“He won’t let me be [do] what I want!”

This is a common complaint in the Pre-K classroom. Sometimes it’s “he”, sometimes “she” and most often “they.”  No matter which pronoun precedes the declaration, it is certainly “not my fault!”.  The Pre-K child’s development of fairness, self and place in the social world drives the logic behind feelings of inequity.

Here is an example of a conversation I overheard recently.  Two children were already engaged in a game of “family” under the loft.  Two other children wanted to join in on the game:
(all names are ridiculously fictitious)

Ivan: Mrs. Forst! Mrs. Forst! She won’t let us play! 

Blessing: But, Mrs. Forst, They aren’t playing right!

Harold: Yeah! She won’t let us play her game!

Mrs. Forst:  Blessing, tell me what happened?

Blessing: Ivan “grrrrrred” at me and he breathed in my face.

Ivan: I was a bear! I was a BAD bear and I was going to eat her.

Blessing: And Harold just yanked all of our food away. He didn’t even ask!

Harold: But I didn’t have any food.

(at this time the words were flying like bats out of a cave, I had to do something to make the discussion more focused…)

Mrs. Forst: Ivan, what do you want?

Ivan: I want to play with them.

Mrs. Forst: Blessing, what do you want?

Blessing: I don’t want them to be bad bears and steal our food.

Mrs. Forst: Ivan, ask her how you can play in their game.

Ivan: What can we do in your game?

Blessing: You can be good family or pets.

Harold and Ivan decided who they wanted to be based on the parameters set up within the game of “family” defined by those already involved in the game.  If one of the new arrivals doesn’t like these options, they are free to choose to play a different game, either somewhere else, or without interrupting the “family” story already in progress.

Joining play is especially tricky for children.  What are the answers you can receive if you ask, “Can I play with you?” There are only two and both imply a value judgement.  However, there is a strategy that will instantly help a child enter a group.  It’s quite simple, really.

Change the question.P1050207

Now try,

“How can I play?”

The answer possibilities are endless, but it cannot be answered with “no.”  Once the child has heard the options for play, they can choose whether or not they want to join.  We’ve seen tremendous differences in student communication each year that we’ve practiced switching to this line of questioning.


3 thoughts on ““He won’t let me be [do] what I want!”

    1. Thank you, Jennie. I’ve had a post like this written a few times before in draft form, but finally had the chance to publish it. As you know, this comes up thousands of times each year. 🙂

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