existential.

🏘️ In my hood: Create a circle of chairs with one chair fewer than the number of people. While everyone else is seated in the circle, one person stands in the middle and says, "In my hood, I have a ____________." All who are similar stand up and find the closest empty chair. The last person with no chair is the new speaker. Remove a chair each turn. This is physical and educational. 😊

🍏 A is for Ada and Apple: Say your name and a food that starts with that letter. The speaker holds a lemon, and passes it. Scent is closely tied to memory.


Why We Do This

Everyone participates in icebreakers, including the teachers and the guest experts. This puts everyone in the room on the same level, which is really important for establishing a safe environment that kids can feel ownership of. Icebreakers are extra useful for introducing a guest expert that kids are meeting for the first time!

Icebreakers tend to have a bad rap. A lot of people think they’re lame because they were subjected to lame icebreakers in the past. There are so many different kinds of creative activities to choose from. We’d encourage you to try out lots of different types until you find the ones that work for you and your community—or even have your kids invent one!

<aside> 📰 Inspiration Citation: Check out the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality for all your Icebreaker needs (and more)!


2/ Community Agreements

Almost every Assembling session has community agreements: a written-down, group-generated listing of how we’ll be with each other and in this space. Community agreements break down many of the unspoken (and often oppressive) dynamics that naturally appear when a group of people sets out to do something together, and replace them with a more visible and democratic set of expectations that folks can hold themselves and each other accountable to.