Our Pre-3 class had its Halloween party on Tuesday evening. I’d planned to have our light box set up for the kids to play with.
We’d been using it all last week, so the students had already probably had their fill of it, but there were going to be several older siblings there and I thought they might have fun experimenting with light, shadows and colors. Unfortunately, when I plugged it in, no light. I didn’t have time to monkey with it so as a quick alternative I laid down a masking tape grid on a table top and positioned small orange and “ghost” (white) pumpkins in the squares and forgot about it.
When I arrived the next morning to set up for Wednesday’s 3-5 class, the grid was still on the table. I’ve toyed around with grids before and found they have a certain appeal to the occasional preschooler, most often 4-year-olds, but the interest has typically been short-lived. That said, I knew the adult responsible for this table was going to have her hands full at another table featuring the game Cariboo. This is the single most popular preschool game ever invented. There is always a crush of children wanting to play and it’s a lot of work for the adult. To my point, yesterday’s table toys parent, Gloria, had to trade stations with another adult because she started to lose her voice.
I figured a low demand table would be fine as a companion to Cariboo, so I went with the grid. When the children arrived the table looked like this:
(In case you can't make them out, those are small rubber skeletons and small plastic spiders. I apologize for the photo quality. I was using my phone.)
As children arrived I was kneeling at the table with Charlie B. talking about what we saw. I was pointing out the alternating pattern, when Jack arrived saying, “I want to play.” I again pointed out the pattern. Jack loves games and puzzles of any kind. He likes anything to do with numbers and patterns. As one of our Pre-K children he generally chooses math over art. In other words, he’s exactly the kind of kid who would find the grid table appealing.
Jack said, “I know, let’s do it like this.” When he was finished, this is how our table top grid looked:
We moved on to other things, but over the course of the morning I periodically noted the state of the grid table. Each time it was different. For instance, one time it looked like this:
And another time it looked like this:
Our snack table is adjacent to the grid table, where Max was quietly eating. His back was toward to me, but when he turned my way I saw tears running down his cheeks.
I said, “Max, you look sad.”
He turned all the way around to look at this pile of skeletons and spiders on the grid table and said, “I’m sad because now no body knows where they’re supposed to go.”
I have no idea what preceded this. There’s probably a story there. Perhaps he had created a pattern that another child had come along and destroyed. Maybe the horror of that tangle of spiders and skeletons (he’s been announcing he’s planning to dress as either a skeleton or Grim Reaper for Halloween) got to him. Maybe the juxtaposition of the orderly grid with the disorderly pile disturbed him. Whatever the case, I said, “Oh no, what should we do?”
He answered weepily, “I don’t know.”
I’ve found that more often that not, when strong emotions are involved, we need to rely on our friends to help us find solutions. Ella had been listening to our conversation while finishing her snack. As Max and I contemplated the grid table, Ella disposed of her food remains in our compost can, then handed the snack parent her placemat for washing. Without saying a word, she joined our ad hoc grid table committee. The three of us quietly studied the situation.
I re-stated the dilemma as I understood it, “Max is worried that no body knows where the skeletons and spiders go.”
Ella loves dramatic play of all kinds, enjoys storytelling and will generally choose art over math. In other words, she’s the kind of kid who I’d expect to shrug her shoulders over the grid table. She looked from Max to the pile of skeletons and spiders several times. To me she said, “I think they all need a home.”
When she was finished, the grid table looked like this:
And Max had stopped crying.
I asked him, “Is that okay?”
He answered, “Yes,” and went back to eating his snack.