Play is Practice

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Three children play in the sandbox.  Two are pushing trucks, moving sand out of the way as a road is formed.  Another child stands nearby with an excavator.  He watches the other two and tries digging where they have cleared.  One of the bulldozer drivers is frustrated and tells him he can’t play with them.

Remember how we spoke of misunderstanding communication at this age?  The bulldozer child sounds as if he’s being mean and the excavator child seems to be being destructive.  However, neither of these is the case.  The child with the excavator was carefully watching the other two children.  He wanted to join in but didn’t have the language to find out how.  Our friend with the bulldozer had the language to tell the excavator that he didn’t like what he was doing, but didn’t understand what the excavating child’s body language said of his motives.  Neither child is yet adept at viewing a perspective beyond their own.

This is where play comes in as practice.  An observant adult can join the group and help each member find out what they want from the situation.  We can discuss together what the problem might be and find solutions.  Practicing these conflict resolution strategies in play builds the communication skills children will need as they grow.

One of my favorite ways to help children communicate their needs while including others in play is by adding one word to a very common question. Instead of asking, “Can I play?”, try

 “How can I play?”

Adding “how” creates a completely different dynamic.

 

***Note: The picture at the top of this article is from a previous day.  It is not of the three children referred to in the story.*

“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.

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